Friday, 18 March 2011

KM and national culture 1 - UK and Thailand/Malaysia

I want to run a mini-series of blog posts on KM and national culture, based on some of the places we have worked. Obviously these are stereotyped, but are based on real experience. Your comments welcome! More national KM cultures to follow over the next few days.

Double decker bus in London
The United Kingdom

Northern Europeans are very open to knowledge management, and the UK is no exception. The British are very willing to learn from experience, but somehow more willing to analyse failures than successes. There is a British unwillingness to “show off”, and a national tendency to explore things that have gone wrong.

Knowledge Management and learning from experience will, if you are not careful, tend to focus on problems and challenges, and the knowledge manager will need to work quite hard at times to get people to recognise success, and learn from it.

However the northern European fondness for process is a good supporter of the Lessons Learned process, and other project-based KM activities. Communities of practice work well in the Bristish culture as a mechanism for problem-solving, as people are very open to asking other for help, and open to sharing their problems and challenges. The “not invented here” syndrome can be strong, and the knowledge manager needs to be very aware of this, and how it may be addressed.

The Far East - Thailand and Malaysia

The Far East is a big place, with multiple cultures. The following analysis is based on our experiences in Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia, and will not necessarily be true for Japan, China, Singapore, Hong Kong and elsewhere.

The far eastern companies that we have worked with have been very much oral culture, and knowledge is most easily transferred through face-to face conversation, often between peers. Online communities are frequently less successful here than in the US, for example.

Care must be taken that experts do not dominate the conversations, because of the healthy respect for expertise seen in SE Asia. There is a risk that people will not speak up in the presence of authority, making it difficult to identify knowledge that challenges the status quo. Standard western tools like the After Action Review may need to be readjusted for Asia audiences (as for example in the Singapore Army version).

Peer Assists and peer-level Knowledge Exchanges are likely to be a very effective KM intervention, if well facilitated. Corporate recognition is a good incentive in these cultures, with events such as “Best Practice awards” being very effective motivators, and these can be used as early ways to start to introduce a knowledge sharing culture, which later will move to face-to-face communities, to Peer Assist, and to lessons-learned systems.


gerald said...

Hi, Nick,
enjoyed your post very much, and to me it opens the discussion to a very interesting, yet difficult topic (as you say, there is only a thin line between the stereotyping and neglection of the topic at all.
Especially as KM for huge companies, locally distributed, this is a topic of relevance, the KM manifestations might deviate not only with time, but also with regards to culture:
Your idea re-used


Nick Milton said...

Thanks Gerald - good post!

More culture-based blog posts to follow this week, and I would be very interested in your views on German culture and how this affects KM (especially, give your company, how this contrasts with the Swedish knowledge-sharing culture)

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