Wednesday 13 July 2011

KM culture change - how do you know its working?

This is a follow-up to my post on the danger of maturity models.

There has been quite a lot of debate over this previous post, much of it on other websites or blogs, so I would like to give a bit more of the thinking behind it.

And part of the thinking is, how do you measure or demonstrate progress in KM  implementation?

Here's a couple of assumptions, which of course are open to challenge.

Firstly, my assumption is that Knowledge Management (like Risk Management, Safety Management etc) is more about culture change than it is about tools and techniques. If a team *really believes* in the operational value of knowledge, they will find their own way to work with it, using paper and pen and phone conversations if necessary. And if a team *really does not believe* in the operational value of knowledge, then the best toolkit in the world will not help them.

Secondly, my assumption is that this culture change is not a gradual change, it's a step change. It requires a different set of priorities, and a different way of working. It's more of a revolution than an evolution.

If these two assumptions are true, then the best way to introduce KM to a company is not through a gradual overall change, but through a piloting strategy. In a piloting strategy you take a small part of the company through the culture change first, in order to
a) demonstrate to the rest of them that a KM culture is possible
b) create an "attractor" for the rest of the company
c) test out the KM framework in case any tweaks are needeed

Back in the last 90s we worked with Colonel Ed Guthrie of the US Army, who's view of KM was similar. He likened the culture change to crossing a river, and his model was based on how you might get a brigade across the river. You start with firing a thin thread over the river, use it to pull across a rope, use the rope to pull across a pontoon bridge, and march the rest of the army over the bridge. The early KM pilots are the "thin threads". The far bank of the river is the changed KM culture; with KM embedded and applied. the nearside of the river is "pre-KM culture".

Now imagine you were using a maturity model to map the change. The nearside of the river is pre-KM - you might measure it as level 1 or 2 out of 5 for most of the KM elements such as behaviours, processes, use of tools, leadership etc. The pilot team would rank 5 out of 5. They are using the tools and processes, showing the behaviours, with their leaders fully involved.

You could therefore give an average maturity rating to the whole organisation, I suppose, which might imply that everyone was somewhere in the middle of the river.  However a single model for the company would be misleading. The KM maturity does not rise progressively from 1 to 2 to 3 to 4 to 5; it makes a step change, but only in the small areas of the company who have been part of the pilot. Then over time, you change other areas, and more and more areas, until the whole company has made the cultural transition.

If my assumptions are correct, then the only way to demonstrate progress in KM, is to show some areas where the culture change has been achieved. You don't want to show progress from a maturity rating of 2 to a rating of 2.5, you want to show KM actually working, in one small area of the company; a single division, or a single community of practice, or a single project team.

In other words, you know that the KM culture change is working, because there are some groups where the change has taken place. It's not that the whole culture is gradually changing, it's that you can point to some examples who have bridged the culture gap, and who are now "standing on the far side of the river"

The other advantage of this piloting over a gradual maturation, is that it delivers some quick wins to management.  When the CEO comes by and says "how are we progressing with KM," it's much better to be able to say "we've been working with X division and Y community and we've got some really good success stories to tell you. Next month we are going to be workling with Z project as well" - rather than saying "We are at level 2, and hope to be at level 3 by the autumn".
Don't measure maturity - measure transition.


Angela Ashenden said...

Interesting observations/strategies, thanks Nick. I absolutely agree with your first assumption about culture vs. tools, and I'm intrigued by your second assumption re the step change. Certainly, in my experience, the piloting approach is a very effective strategy, allowing you to identify demonstrable benefits from KM in the context of your own company while (as you say) providing a relatively *safe* testbed where you can learn the lessons and trip over the hurdles without risking alienating the whole organisation to the potential of KM.
In your experience, is there any consistency in how long that piloting phase should be allowed to run before you extend it out further into the company?

Nick Milton said...

Hi Angela

the answer is

1) until it has devlivered compelling results, and
2) until you have proven all aspects of the KM framework

HTH, Nick

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