Value Gets Lost

“I’m stuck at the bottom of the pyramid.” “My value is unclear to people who matter.” “I’m invisible.”

In conducting “Points of Pain” exercises during TKA’s workshops and on-site clinics, too often we hear things like this from competent and hard-working knowledge producers. In study after study, roughly half of the challenges expressed by PRODUCERS of organizational knowledge or intelligence involve questions or concerns about the value they generate.

More often than not, the questions are not about producing value per se — usually producers are pretty clear and confident about that. The major gap is that their client USERS do not understand this value — and that therefore they have trouble attributing the value of knowledge back to those who originally produced it.

Our output is their input

In economic terms, any knowledge or intelligence work product, while typically the OUTPUT or end product of a knowledge or intelligence process, is subsequently the INPUT or raw material for a client’s work stream. Knowledge users take over where knowledge producers leave off — that’s one of the fundamental lessons of the KVC framework. During the handoff — the Communication step — the knowledge work product is transformed into intelligence — the basis for decisions, actions, and the production of “enterprise value” (for example, a product that brings revenues into a business).

A KVC Clinic client recently pointed out to us that the KVC triangle graphic makes it appear as if value is only produced by people and processes at the top. This was a fundamental misunderstanding of the model — for which (of course) I take full responsibility.  And hereby try to correct, please read on…

Triangle and trapezoid

The Enterprise Value (EV) Triangle

The Enterprise Value (EV) Triangle

What we mean by the word Value in the “little triangle” at the top of the KVC triangle is more properly specified as “Enterprise Value” (EV). Value is produced at each one of the seven steps in the KVC process (see the KVC Handbook p. 54). But value is only realized — i.e., made manifest and measurable in terms of revenues or other organizational outcomes or results — at the top.

Using one of my favorite analogies, the people who pick the grapes ultimately get paid by the people who buy the wine — but there is a value chain of activities that separate these two economic events in time and space.

The Knowledge Value (KV) Trapezoid

The Knowledge Value (KV) Trapezoid

With knowledge services, the problem is that the production of “Knowledge Value” (KV) — what another client called “the trapezoid” below Communication — is often separated from the production of EV, in two respects: (1) separated in time, and (2) separated in organizational location.

Time and location

The stepwise transformation of KV into EV can can take anywhere from moments to months — many months, in some cases. And the organizational unit that produces EV (for example, a new product development or sales team) is often far removed from the producers of KV (for example, a corporate research library or intelligence unit.)

The tendency of the EV producers to attribute some portion of the EV to the producers of the supporting KV varies inversely with these distances in time and location. The longer it takes for EV to be realized — through increased sales or other tangible, measurable outcomes — the lower the tendency for the EV producers to attribute value back to the KV producers.  “Out of sight, out of mind..and out of compensation.”

And because knowledge producers and users often work in different organizational teams, even in far-flung offices, EV producers are not reminded to make such attribution in the everyday course of their work. The value literally gets lost in moving from “here and now” to “there and then.”

Proximal value

That’s just human nature. People forget, even when they genuinely appreciate the input and would like to give credit for it.  And regrettably this is not always the case. “They take our work and pass it off as their own,” whether explicitly or implicitly, is a refrain we hear often from knowledge producers.

As a general rule, I have observed that the closer (in time and location) one is to the production of EV, the higher the value typically attributed to his or her input. I call this the Proximal Value effect on p. 78 of the KVC Handbook.

Shrinking time and distance

Seen in this way, the challenge of increasing attributed value is essentially the challenge of shrinking those distances of time and location that separate KV from EV.

One possible way of doing this is to continually be on the phone or email reminding people of the inputs you contributed to their work. But this method is not only time-consuming, it may be seen as intrusive by your client. As a result, it may totally backfire.

The key is to understand how your knowledge work product produces EV (enterprise value = revenues or other organizational result).  You must do this first — and without this understanding, you will not be able to effectively do the rest.

A virtual presence

As a knowledge producer, your goal should be to create a virtual presence that outlasts your physical presence. Basically this means branding your knowledge-based work products so that they are always recognized as your work, and always associated with a value-added outcome (i.e., that produces EV) to which you made a tangible contribution.

To achieve this, leverage touch points at which you and/or your work products have contact with your client. Some of these include:

  • A logo (mark and/or distinctive font) and/or “tagline”
  • Stylized, attractive email signatures that consistently identify your team’s work
  • Titles of work products (PDFs, for example) that consistently identify your work

This virtual presence can be nicely complemented with a more active presence — periodic, friendly, non-intrusive follow-ups with the intent of adding further value. The combination will keep you, your work, and your contributions to Enterprise Value close to the top of your client’s mind.

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    COMPETING IN THE KNOWLEDGE ECONOMY is written by Timothy Powell, an independent researcher and consultant in knowledge strategy. Tim is president of The Knowledge Agency® (TKA) and serves on the faculty of Columbia University's Information and Knowledge Strategy (IKNS) graduate program.

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