Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Let's compete with those outside, sure but not with our team-mates, colleagues etc...

I recently conducted a KM assessment at a multinational chemicals firm, interviewing over 20 people with varying levels of experience, seniority and from across all functional teams.  The aim is to understand what KM capabilities are in place, how well they are doing and what’s missing.  One of the things we look at, when assessing a client’s KM governance, is the culture of the place.

What is it like to work there?  What do people think about KM?  What do senior managers think about it?  How are mistakes and errors viewed?  Is there a ‘blame culture’ or a ‘learning culture’?  Also, is there any internal competition between individuals, teams or departments?  How willing are people to share knowledge and information with one another?  To what extent does the maxim, ‘knowledge is power’ hold sway?
Regular readers of this blog will recall my review of Margaret Heffernan’s excellent book, ‘Wilful Blindness’ in which she examined many examples of organisations where leaders either don’t want to hear the truth or the led don’t want to tell it.  This phenomenon, common to many (most?!) organisations, is caused by a view that passing on bad or embarrassing news leads to unpopularity, demotion, or even getting fired.
In the excellent ‘Ted talk’ linked below, Margaret discusses how successful teams (and wider organisations) are those where there is a desire to help one another with knowledge and information.  She doesn’t mention the term ‘knowledge management’ but the positive examples she offers (i.e. chicken farming, engineering, responses to environmental regulations) would, if assessed using our methodology, get high ‘KM governance’ scores.
Four more quick points:

·        It’s not about technology – Margaret Heffernan recognises that technology is just an enabler and achieves absolutely nothing without the right people, processes and governance in place;

·        Knowing one another – She argues that people have to know one another in order to establish trust as well as knowing who has what skills, knowledge and experience.  I would argue that, whilst true, shortening this time is possible, not least by senior managers who lead by personal example rather than directive;

·        “Companies don’t have ideas, only people do” – Again, this is true but one of the key ‘lightbulb’ moments for senior managers on a KM journey comes when they realise that the ideas generated within their organisations should be at least be ‘possessed’ by the company. However, most knowledge remains locked in the heads of people who refuse to share it because the status quo has made it clear there is no incentive (or supporting culture) for them to do so.  So what?  Organisations should:

o   Reward teams for sharing their knowledge instead of hoarding it;

o   Build Communities of Practice around knowledge areas where there is strength in depth;

o   Retain experts’ knowledge rather than letting it walk out of the door when they do;

·        “Conflict is frequent because candour is safe” – yes, yes, yes.  Being honest is often hard, especially when discussing things we wish had turned out differently.  But in environments where honesty is rewarded over success, or dishonesty punished before failure, people can challenge old ideas, as well as new ones – in such places, real innovation is possible.
If you’d like to chat about these ideas, tools or more with some knowledge management consultants, please get in touch, either direct or via the Knoco website.