Knowledge Management is still in the early stages of adoption in mainland China, and faces some interesting cultural challenges.Here are some observations, from a number of sources, regarding the current state of KM in mainland China.
2014 survey of global knowledge management showed China to be one of the least developed regions in the world as far as KM adoption was concerned. You can see China at the bottom of the graph on the right, with very few organisations where KM is embedded.
Knowledge is not particularly valued as a resource in China. I blogged last week about the EY "knowledge advantage" report, which showed that leaders in China sees knowledge (62%) as far less important than product (82%). Compare this to German leaders value knowledge (93%) far more than product (75%), or UK executives who see knowledge (82%) as the main agent of success. China is still a product economy and not a knowledge economy, and has yet to realise that knowledge is a fantastic resource.
China is trying a technology-focused approach to KM, but still lacks the culture and leadership to make it work. According to Ellen Zhang, the EY Asia-Pacific Coordinating Analyst, quoted in the Knowledge Advantage report - “China lacks knowledge-centered cultures across a number of regional industries, with knowledge seen as something that happens at a project level. Chinese enterprises often get the most advanced technology for knowledge but can struggle to find the right knowledge leaders to manage it.” As we know, technology-led KM is often a recipe for failure.
|Knowledge-sharing conversational activities in Huawei|
Taking a typical US approach with its emphasis on explicit knowledge, and expecting it to transplant to China without extensive modification, is naive. Therefore when Nancy Dixon and I approached KM in Huawei, we took a much more tacit-centred view. As Nancy explains here, "Huawei wanted to focus on the human side of KM, that is, how to draw on what people were learning through their on-the-job experience and how to spread that knowledge through conversational processes".
Conversational approaches will include project-based conversations such as Retrospect, Peer Assist, and Knowledge Gap Analysis, as well as Community of Practice approaches such as Knowledge Exchange.
There are real cultural barriers in the Chinese culture. Information flows in Chinese organisations are traditionally top-down, rather than multi-way, or horizontal. As this paper concludes - " the Chinese culture where authority and seniority are highly respected and top-down decision approach, actually serves to work against sharing of knowledge. The centralized nature of Chinese organizations caused distortion and discontinuousness of ideas, which affected the flow of knowledge within and between subunits of an organization. Without a constant flow of communication and ideas, knowledge creation rarely occurs". This top-down culture will be the biggest challenge for Chinese companies to overcome.
One of the basic premises of KM is that knowledge is created by the knowledge workers and used by the knowledge workers, and that knowledge flow should be primarily horizontal rather than vertical. To overcome the barriers to horizontal knowledge flow will require careful attention to culture development and to rewards and incentives.
Some breakthroughs are being made. Even though KM in China is in its early stages, there are some very promising early successes, such as the use of social media at Lenovo, the well developed KM program at Huawei, the use of the Knowledge Channel at Tsingtao Brewery, and the MAKE award given to Baoshan Iron & Steel Co., Ltd.
As President Kim of Tsingtao said - "If Tsingtao Brewery does knowledge management, the future may not be successful, but if we do not do knowledge management, the future definitely will not succeed. Therefore, how to manage and operate centuries of accumulated knowledge assets is Tsingtao's main motivation for knowledge management".