Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Culture in KM, input or output?

culture is not a crime
Originally uploaded by Dawn Endico

When we were working with BP Major Projects in 2004/2005, developing the KM framework and guidelines for project activity, we found ourselves at one point having a discussion on the key enablers for sustained Knowledge Management.

We all understood the enablers of People, Process, Technology - that was not an issue - but we also knew that there was something else as well. You can have the best technologies, the most robust processes, and the clearest role descriptions, but still knowledge will not necessarily get managed. It's that "build it and they won't come" - no matter how well you build it, they still won't necessarily come and use it. If people don't want to share and re-use knowledge, or don't care two hoots one way or the other about share and re-use of knowledge, then the roles, processes and technologies will remain unused and unfufilled.

So then we started to discuss, what's the missing element? What should we add to People, Process, Technology?

The first thought was to add "Culture". If the Culture is right, then the tools will be used, the processes applied, the roles adopted.

But then, we we went further down the 5 whys, we realised that to say "Culture" was too superficial. Culture is not a thing that emerges spontaneously - culture is created, and co-created, in organisations. Culture is an output, not an input. Culture is an effect, not a cause. There are input factors that cause culture, and we need to know what they are, if we are to effect the output of the culture change that Knowledge Management needs. We decided that there were three main factors that drive culture.

1. Expectation.
People do what they believe is expected of them. People are generally good workers, they want to do a good job, and if something is expected of them as part of the job, they generally do it. Expectation can be explicit or implicit - written or unwritten. Expectation comes from leadership, and from peers, and these two sources of expectation need to be aligned to be effective (there is no point in the boss saying "I expect you to have a work life balance" if all your peers are working to 10pm and expect you to be part of the team). So knowledge management needs to become an expectation, from management and from peers. It needs to be a written and unwritten expectation that you will seek, share and re-use knowledge.

2. Feedback and reinforcement (or, if you prefer, "performance management")
People do what they are recognised and rewarded for, and don't do what they are not rewarded for. I don't just mean money when I say "rewards" - I mean other more subtle rewards such as praise and acknowledgement, "fitting in" and not being teased, all sorts of things. This feedback and reinforcement comes from leadership, and from peers, and these two sources of feedback and reinforcement need to be aligned to be effective (if the community of practice is saying "well done for helping out with that problem" while your manager is saying "I want you to spend less time on that community stuff", that just sets up unhealthy tension). So knowledge management activities need to be recognised, there needs to be positive feedback on them, and this needs to be linked to job rewards. And if people ignore or shirk their knowledge management expectations, there needs to be feedback and reinforcement here also - negative feedback from management and peers, and negative impact to your salary or job prospects (see my post on KM motivation).

3. Support.
KM at first is new, and people will need support. This support will come from leadership, and from peers. Support from leadership may take the form of training courses, support materials, and just allowing the time for people to do their KM activities. Support from peers will also be allowing the time and space, as well as helping each other with the tools and processes.

With clear expectation, feedback and reinforcement, and support, the Culture will change. These three are the inputs, culture is the output. These three are the causes, culture is the effect.

So when we finally decided on the enablers for KM, we added three more behind the People, Process and Technology, and collectively we refer to these three as "Governance".

If you work on these Governance elements, a part of your KM culture change program, and get them embedded into the business fabric, you will introduce the drivers that will make sure the people fulfil the roles, apply the processes and use the technology.

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