Wednesday, 28 July 2010
Back in the days of the BP Knowledge Management program, in the late 1990s, we were travelling the world, spreading the news about Knowledge management and engaging different BP business units in conversation about the value KM could bring.
One of our tours took us to South America, where we visited the Colombia Business Unit in Bogota. They had been doing some great work locally on the use of LiveLink to exchange and build knowledge, and we asked whether they would be prepared to share this work with the rest of the company.
They said No.
Not because of any secrecy issues, but because they were very busy, and this was very low on their list of priority actions. Effectively it would cost them time and resource, with no payback for them, as the benefit would be for the rest of the organisation). In terms of "What's In It For Us", the answer (at the time) was "Nothing".
About a year later, BP Colombia went through a massive downsizing and restructuring operation, where they needed to reduce office costs by 50%. Their aspiration was to do this fairly, with complete consultation, so that everyone in the exercise felt they had been treated well. And that is very difficult to do. So they looked around for help, and they remembered the Knowledge management program. They called us in, we conducted a whole series of interviews from past restructuring programs, and drew together the best of the lessons from the past. Colombia used these lessons to inform and tailor their own program, and their restructuring went as well as they had hoped. Everyone felt they had been given choices, everyone felt they had been treated well, there were no incidents of people feeling aggrieved or upset or outraged, there were no safety incidents or production incidents caused by people getting worried or distracted.
And afterwards, the gates were open in terms of Colombia sharing knowledge with the rest of the world. It was like a switch had been thrown. They were delighted to share, starting with their own experiences from their own restructuring.
So what had changed?
What was now "in it for them"?
The answer is, reciprocity. They had received, and now they gave. They had felt the benefit, and so were willing to share the benefit. Instead of sharing "in case it helps someone", they would share "because it will help someone".
So if you find a part of the business which is unwilling to share, then start by giving them something - some knowledge that will make a real difference to them. Allow them to Pull before requiring them to Push. Let them feel the benefit of knowledge transfer before asking them to share the burden.
Let them receive, before asking them to give.