Knowledge work, weblogs, and fair process

I’ve just been rereading an article from the Harvard Business Review called “Fair Process: Managing in the Knowledge Economy.” Written by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne, two professors at Insead, it helps me understand one of the reasons why I think that weblogs have an important role in making knowledge work in organizations more effective.

Kim and Mauborgne’s fundamental insight is that “employees will commit to a manager’s decision–even one they disagree with–if they believe that the process the manager used to make the decision was fair.” Doesn’t sound especially profound until you think about how often it is ignored on the premise that all the matters is the final outcome.

They define three principles of what constitutes fair process: engagement, explanation, and expectation clarity. Many managers ignore all three. Those who do attend to process tend to get stuck at the first principle of engagement and ignore the other two. They make some effort to involve everyone in the process, but too often short circuit the rest of the process in the rush to get to the “right answer.” Managers feel the pressures of time and assume that as long as the final outcome is fair and logical, they will be forgiven for rushing ahead. More likely, they will be punished in terms of sullen compliance or outright sabotage.

Now apply this in the realm of knowledge work. Kim and Mauborgne quote Friederich Hayek

“Practically every individual…possesses unique information” that can be put to use only with “his active cooperation”

You don’t get voluntary cooperation without paying attention to what they term “procedural justice.”

As I’ve argued before one of the principal benefits of weblogs is the way that they can make knowledge work more visible. In this context, weblogs serve as a tool that makes fair process a natural byproduct of the work itself. They are a place where explanation can be developed and shared as it is worked out in real time. Moreover, if you can get an institutional environment in which everyone can potentially contribute their perspectives by way of their own weblogs and these perspectives can flow through the system by way of RSS, then you also increase the degree of engagement.

The flip side of this is that without a belief in and commitment to the notion of fair process, weblogs by themselves aren’t likely to last very long inside organizations. While they can be a tool to promote those values, I don’t think they can create those values if they are otherwise absent.