Post By David Hobbie, ILTA KM Blogmaster and Member of the KM PG Steering Committee
One of my favorite aspects of the annual ILTA conference is the willingness of peers to share information with each other. The learning imparted in the many educational sessions is truly amazing, and while people are in general perhaps more restrained in this era of bloggers and instant dissemination of key points via Twitter, I have heard presenters remarking on several occasions that they have shared more than they perhaps intended in advance. Thinking about why that is so made me realize that ILTA leadership and the collective efforts of its dedicated members have figured out a number of ways to make ILTA conference attendees social. In other words, conference is a community where social connections, collaboration, and knowledge-sharing among members is valued and encouraged.
Without being too Kumbaya about it, legal enterprises, which at their core sell knowledge and advice, could benefit from comparable sharing and trust inside the enterprise, between lawyers. Greater willingness to share experience, and perhaps even participate in knowledge-generating activities, could greatly enhance many a legal KM program.
So how does ILTA do it? I don’t think there’s any one thing ILTA does that does not occur in other places, but I’ve identified here a few distinct approaches that have an impact.
Dale Carnegie‘s advice on making friends and influencing people include the point that “a person’s name is, to that person, the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” A name badge is an easy and obvious method of enabling people to get to know and say each others’ names. Saying someone’s name makes them feel significant and valued, albeit in a small way.
At ILTA badges have at least seven functions. The picture above is, obviously, my somewhat abused ILTA badge from the 2011 conference. It has my name. It has room for “bling” (the next social approach); ribbons are typically attached at the bottom of the badge; and it lists my title, employer, and location, allowing for affiliations and connections to be uncovered (and for e-discovery vendors to mistakenly believe that I can help them somehow). Functionally, it allows conference workers to make sure that you are appropriately accessing the sessions and services to which you are entitled, and by virtue of the database-linked bar code it also serves in the vendor hall as the modern replacement for dropping a business card in a glass bowl. Finally, it’s where you store meal and, yes, drink tickets.
What can we do to use the concept of badges in knowledge work? Today’s online knowledge and information systems have badges in the form of intranet people profiles. In more advanced collaboration systems, such as wikis, blogs, and internal social networks, every piece of activity is tagged to the person, usually with a hyperlink to some kind of profile where you can learn more about the person. In any knowledge-based information system, being able to “pivot” on a person and uncover both contact information and more about what that person has done is absolutely critical.
“Bling” is the little circles and other pieces of cloth backed by sticky material stuck on a badge or the badge’s straps (though my daughter charmingly has absconded with a KM badge and has it on one of her dresses). Bling indicates interest and affiliation with subject areas like knowledge management (the keys), social media (a little twittery bird), information management, and so forth. When I was in the ILTones chorus, we had a little piano bling too.
Bling in theory shows interests and skills. In practice, however, it is also really fun to share and trade, and provide an opportunity for people in leadership roles to do a little something for people they meet.
Doing even apparently trivial favors for someone is a great way to build trust and enhance knowledge-sharing. What favors can you do? How can you have your lawyers build trust with each other?
And, what bling is on your profile? How do lawyers share their interests and expertise in your organization?
The ribbons attached to the bottom of a badge typically identify something about person’s relationship with ILTA. They are color-coded, and let you tell at a glance whether someone is a first-time attendee, a speaker, a peer group leader, or conference chair. To some degree, ribbons are a status indication, but they also provide an opportunity to start a conversation (“How are you finding your first conference, newbie?”). Ribbons are also a way for ILTA to provide recognition for various kinds of volunteer activities.
How do you recognize participation in your organization’s knowledge-sharing efforts and culture?
ILTA is a peer-driven organization. It wouldn’t survive if it didn’t do a good job recognizing and showing appreciation for its members, who do much of the work that actually leads to conference.
Part of the appreciation is expressed through consistent messaging at formal events such as conference opening and closing sessions. I’ve noticed that ILTA Executive Director Randi Mayes always singles out the ILTA members who support the JAG Corps and the courts, as they serve the public good as well as benefiting conference.
More recently, ILTA has established a formal recognition program, the Distinguished Peer Awards, which culminates in a black-tie dinner and Oscar-style awards presentation (admittedly, without a live orchestra, awkward thank-you speeches, or closeup shots of tearful runners-up). I was honored to be on a short list for the KM Distinguished Peer Award this past year, and was thrilled at the opportunity to be recognized for my work, as I know all the nominees and award-winners were.
Appreciation is especially important for people working in the legal industry. Lawyers by nature are not well-versed in working with others (see What Makes Lawyers So Challenging?), and as less sociable perfectionists are not always best at expressing appreciation or providing effective feedback. Providing consistent, formal appreciation and recognition for our KM workers and champions can keep the KM team strong.
ILTA enables connection through surfacing affiliations any number of ways at conference. There are regional meetings, receptions by peer group, CIO meetups, meetings for social media fans, different arrangements at meals, ways for new attendees to meet, etc. etc. Each different slice brings you in contact with a different set of peers and new opportunities for connection.
This rich approach to sets of groups contrasts with the relatively simple formal structures seen in law firms. An attorney will typically major in one practice area and have a minor in another, but type of work is only one (albeit admittedly very important one) of the potential affiliation slices. What other affiliations can you leverage or encourage at your organization?
I am brought back to Larry Prusak’s wise admonishments in the Forward to “The New Edge In Knowledge” (reviewed here):
- “Although technology surely has its place, working with knowledge is primarily a human activity needing human organization and understanding.
- Knowledge in organizations is profoundly social and best managed in groups, networks, communities, and practices.”
People will share more where there are rich and varied opportunities to uncover and connect over shared interests and affiliations, do each other favors, and recognize and reward team member contributions. Extensive peer connection and structures that support communities also provide a vital support for our challenging knowledge work and for optimally functioning organizations.