Convincing Reluctant Knowledge Authors to Contribute: The Carrot and The Stick

Way back in the late 90s when I first implemented a knowledgebase during my time at JCPenney tech support, I ran into a problem that has come up on just about every KM project I’ve been involved with, and continues to be a FAQ on any KM webcast. Here is the question, posed most recently by an audience member for our May 19th webcast, “More Reasons You Love to Hate Your Knowledgebase–Keeping the Spark Alive.”

Q: We have a maintenance process that works well when knowledge owners participate.  Any recommendations on HOW to get reluctant knowledge owners to participate?

Here are my thoughts, but I’m hoping all of you KM experts out there will add some additional suggestions. From my perspective, it comes down to two options: the carrot and the stick. The carrot means rewards, the stick means the threat of punishment. Employees tend to prioritize activities that are clearly linked to performance reviews, bonuses and raises, so if knowledge base contributions are highly valued in the employee review and recognition process, most employees will participate. However, check out this data from the TSIA benchmark:


5 = greatest impact, 1 = least impact. As you can see, KB contributions have the least impact on employee reviews of any element surveyed, so companies are not doing a good job today of making KB activity a priority in the minds of employees.

The alternative is the stick, meaning employees who do not contribute, or who regularly contribute garbage, must receive some sort of disciplinary action, typically a lower score on their performance review which impacts raises and bonuses.

But beyond these basic employer avenues, here are some other hints.

  • From drudgery to challenging. Many people who don’t want to contribute to your knowledge efforts are coming from a place of insecurity. They’ve worked hard for their knowledge, and they fear if they share it with everyone they will no longer be valuable. As a manager, I could usually solve this easily by coaching them that documenting their knowledge means someone else can now solve those redundant issues, leaving the employee to work on more interesting and challenging problems.
  • Sell them on the ROI. One of the biggest employee complaints about new technology is it “shoved down their throat.” Be sure everyone is on board with the KM project BEFORE it goes live–let employees sit in on demos and participate in beta tests. If they understand the value of KM to the organization, and how the tool improves performance AND makes the support tech an expert on every problem, it is easier to get them on board and participating.
  • Learn from high achievers. When you identify top contributors to the knowledgebase, don’t just reward the high achievers, share their secrets. Have them talk at staff meetings about how they write articles, give examples of good and bad articles, use analytics to show the impact of good knowledge (linked to solved incidents, for example), etc.  Be sure you have good editors in place, and templates that make writing easy–even for those who find writing a chore.

What else have you tried that works? Please add a comment on how you tackled this issue in your environment. And as always, thanks for reading!

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12 Comments on “Convincing Reluctant Knowledge Authors to Contribute: The Carrot and The Stick”

  1. […] with, and continues to be a FAQ on any KM webcast. Here is the question, posed most recently […] Ragsdale’s Eye on Service Posted in Customer Service | Tags: Authors, Carrot, Contribute, Convincing, Knowledge, Reluctant, […]

  2. Great post, John. How about some of these ideas…
    1. Make it really easy to add new solutions to the KB…”Capture in the Workflow”, “Searching is Creating” etc. (commercial ad for Consortium for Service Innovation here) 🙂
    2. Reward based on usage (this solution SOLVED a case) — your metrics should show how many cases are solved by each solution in the KB, and you should find a way to reward your workers. Even just a weekly recognition list of the “top case solving solutions.”
    3. Add a rating system to each solution and encourage your people to rate solutions they find valuable. This is almost like a “hat tip” from peer to peer, thanking them for taking the time to document a solution that is helpful to others.
    4. Based on #4 above, allow a monthly or quarterly “peer vote”– allow your people to vote on who they thought contributed the most to the KB. There should be a monetary reward and public recognition of this person. This also works well with discussion forum postings and “tribal knowledge.”
    5. Steal ideas from companies like Lithium (discussion forums) and the companies that use their technology–they do a great job of recognizing their Super Contributors and have turned an art into a science when it comes to building tribal knowledge.

    I have more but I will let others contribute too 🙂

  3. Andy McNutt Says:

    Implied but not blatantly stated here is that rewards shouldn’t be based on the sheer volume of contributions to the kb (seems like an obvious thing to avoid but we see it). Figuring out which pieces are solving the most cases used to be cumbersome but on the webcast you talked about new analytics that give deep insight into the quality of the knowledge contributed.

