Tuesday 11 October 2016

Knowledge Management in China

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.

KM is in the early stages of adoption in China. Our 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
A chinese approach to KM will need to focus more on conversational processes. According to the researchgate publication "Knowledge Management in China", where US companies taker a Codification approach to KM, the  Chinese "favor informal and implicit forms of communication, preferring to transfer knowledge through interpersonal contact rather than through formal and/or written means. This reliance on interpersonal contact inhibits codification and restricts information access much more than technological factors".

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".


Knowledge Management has started in China, and steadily over time we will see knowledge recognised more as an asset,  a Chinese model of conversational KM being developed, cultural barriers being addressed, and more and more KM breakthroughs being made. 

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Well, not KM, almost all management approaches in China are not as good as western countries. The reason is simple, if you can have abundant supply of very talented, and very hard working people at very low price, why bother manage them better? Just add more people.

Blog Archive