Thursday, 14 May 2015

Which comes first - Knowledge Management or culture change?

It's the ultimate chicken and egg situation. KM requires a supportive culture, yet how do you develop the culture without doing KM?

Should you wait for the culture to change, and then start your KM initiative, or should you start your KM initiative knowing you have to battle against the culture?

First, lets look at some facts from the Knoco 2014 survey

Culture was listed as the number two barrier to successful Knowledge Management implementation


Average ranking

Lack of prioritisation and support from leadership6.0
Cultural issues5.8
Lack of KM roles and accountabilities4.9
Lack of KM incentives4.7
Lack of a defined KM approach4.6
Incentives for the wrong behaviours (inability to time-write KM, rewards for internal competition etc)4.2
Lack of support from departments such as IT, HR etc4.1
Insufficient technology3.8

Culture was also reported as the number two reason why KM programs failed.

There is no doubt that the existing culture can strongly infuence your KM efforts, which is why we recommend that you conduct a culture audit at the start of your KM implementation, to understand the challenges you are facing. 

However Knowledge Management is also a culture change agent. The graph below, also from the Knoco 2014 survey, shows how the number of cultural barriers decreases the more Knowledge Management becomes embedded. 

So the "chicken and egg" situation is borne out by data; 

Culture is a barrier, culture can derail your KM initiative, but the more embedded KM becomes, the more the barriers come down. 

How then do we introduce KM? Do we start with the chicken, or wait for the egg?

The answer is that we introduce KM as a culture change exercise.

  • First we map the culture, so we understand the barriers, as part of KM strategy development.
  • Then we look for small areas of the business where the cultural barriers are weakest and/or the need for knowledge and KM is strongest, so that the balance is tipped in our favour, we make these our pilot areas. 
  • We introduce KM in the pilot areas, deliver success, deliver value, than use these success examples in our communication and change program as "social proof". These pilots are our cultural "first followers" or "thin threads"; the equivalent of the first wave of penguins off the ice floe (see video here). 
  • Then you repeat the last step as many times as it takes for the new culture to catch hold, recruiting your second followers, third followers and so on.   
  • At the same time, you lobby your sponsor and steering team to begin to remove the institutional barriers to the new culture such as the recognition and reward scheme, the internal security barriers, and so on.
The answer to the "chicken and egg" is that you don't wait for the culture to change. You make a start, and change the culture as you go. 

Contact Knoco if you need help with your KM culture change

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