    To your point about “selling them on the ROI” before implementation, also sell them after implementation by showing them how the monotonous repeat calls are getting deflected to the web so they can take the more challenging and interesting calls on new issues. (BTW don’t punish agents if average handle times increase — that just means new issues are making it to them because the easy ones got deflected.)

  4. […] John Ragsdale is vice president of technology research for the Technology Services Industry Association. Ragsdale spoke with Alon Bar, marketing manager at Amdocs, a company that helps service organizations better manage their customer relations, about his new e-book, “Get Fit with Innovating Product Support.” Bar discussed strategies companies can adopt to get more than simple maintenance out of their product support teams. Republished with permission from Ragsdale’s Eye on Service. […]

  5. Haim Toeg Says:


    Good job shining a light on this problem. The challenge, by the way, is not unique to support organizations, but I have seen it exist in services and in other organizations as well.

    The steps you describe are good, however, in my time running support organizations one of my key selling pitches was that we are paying engineers for their ability to regularly create new knowledge. If they refuse to contribute existing knowledge to the organization, they remain married to old problems and are not being creative knowledge workers anymore and their pay should be adjusted accordingly.

    I had a chart and a chalk-talk at the time that I used to discuss these exact points, and I am working on a blog post that will bring that pitch back to light. I will share it with you when it is published.

  6. Dbkayanda Says:

    John –

    Sorry to be so late to this party — pesky customers!

    Not surprisingly, I think you, Charlie, Andy, and Haim have done an excellent job of covering the ground:

    1. Make KM part of the job description and review process

    2. Have a communications plan that tells everybody what’s in it for me (more interesting work, recognition, empowerment and autonomy, work-life balance, being part of a team creating a real asset, “helping customers while you sleep”) and communicate it relentlessly (

    3. Make sure leaders communicate (in words and deeds) that the support organization isn’t just about closing cases, but it’s about creating customer value…and contributing to knowledge is the best way to do that (

    4. Make sure that middle management is on board — we often forget them (

    5. For goodness sake, as Charlie says, make sure the technology doesn’t make it hard to do the right thing (

    Beyond that, the one thing I haven’t heard explicitly mentioned is peer coaching — which builds on your last point of “learn from high achievers.” We’ve seen moribund KM initiatives really take off with the injection of the right coaches.

    Finally, I’m currently very excited about applying game design principles to getting people engaged with KM. ( We’re early days here, though.

    This is a great conversation; thanks for kicking it off!


  7. Anne Wood Says:

    I’m a little late contributing to this discussion but here’s my few pence worth. Having introduced KM into several big corporations I know how vital it is to get the contact centre as well as the knowledge owners on board as early as possible. The agents are the pulse of change. They know when something has gone wrong or if a process doesn’t work because customers tell them so. If you’re not listening to them then you’re missing an important means of keeping your knowledge base up to date and vital. Same goes for your help desk technical teams. As Charlie points out so well, value the contribution these people bring and reward them with recognition of expertise (social does make this easier with badges, ratings etc) as this is what people want. To be valued.

    Your Knowledge Team should consist of editors/copywriters (they should produce the knowledge style guide to help people understand how to write clearly and concisely) as well as knowledge architects etc. Key to their success is the relationships they build with the customer service teams and product owners. Ideally every piece of content should be linked to feedback so that customers and colleagues can suggest improvements etc. A simple, effective workflow should be extended to all internal users so that they can submit content that’s needed.

    Finally, if you link your knowledge base, communities and social channels via a federated search this means that the end user can know where the answer emanates from. The knowledge manager should be working with the community manager and harvesting the rich content that often resides in communities and social channels to add to the knowledge base as ‘authenticated’ content.

  8. Nexxphase Says:

    You can add a rating system to each solution. That will encourage the people to rate solutions that they find valuable. As well there should be editors those could present content in a proper frame and format.

  9. Terminix Says:

    What’s Happening i’m new to this, I stumbled upon this I have found It positively useful and it has aided me out loads.
    I hope to contribute & help different customers like its aided
    me. Great job.

  10. vanboy Says:

    Thanks for sharing!!

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