I was reading a blog entry a few days ago from Dr. R. Todd Stephens titled “Are You a Firefighter or Smokey the Bear?” Dr. Stephens described the Firefighter as someone who was always coming in to save the day at the last minute. He quite possibly may have been able to prevent the problem earlier, although without the fanfare or praise of coming in at the last minute. Smokey the Bear is described as someone working in the background or shadows, steadily doing what is necessary to keep issues from becoming problems that have to be solved in battle conditions.
I have thought of the characteristics of each of these types of individuals in slightly different ways than Dr. Stephens described. I saw Firefighters as those who were always out on the front lines, at least in the view of management or users. I saw Smokey the Bear in a similar light as Dr. Stephens, as those in the background, keeping the lights on, but not necessarily as a person that is put in front of the users.
I have spent most of my career in Information Systems or Information Technologies, the name depending on which company I was working for at the time. I have seen management layoff or RIF a number of the Smokey the Bears because they were basically the backroom heroes that upper management didn’t see enough or hear end users singing their praises. The reality is not everyone is always going to be in the front lines interacting with users – you need those solid performers for the back office functions as well.
The story made me think of the time I was involved in implementing enterprise content management (ECM) technologies at a previous employer. While most of the business case for our implementation was around compliance for records management, another group believed that ECM could help us in retention of corporate knowledge or knowledge management, to borrow a term from years ago (and even a current term in some circles). We identified 2 groups of people in these scenarios – knowledge hoarders and knowledge leaders (these tags may have come from something another team member read elsewhere since it has been a while).
We characterized knowledge hoarders in this manner:
- Hoarding behaviors
- “He who holds the most knowledge wins” mentality
- Keeps knowledge of trends to self
- Relies on others to find or create knowledge
- Focuses on self without regard for performance of organization
Knowledge leaders, on the other hand, were characterized in this manner:
- Sharing behaviors
- “He who shares knowledge helps the company” mentality (a rising tide floats all boats)
- Helps colleagues stay abreast of trends
- Identifies need and creates knowledge that will benefit others
- Develops and empowers other employees to succeed, thus equipping entire organization for success
To borrow the terms from Dr. Stephens, I could see Knowledge Hoarders as the Firefighters, keeping the knowledge they have to themselves, waiting for the right moment to come in and save the day. Knowledge Leaders, on the other hand, could fit into the category of Smokey the Bear, willing to share the information they know with others because it helps further the cause of the organization.
The Knowledge Hoarders represent a threat to an ECM strategy as the information they possess may not be shared with the others in the organization. The individuals that demonstrate the Firefighter or Knowledge Hoarder characteristics need to be identified and strategies developed to help them understand the importance of having all of the information available to the entire organization. It’s part of the cultural change of implementing an ECM strategy, perhaps the largest hurdle to overcome in a program. Organizations that do not understand and create plans for dealing with the cultural change aspects of implementing an ECM strategy have a greater chance of failing to achieve the full benefits of their ECM program. All users need to understand the benefits of implementing ECM technologies, especially the Firefighters. End users what to know “what’s in it for me” since it will likely change their day to day work processes.
Have you considered how your ECM strategy will deal with the Knowledge Hoarders in your organization?