Knowledge Management & Culture

At the end of the day, KM is primarily about culture and culture change. It’s about establishing an organisational expectation and desire to professionally manage its knowledge asset. “The way we do things around here“ (as I’ve heard culture described) includes attention given to knowledge planning and the application of KM activities such as team learning processes, knowledge-sharing communities and individual knowledge transfer.

KM is not primarily about IT systems or even processes or roles.

Which comes first: The right culture or KM?

I’ve heard it said that the culture has to be made right before KM can be implemented. My experience shows the opposite to be true – it’s through the introduction, piloting and tailoring of KM outlooks and processes (supported by effective communications and management support) that, over time, the culture begins to change.

How do we achieve the cultural change we need?

From what I have learned, this isn’t easy but it can be done. Some key lessons I have picked up, by no means exhaustive:

1/. You need a small support group of people who can act as advisers – they can help guide you on how KM is being received and pick up signs and signals from around the organisation.

2/. You need a clear and compelling vision for KM, covering both strategic and tactical aspects.

3/. Senior Management need to set an expectation for KM. Not in a forceful or “big bang” way but carefully helping to introduce the outlook as an evolution not revolution. A CEO once asked me to draft an email to all staff which essentially said, “KM is coming, we want to learn how to do this to help lift business performance, it’s going to take some time please participate and help where you can.”

4/. Whoever leads KM needs to be an effective communicator, using a Communications strategy and plan to work out why, how and when they will communicate. Care needs to be taken with important stakeholders which need to be identified.

5/. Run KM Training courses. I have found that one-day courses form an integral part of the KM Implementation Strategy as well as the training one. They have been very good at raising awareness and understanding and helping to spread the word.

6/. Understand the types of behaviour change required to apply different aspects of KM. It can be helpful to think about the KM Collect v KM Connect spectrum in this, and what the arrival of each could mean to the culture of the organisation.

7/. Find some visionary thought-leaders and get them on board so that they can help spread the word. The Head of KM is expected to be passionate about the subject - it means a lot more when business leaders around the organisation also start to push the KM cause.

8/. Reward and / or recognise those who demonstrate good KM behaviours.

9/. Take some measured risks. This is not an easy task and it takes time and and a certain amount of risk taking, often getting the organisation to think about things in new ways.

10/. Be resilient. A small minority will oppose KM for a variety of reasons – for example through disliking change, lack of experience beyond a single organisation, fear of the unknown or even professional jealousy. My experience is this can be overcome given the positive support from the broader staff population and time to let people see the benefits.

In summary, this is a long-term outlook that takes years not weeks or months. The good news is that it doesn’t take huge amounts of financial investment in IT – quite often the organisation already has the IT it needs, it just isn’t being used in the right way.

Over time, benefits start to appear and they are often significant – not just in business value but in corporate cohesion and teamwork. These of course help progress in accepting KM and it becoming business as usual.

Comments most welcome on all this, thank you.