Thursday, 24 November 2016

A quick win here, a success story there - how to change the culture sneakily....

Sometimes, we need to be direct.  Other times, we need to do things differently.

Indeed, many successful warriors throughout history have used what is known as the 'indirect approach'.  At the Battle of Austerlitz, Napoleon feinted weakness on his right in order to punch a hole through the extended lines of Austrian soldiers on the Pratzen Heights. 

More recently, a former Commanding Officer of mine (ex-SAS, awarded the Military Cross in Gulf War 1) characterised the approach thus, "It's like tapping the shoulder of the biggest, ugliest bloke in the bar, then turning with him to remain hidden and hitting him the sharpest, heaviest object you can find, before kicking his legs from underneath him and stamping on his face as hard as you possibly can...."

Those were the days....

More recently, I had a call with a client, the aim of which was to explain the Knoco approach to knowledge management (KM) and win his support for a KM project we hope to run for them next year.  At one point, he said, "Everything you've said has resonated with me, Rupert.  I'm just concerned that our culture might be a problem.  You can take a horse to water but can't make it drink.  We can provide people with the tools they need to capture and share knowledge but they still won't do it."

This is a common concern amongst clients.  Indeed, when we perform a KM assessment, culture is one of the areas we examine, under the area of Governance.  And we sometimes find that organisations have all the technology tools they could ever hope for but are nevertheless not sharing with one another.  Indeed, the problem can be compounded by some tools being duplicated, with some teams using Tool A for this function, and others using Tools B or C.

I have written about a 'learning culture' many times (e.g. all listed here).  I think culture can both help and hinder KM work, as well as itself being shaped by it.

Culture is both a symptom and a cause and is therefore difficult to tackle head-on.  The culture of a place can be described as 'the way things are done around here'.  It is the sum of everyone's hopes, fears, beliefs and values.  These in turn are the responses people make to behaviour.  Culture influences, and is influenced by, the way people work together.

Culture change programmes can work but are notoriously difficult and all too often abandoned because whilst people often seek and welcome change, they do not like to feel that they themselves are being changed.  After all, in the words of Peter Senge, "The harder you push, the harder the system pushes back." (Page 58, The Fifth Discipline)

So, instead of forcing behaviour upon people, KM managers should identify ways to make them want to behave that way because it's clearly the right thing to do.

How can they do this?

By identifying so-called 'pain points', and using KM to alleviate the pain, KM managers can win support for further KM work.  By identifying short, focussed, pilot projects that deliver value - what we at Knoco call the 'good news stories' - word will get around, assisted here and there through a communications plan.

As small numbers of people start to use new tools, follow new processes and establish new connections with people whose knowledge they can now use, they will begin to spread the word.  Good news stories should be communicated to everyone, with key participant interviews put on videos and broadcast on the company portal.

This way, energy is created, momentum builds and the culture begins to change - not because we tackle it head on, but because we we're being sneaky and using the indirect approach.

To swap war stories, from the KM frontline or elsewhere, please contact me direct, or via the Knoco website.

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