Raise your hand if you’re still complaining about …
- Losing organizational knowledge when veteran employees leave
- Having to reteach the same information repeatedly because employees don’t have a chance to use it very often
- Being unable to transform tacit knowledge into shared organizational wisdom
- Experiencing constant problems finding and/or understanding workplace documentation
Yes, these are complex knowledge management challenges that require strategic solutions. However, I believe addressing these issues should begin with a single, less strategic move – install a formal Curator.
As I mentioned in my recent post Practical steps to kickstart workplace curiosity, most organizations fail to build and foster an ecosystem that enables natural human curiosity and therefore stunts the potential for continued autonomous learning. Even a concerted effort to promote working out loud (WoL) cannot solve the problem, as WoL is usually unnatural for today’s knowledge workers and requires time/effort that already cannot meet the demands of overflowing capacity. Even the best WoL effort may create a cluttered mess rather than a robust flow of useful information without the right level of structure and support.
Here’s my brief sales pitch for the addition of the Curator role and why I believe dedicated accountability must be introduced to build and maintain a solid information sharing ecosystem. While I have not yet employed a full-time Curator, I have acted in this capacity with my teams in the past and reaped the benefits I outline below.
What’s a Curator?
This is the person (or small team) dedicated to transforming organizational knowledge into explicit employee resources. They spend ALL of their time helping people find information when they NEED it.
While the shared knowledge of even the largest, most diverse organization is quite small when compared to the collective “wisdom” of the Internet, it still represents a metaphorical fire hydrant of information for an individual employee. This is made even worse by the fact that workplace information tools (ex: SharePoint) pale in comparison to the applications we use for similar purposes at home everyday (ex: Google, Wikipedia). Workplace information is much more timely and much less interesting (sad but true) than info we use at home. This further prompts the need to address the challenge with more structure than the relative free-for-all of the Internet.
A dedicated Curator can address this issue through the unique lens of organizational culture. This role requires a unique skill set that makes them capable of identifying and supporting the best ways to share information HERE – not simply installing a tool or mirroring external best practices. They must be able to write traditional documentation but also understand and leverage modern social and information sharing technology. They must demonstrate a mastery of traditional corporate communications strategies while being able to overcome their inherent shortcomings without alienating experienced professionals who are comfortable in their ways. They must be able to design and execute scaled knowledge sharing strategies while addressing the needs and capabilities of individual employees.
Complicated role? Yes! Do these people already exist? Yes! Are they L&D people? Well …
Where do we find Curators?
Anywhere! Curator is not really an L&D thing based on the current definition of the “training” function. I believe this role to be part of the inevitable evolution in the L&D function – a transformation from the “training team” into a cross-functional group that evaluates and improves organizational and individual performance through a variety of methods.
Right now, someone is thinking “isn’t curation part of what corporate communications does?” Well … yes and no. Communications teams are often responsible for all formal information channels and creating materials to support culture and engagement. Based on the traditional corporate hierarchy, communications is often aligned to the marketing function – or at least marches to a similar tune. Therefore, these teams are populated by professionals with very explicit, formal information sharing backgrounds. They tend to look for the “perfect” method and time for sharing information to best impact the targeted audience. They aren’t necessarily wrong in their approach – especially from a marketing perspective. However, knowledge management isn’t marketing. This approach is counter-productive in the modern workplace, as information moves faster than any communications strategy. This lag allows room for misunderstanding and misinformation that inhibits performance and damages engagement.
We can find capable Curators ANYWHERE in our organizations – not just within communications, marketing, documentation, or training teams. While they must have a few specific skills (ex: writing) that can be taught, they are the people with a desire to share what they know and the intuition to find the best ways to do it within their teams. They prioritize the need to help people NOW but don’t forsake long-term strategy. They value utility over form and know how to break down complex concepts using simple materials. Most importantly, they have a passion for helping people do what they do better and a strong connection to the organization’s culture and purpose.
Is anyone within your team coming to mind as your first Curator?
What should a Curator do?
Each organization has their own curation and sharing needs based on their culture, function and structure. That said, here are a few suggested responsibilities for your dedicated Curator.
