June 6, 2008

Finding Effective Incentives for Collaboration and Contribution of Content

What can law firm knowledge management learn from the war on terror?

Fred Burton, former deputy chief of the counterterrorism division of the U.S. State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service and author of Ghost: Confessions of a Counterterrorism Agent, told Leonard Lopate in a recent public radio interview that counterterrorism experts have a proven set of tools for convincing an informant to collaborate with the US authorities. They use mice.


M: Money
I: Ideology
C: Compromise
E: Ego

Their experience has shown that one or more of money, ideology, compromise and ego will be sufficient incentive to cause an enemy informant to become a double agent in service to the US.

So how might we use MICE to assist law firm knowledge management? Perhaps as incentives for collaboration and contribution of content. Let's start with Money. Some firms have offered outright monetary awards or something similar (e.g., Starbucks cards or gift certificates from other vendors) to induce lawyers to participate in their firm's knowledge management effort. At one point or another, almost every firm relies on Ego to prod a lawyer into sharing valuable content. As for Ideology, we see this in the law firm context as an individual lawyer's belief that contributing and collaborating are the right thing to do -- that lawyers have a professional responsibility to participate and invest in the institutional knowledge of the firm. Ideology also shows up in the guise of firm culture. It's a little harder to find a law firm analog for Compromise, but undoubtedly a little further thought would reveal it.

Of these various incentives, I find that Ego and Ideology are the most effective in law firms. In busy times and in economic slowdowns, it's the lawyers that believe in contributing and collaborating who always find the time to participate in knowledge management initiatives. It takes very little effort on the part of knowledge managers to involve them. Similarly, Ego is a constant. The folks motivated by their ego needs to participate will do so regardless of the business cycle because they get enormous psychic satisfaction from having their names and work product prominently displayed. As for monetary awards, they might spur a little short-term participation, but I doubt they actually lead to long-term collaboration and contribution. (For an earlier discussion of incentives, see Chocolates and Roses.)

Whether dealing with enemy informants or busy lawyers, there are some incentives that have been proven to be effective with all human beings. Perhaps it's time to put some MICE to work in your knowledge management system.

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