Tuesday 7 July 2020

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?

The Knoco global surveys of KM tell us that Culture is the second biggest barrier to KM implementation, and the second most common reason for abandoning KM.  There is no doubt that the existing culture can strongly infuence your KM efforts, and ISO 30401:2018, the ISO management systems standard for KM, says that

"A culture where connections and knowledge activities are encouraged, and knowledge is valued and actively used, will support the establishment and application of the knowledge management system within the organization".

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

So we have a "chicken and egg" situation. 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.

  • 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, and we make these our KM 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. Buy a pair of chickens, lay some eggs, make more chickens, and before long you have a whole chicken farm.

Use the power of KM to change the culture, and use the culture change to deliver KM.

Contact Knoco if you need help with your KM culture change

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