- Even a sizable team of curators can’t keep up with the speed of information in most organizations. Therefore, your Curator’s primary responsibility must be enablement – helping to maximize the ease and value of working out loud for all employees. This includes a variety of tasks – from formal training on writing and technology skills to ensuring appropriate tagging and organizing of shared information. By making enablement the job of a single function, a company can provide the consistency and structure that can promote long-term sharing and utility.
- Write EVERYTHING down! This is where many organizations, especially those that experience rapid growth and expansion, fail miserably when it comes to knowledge management. Your Curator can fill gaps between functions and build information resources that benefit the entire organization. For example, how many companies take the time to document and maintain a glossary – a collection of terms unique to that organization? We all know that language is of great importance to any culture and getting lost in translation can prohibit effective communication, especially for newcomers. Your Curator can autonomously chase needs like this and solve problems that often aren’t prioritized in the short-term but impact everyone in the long-term.
- I have something to share, but where do I put it? Nowadays, the go-getters tend to create their own Google and SharePoint sites and grow information hubs to the best of their abilities. Great intent – bad execution! Your Curator can establish and evolve an information collection and sharing structure that works best for everyone. They can also provide support when people have something to share but don’t know how to put it together. This will maximize content utility and ensure employees know where to go and how to find and contribute information.
- Based on experience, I know that effective curation can limit the need for formal training interventions. Your Curator can be the point of contact for how shared information can be leveraged when performance problems are identified. They will know what we have and how it may be best be leveraged by employees. Even more importantly, they must be able to take disparate pieces of information and integrate/present them in such a way to establish new value and potential meaning to users. Given their constant focus on capturing tacit knowledge, your Curator should be part of the discussion for every big project related to performance.
- Who makes decisions regarding the tools your employees use to share information? Not to vilify any particular department, but too often it’s not the people who will be using the tool. Your Curator should set the standard for anything regarding the collection and sharing of information. Therefore, they should be a key voice when evaluating and selecting new tools. They should also evaluate existing tools to determine how they can best be used to drive consistent curation and sharing. After all, SharePoint isn’t inherently evil. We just use it horribly and fail to side step its shortcomings.
- What information is being referenced most-often? Which topics are being discussed by top performers? What information of perceived value is seeing very low utilization? Your Curator can apply measurement strategies to validate and adjust information strategies. This measurement can also inform decisions made by partner teams, including L&D and communications, which are often founded on how information is used.
A few more thoughts on Curators …
- You may have to make a trade. I’m pretty sure you haven’t budgeted for a Curator this year. If this movement is to start in L&D, you may be forced to trade one of your more traditional roles. Would you rather have a Curator or an instructional designer? That’s your choice to make given the potential benefits of both. While I am pushing for Curator to be a full-time role, you may want to try out the function as part of an existing person’s capacity to see how it plays during a very brief test. Just don’t let curation get relegated to a side project.
- Don’t step on other people’s toes. Curating workplace knowledge is outside the traditional boundaries of any single department. If you introduce this role, be sure to position the Curator as a friend to other teams as opposed to an alternative. Find the high-value gaps that relate to this role but are off other teams’ radars and start there. If those efforts prove of value to employees, you will likely be able to find more formal buy-in for dedicated curation.
- This isn’t just about writing. Your Curator must enable collection and sharing of information in formats that best serve the content and users. This will often include text. But, this could also include video, audio, and a series of recorded webinars. Your Curator must continue to explore and identify methods for sharing workplace knowledge, especially as technology, behaviors, and preferences evolve.
- Avoid focusing on projects. Your Curator must be free to identify and close gaps. If they are required to dedicate 100% of their capacity to strategic projects, they will fall into the trap they are trying to eliminate, and valuable information will be missed. Balance the organization’s expectations of your Curator so they are free to solve the information problems that hurt your employees the most TODAY.
- Flexibility is essential. While this role isn’t about technology, technology is an enabler for scaled curation. Your Curator must remain flexible in their practices so they can take advantage of new developments in technology and related information sharing behaviors. While strategy is important, flexibility is required.
What do you think about the Curator role? Would the addition of this role benefit your organization? How else could dedicated curation benefit your organization’s learning and performance needs?
JD Dillon is one of the most prolific authors and speakers in workplace learning today. He has spent 20 years designing learning and performance strategies for respected global organizations, including The Walt Disney Company, Kaplan, Brambles, and AMC Theatres. JD is the founder of LearnGeek and Chief Learning Architect with Axonify.