Thursday 28 May 2009

Knowledge management culture and Leadership

Originally uploaded by pedrosimoes7
I blogged yesterday about knowledge and culture - but where does this culture come from? Is it an output of knowledge management - do people develop the culture as a result of seeing and experiencing the benefits of Knowledge Management? Or is it an input set by leadership? Do leaders have to set the culture, before you can apply KM?

To be honest, it's a bit of both. If you wait for the culture to change first, then you wait for ever. And indeed, KM processes are in themeselves culture change agents. I remember the staff at Toledo refinery, and how engaged they became after we introduced the program of After Action reviews; such as the Boilermaker who told us "I have been doing this work for 20 years, and no one has ever asked me what I thought before". So KM will change culture, but culture can also be directed and reinforced through the actions of leadership (by which I mean leaders at all levels).

I know that company culture change is possible - I have seen it happen. The big culture change program at BP - "project 1990" - took a huge amount of time and effort, but delivered a fantastic culture of empowered, networked teams striving for performance. The safety revolution in the energy, mining and construction industries has been dramatic, despite the sceptics, and has resulted in countless lives being saved. More recently, the move to a diversity and inclusion culture within the UK public sector has been successfully driven by focused attention from leadership.

So KM processes can change the culture from the bottom, and leaders can promote and reinforce the culture from above. The two work hand in hand, and then together you change the culture unit by unit, project by project, team by team, community by community.

So what are the cultural levers that leadership can pull? We believe there are three.

Firstly they need to communicate strongly their commitment to KM, and their KM expectations for the company. Much as the HSE vision can be articulated as "we will do no harm to people, or to the environment", so the KM vision can be articulated as "every time we do something, we will do it better than the last time". Or more specifically "we will never repeat a mistake, nor fail to replicate a success". But the expectation then needs to step down one level, and explain HOW this will be done. Maybe every project needs a KM plan. Maybe each project stage should end with a Retrospect. Maybe each SME is to take accountabiility for the value and use of the tacit and explicit knowledge base. Maybe ..... but you will develop your own expectations for your own company.

Secondly, compliance (or engagement) with these expectations must be monitored, and rewards and reconigition must be consistent with this level of compliance or engagement. If the company expects you to learn from the past, then they must see this, recognise it, reinforce it and reward it. They must not reward the team leader who neglected the lessons, got into trouble, and pulled the fat out of the fire by personaly heroics. They need to reward the team leader who learned not to get into trouble in the first place. KM activity needs to be monitored, the monitoring metrics need to be transparent, and rewards need to be consistent with this.

Thirdly, leadership need to invest resource. One of the most telling signs of whether your leaders beleive in something, is whether they will back this beleif with time with money, and with posts. They need to set up the necessary support structures such as the central KM team, the required software, the community leaders, the community space. They need to set time aside to take part in retrospects or knowledge exchanges. They need to be "on the pitch", not "in the stands"

The dynamics of culture change underpin our KM implementation process at Knoco, which is why we always recommend a step-wise, culturally focused change campaign.


Kerrie Anne Christian said...

another great post - pls don't be too harsh on management in gfc - so very challenging - so many people on extended leave to cut costs - trying to manage budgets - hard to find extra time for KM

however for me - vip to time to find ways to keep up KM programs on minimal budget - encourage the teams - and they just might come up with the results - also keeps teams motivates

blogs such as yours really help in this gfc era

as we say downunder- goodonya

@KerrieAnne on Twitter

Nick Milton said...

i dont want to be harsh on management. If I were to be harsh on anyone, it would be those promoting KM, who shy away for making a strong case to their managers that KM is a lifeline in times of crisis, not a burden.

One of my friends used to say that introducing KM to a busy manager is like offering a shopping trolley to someone struggling with bags of groceries. Unless you explain clearly how it works and what it will do to help, then you get the response "How do you expect me to push that? I've already got my hands full of groceries"

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