Monday, 19 October 2009

Cultural chicken, KM egg

Which comes first, KM or culture change?

We all know the two are linked, but do we change the culture first, then bring in KM? Or do we bring in KM, and then change the culture?

I have blogged recently about the nature of the culture change, and about the need to implement KM in a stepwise manner based on the demographics of engagement. But even in the early stages of implementation, you still have this chicken and egg problem -

Which comes first - KM or culture change?

And of course the answer is that, just like chickens and eggs, you can't separate them. They are part of a system.

One of the things that really works in your favour, is that the KM processes themselves (and I stress processes rather than technology - technology can eventually change culture, but it is far slower) are in themselves culture change agents. They promote openness; people will learn that ‘there is no comeback’ and questions will receive answers. They promote reflection, learning and a performance focus, through discussions on "What did we set out to achieve? What actually happened”. They promote a sense of community.

Peer Assists are a prime example. By giving people space and structure to exchange critical knowledge, and by making it legitimate to ask others for help, you not only create, in that meeting, a culture of openness and sharing, you also start to build a sense of community between the project team and the Peer Assisters.

Not just Peer Assist either. We were working several years ago at an industrial plant in the US, experimenting with introducing After Action review. We found that not only did the AARs identify many many opportunities to save time and money, they also started to change the mindset, as these quotes from the workforce demonstrate.

I thought I needed to be the expert and felt threatened at first. After a few AAR’s I felt comfortable that the guys appreciated using their ideas and we became a team (Supervisor)

Before the AAR, they didn’t feel like they were a team; After a few AAR’s they became one. (Boilermaker)

I have been doing this work for 20 years, and no one has ever asked me what I thought before; so it was a change. (Boilermaker)

We are now doing a Before action review in the mornings. (Supervisor)

Here's another quote, from a mine manager in Botswana, where we used AARs to radically improve some of his production processes, and deliver savings in the million-dollar range. However for him, there was something even more important than the money.

"The most important thing is the engagement of the people. The people who were involved in this, they actually feel that they are part of a team now. It's not the project team vs the contractor vs the end users - everybody is part of a single team now. And people are actually coming up with suggestions for implementation, and what makes it quite exciting is that people come up with very good suggestions, we implement it, they see the implementation of that, and they see the benefit afterwards, and so success breeds success".

That engagement, and that "success breeding success," was worth more to this manager than a million dollars, because it is the start of a new engaged performance-driven knowledge-enabled and knowledge-seeking culture that will deliver value for years to come.

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