© Helvetas

Fostering a ‘Sense of Purpose’: How is Accountability Part & Parcel of Knowledge Management, Learning & Communication?

FROM: Emilija Jovanova Stoilkova – 30. March 2021
© Helvetas

Sometimes an idea is just a call away! Have you experienced this? I did, a few days ago when speaking for the first time with my colleague Manuela Häfeli, Head of HR at Helvetas.

It was supposed to be an introductory call. It started off like that. But, somewhere mid-conversation, Manuela shared a great idea and immediately several opportunities sparked in my mind. She mentioned something new, which was quite inspiring. Can you imagine how fantastic that feels?

We both agreed that I could take this idea further and adapt it to the context of our regional project collaboration. This brings me to the point I want to discuss in this blog post.

A key concept in knowledge management, learning, and communication (KMLC) is accountability. This term is very important when working on collaborative projects. Bear with me because I’m going to show you how and why.

For a start, let us consider this. Accountability is the process of sharing the knowledge acquired from a specific activity or project transparently. By adding accountability to the KMLC process, we complete the cycle of information management.

What I’m trying to say is ownership, organization, and maintenance of the knowledge base is the accountability of a functional organization. Individuals within the functions have accountability for developing and implementing best practices, to sustain the capability of the organization. The goal is that everyone can comfortably manage information and trace a route to communicate effectively. Without this, a sense of purpose within an organization can diminish.

Leadership influences knowledge management practices

To state the obvious, knowledge accountability leads to successful knowledge management practices. Look at it this way: For organizations that recognize this value, they also understand that they need to create accountability for leveraging the knowledge of their organization.

It doesn’t stop there, either. Accountability should exist at the leadership level and the operational level. Increasing the value from knowledge improves problem-solving, enables better decision-making, and empowers the leadership and the team to become more productive and effective.

A clear and visible demonstration of leadership is a must when encouraging employees to embed knowledge management and learning in their work and process. This way, it moves accountability for operational integration of KMLC to the other units by providing the support necessary to help drive and facilitate success.

In her blog post “Accountability in Leadership: Build Leadership Accountability with the 5 C's Framework” Cathy McCullough talks about the five C’s for building team accountability.

Common Purpose. The leadership in the organization must communicate the value of ‘performing and learning’, of leveraging the knowledge of the organization internally but also with external partners. Why do we need to do this? Why and how would that influence my work? But how does this become real so that it’s fully infused within the organization and becomes part of the work processes?

Clear expectation. Successful advocacy of the tools and techniques that leadership and the team must use to successfully capture, adapt, transfer, and reuse knowledge is better enabled when everyone is stepping up and living the values and guiding principles of knowledge management and learning within the organization – a so-called broader accountability. Empowering the team, but also holding them accountable for delivering results is necessary for moving the organization forward or producing agreed results.

But what if the KMLC initiatives lose momentum and effectiveness? What if the knowledge and learning get stuck in a mechanistic approach, this way becoming ‘everybody’s job is no body’s job’?

Communicate & Align. Empowering a diverse workforce, with all their unique strengths and backgrounds, is not a walk in the park. Having cross-cultural communication skills in a diverse workplace is essential. In an ever-changing world, collecting and acting on employee feedback has never been more important. Regular communication with the team is of a paramount importance and is a crucial part of the leadership. Asking them about the work they do and how they are doing it; how that is aligned with the objectives and goals; if they need any support, what new and innovative ideas they have to share, etc. This is the way to move things forward to the sustainable and trustworthy relationship.

Collaborate and Coach. Organizations need to also invest in KMLC champions to reinforce behaviors among their teams. By champions, we mean people who are adept at synthesizing and communicating knowledge and learning. They may emerge organically within a team or become one by acquiring the skills over time with clear investment. Most champions go beyond their ‘job descriptions’ to make the most of themselves on and off the job. They are passionate, responsive, and good relationship builders. They collaborate with others, support them in achieving the results and provide coaching when necessary. Learning is much more than simply transferring something to someone. Investment encourages champions to stimulate others to join in for building the culture of KMLC. Therefore, we need to cultivate champions within a team.

Consequences. Leaders need to apply the appropriate consequences which should not only be seen in a negative connotation.  Praising, encouraging, and rewarding the team members when they are engaged, and tasks completed is of vital importance. The same should be when things are delayed or not accomplished due to certain circumstances or lack of skills to complete the task. Understanding the consequences will help us learn whether it is a motivation problem, or whether coaching or redirection is needed.

Knowledge Management, Learning & Communication in development organizations

As we’ve mentioned in some of our previous blog posts on KMLC, the purpose of knowledge management is to always integrate internal and external knowledge to manage ongoing changes, solve existing issues, as well as to innovate new ideas, share experiences and collaborate effectively.

Development organizations usually work on predefined projects that have clearly defined starting and ending dates, a specific scope of work to be performed, a budget, and a specified level of performance to be achieved. Given the timeframe for implementation, development practitioners must find innovative ways to enhance their activities, achieve the project goal and ensure wider outreach.

Or they can rely on knowledge management and learning processes which, if set properly, will enable the project team members to reduce rework and shrinks      the time that it takes to plan project implementation. Establishing firm and transparent collaboration not just within the team, but also with other projects and organizations by sharing lessons learned and good practices, will help all excel in project management and implementation.

But development organizations have one more important role to play. They need to contribute to the developing countries by sharing their knowledge and expertise even further. They are responsible to contribute beyond the scope of their projects by making their knowledge available for the people of the countries they work in.

We at RECONOMY are developing our KMLC Strategy and identifying key priorities for efficient utilization of knowledge and learning across our regional program, including within a wider scope to maximize our internal and external efficiency, ensure competitive advantage to the program and the organization in general.

Working in three regions, covering 12 countries, makes this process even more challenging. However, the quality and performance of our activities and results should not be compromised as our goal is to strive to enhance our initiatives that will introduce new knowledge and experiences.

One way to achieve this is to be open to collaboration, new ideas, and opportunities, ready to share knowledge and experiences with others, encourage discussions and embrace new learning and knowledge.

KMLC is the responsibility of all of us. Hence the accountability lies with every one of us. It is at the heart of a functional KMLC system.

Related readings

Knowledge Management and Learning Manager of the RECONOMY Program