I didn’t know that. Powerful words. They can serve as an excuse, flattery, accusation and more, but in business they are an obstacle. The difficult part to admitting the lack of knowledge is realizing what “that”is. Often we don’t know until someone points it out to us. For instance, your association may be dabbling in social media. You originally set up a Twitter account to funnel traffic to your private online community and then placed your intern in charge of it. The intern, who was a social media maven, realized your Facebook page was barren so she used your tweets to draw attention to your Facebook page. She didn’t know you wanted to draw the traffic inward, not outward. She wasn’t wrong. She just didn’t know.
Situations are not always as obvious as the lack of communication in the example above. Sometimes your staff just doesn’t have the skill-set needed to compete. This is especially true in today’s changing world of social media where they seems to be a new best practice daily. Investing in your staff and becoming a partner in their continued learning can help and it doesn’t have to be costly. Create an internal mentorship program with someone who is in the know, hold Lunch-and-Learns to bring everyone up to speed on the topic at hand, encourage self-educating through a suggested blog or book list. There is so much we can teach one another without incurring the additional cost of seminars/classes (although, if you can, I certainly encourage it). When you invest in employees and empower them through learning they’ll be more loyal and invested in your association. (The Corporate Leadership Council found that engaged employees are 87% less likely to leave an organization.) Plus what you (and your staff) know becomes an asset for your association — albeit one that should be appreciated as it is as transient as your employees. Take measures to ensure that their knowledge doesn’t walk out with them should they choose to leave.
But what happens when you don’t know what it is that you don’t know? There enters the beauty of social media and networking. Research and best practices are a couple of key strokes away – at any time. You can Google (okay, search) associations like yours to find out what they have done in not only similar situations to what you are facing but their experiences in general. Again, you might discover something you don’t know and the actual problem you thought you were trying to solve may have actually been an indicator of another stressor. Perhaps you thought your issue of member retention was due to the economy but it turns out it’s an issue with event originality that is causing your membership to lag.
Collaboration may be difficult for some of us to embrace. It conjures up the memory of uneven teamwork in an educational setting, with one student doing all the work and the others signing their names to the project. In today’s workplace collaborative thinking can be a way to solve problems and research solutions. It can provide a spark or an insight into revamping an outdated work structure. Online groups can provide experience and knowledge that your association may not have. Social media has ushered in an efficient and cost-effective means for knowledge exchange.
How do you overcome knowing what you don’t know? (And for the record….I don’t know is not an answer.)