Are White Knights Scalable? 5 Ways to Share the Knowledge (and Glory)

I am always surprised how work gets done. Sometimes teams have detailed implementation plans and follow them to the letter with proper resource management and contingencies built in. But, unfortunately, I see more and more work being accomplished on the backs of the few…the heroes…the white knights atop their horses coming to save the day as only they know how.

You know these people. They are the ones everyone calls. They serve on every cross-functional committee. They may be on the company’s HiPo list. They wear more hats than the Mad Hatter.

For Knowledge Management professionals, we like to identify these white knights and feverishly document what they know or how they approach problems in hopes of spreading that know-how to others so that we become less dependent on them and more productive across levels and departmental lines.

But, what happens when they don’t want to share because they love their “hero” status? Or, they are recognized and rewarded for being the best time and time again?  Or, what do you do when an organization grows dependent on their heroes and doesn’t know any other way of doing things?

  1. Put them center stage. Yes. You heard me correctly. Celebrate knighthood by recognizing them and asking them to share their stories and secrets. Some knights like to talk about themselves so put that PR skill to good use. Get them on video, on stage, on a webcast/podcast to talk about their keys to success.
  2. Change the game. Sometimes we reward our knights with more committees, more special projects. This has always confused me. Instead of burying them in more work, ask them what they would like to do or how they would like to contribute. You may be surprised. They may want to sit out a round and give someone else an opportunity. Or, they may want to pick the cross-functional efforts that they help. Or, they may want a weekend off.
  3. Share the love. We like to hold up our stars for high achievement, and we should. But, we should think about if the success we are rewarding was truly an individual effort. Did the best salesperson do this alone? There was no sales engineer behind her helping? Did the customer service manager turn his team around single-handedly? The answer might be yes but rewarding teams of people can be very effective to inspire great results and change the “hero” into “heroes”.
  4. Give someone else a chance. Next time you are staffing a committee, think about someone else other than the usual suspects. Who else could fulfill this role or stretch to fulfill the role? People get burnt out on committees. Even white knights get tired of coming to the rescue all the time. If you give someone else a chance, they may consider it a privilege, a reward in and of itself, and bring fresh energy….and knowledge!
  5. Go from knighthood to mentorship. Put your knights to work mentoring instead of sitting on the next task force. Ask them to share what they know. Allow them to pick 1 – 2 people they feel comfortable mentoring. This is a great way to share the knowledge of knights without the KM professional imposing on them with a camera or a notepad with a list of open-ended questions.

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