Monday, 3 April 2017

Describing and measuring the KM culture

To manage something, you need to be able to measure it. But measuring culture is a very difficult task.


Culture is a key issue in Knowledge Management, but culture itself is hard to define and hard to describe  (my favourite definition of culture is “how we behave when nobody is watching”).

Culture is self-reinforcing. The stories within an organisation, the beliefs, the incentive systems, the behaviours, all form a coherent whole, and all reinforce each other. If a culture is one of ruthless internal competition, for example, then this is reinforced from all sides. The posters on the wall are about "employee of the month". The CEO talks about "the best sales team in the company," peers talk about "we beat the French team this week!", you find more (or less) money in your pay packet depending on how internally competitive you were. You don't help other colleagues - why would you? They wouldn't help you! Everything feeds into a self-reinforcing, self-sustaining situation.

 In order to be able to influence a culture, to help if become more supporting to Knowledge management (to become more of a “learning culture”), we need to understand

  • What the culture is now 
  • What we would like the culture to be in the future 
  • What are the factors that are re-inforcing those elements of culture which need to be changed. 
However the first step - describing, defining and measuring the current culture - is a major hurdle. 

Describing and measuring culture

Describing and measuring culture is not an easy thing to do. Culture is fuzzy and multi-dimensional, expressed in the way people instinctively think and respond, and a culture can be driven by many things.

A “just culture” for example, has been defined as a culture in which front line operators and others are not punished for actions, omissions or decisions taken by them that are commensurate with their experience and training, but where gross negligence, wilful violations and destructive acts are not tolerated. This description is of the reward and punishment scheme, which will drive a culture of openness and willingness to learn, but describes the cultural drivers (punishment, tolerance) rather than the culture itself.

 You would assume that, if punishments were changed from being disproportionate to experience, to commensurate with experience, then the culture in the organisation would change. But can we describe this change well enough to measure the change, rather than measuring the drivers?

In Knoco we have been grappling with this question for a while.  We do not want a measure of the cultural drivers - knowledge management implementation will affect most or all of the drivers - but a measure of the way the culture responds, that will allow us to track cultural change as Knowledge Management processes, tools, roles and governance are introduced.

Instead we have developed a measurement tool that looks at attitudes, and that measures people's alignment with a series of attitude statements. These attitude statements are aligned with 10 different cultural dimensions (described here), and allows us to measure, over time, how attitudes shift as knowledge management is introduced. It allows us to look at cultural differences between different sectors, or the different attitudes of management and staff.

This first step towards being able to measure culture also allows you to choose one or two cultural elements, such as "Not Invented here", or the Knower/Learner axis, as a starting point.


Cultural measurement, although difficult, is well worth attempting, given the importance of Culture in Knowledge Management Implementation.

Contact Knoco  for more details on our cultural measurement tool

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