Now that KM/knowledge services has made its way into the corporate management lexicon, developing an enterprise-wide knowledge strategy becomes the next step (unless, that is, enlightened corporate management got the message early on and devised a corporate knowledge strategy before it was accepted practice to do so).
We know what we want to do with KM/knowledge services. Our objective is clear: We expect to establish a knowledge culture, a workplace in which KM/knowledge services is exploited (in the positive sense of that good word) to support and advance a workplace environment in which we all work smarter. And, once the knowledge culture is established, KM/knowledge services will be the management methodology we will use to sustain it, to ensure the highest levels of research, contextual decision making, and innovation in the futre.
But to achieve that knowledge culture (or to achieve any objective as we seek to strengthen organizational performance) requires developing a strategy, a framework for how we’ll get there. In dealing with a KM/knowledge services strategy, one of our first findings is that we must first focus on another culture, the larger organizational culture that defines and distinguishes the overall enterprise.
And here is when we start to get a little nervous, because as we look about we find any number of possible impediments to moving forward to our goal, and practically all of these will have something to do with that larger corporate culture. And this is when we begin to speak about “culture change,” with the message that to move to the implementation of the new strategy, to set things up so the new strategy will be implemented with success, some elements of the corporate culture will need to change.
These considerations are especially relevant with KM/knowledge services (even under the new management circumstances in which ICT and KM are recognized as the critical enablers they are). For some reason, a lot of people aren’t very interested in the methods, principles, or even the results of a successfully integrated knowledge strategy. Despite the fact that there are obvious and easily documented costs (often very high costs) to sticking with the status quo, many people just can’t handle moving to a new way of dealing with the information and knowledge they must have for their work. They do not have the time, their managers are not interested and discourage their participation (so they think), or they are just not the type of people who are ready to take on something new and different while they try to deal with what they think of as their day-to-day work.
So culture change is hard to come by, and we all know why. As organizations develop, the people involved in developing the organizational structure bring their own ideas and – not to put too fine a point on it – their own agendas to the workplace. As a result, a great many points of view, organizational arrangements, and personal interests become associated with the larger enterprise, to the extent that some of these – over time – become literally embedded in the organizational structure. “It’s what we do,” people say. “It’s what our company is all about.”
That’s what we mean when we speak about the corporate culture, the one that is in place. It has to do with shared beliefs and values, an accumulation of shared beliefs and values about how the organization functions and about how its people succeed. And the organizational culture is – especially – about how those shared beliefs and values converge for the benefit of the larger enterprise, for groups of people working within it, even for individuals as they devise strategies to succeed at what they are trying to do in the workplace. It’s our challenge to work with that, to change that culture, if you will, and to re-frame it so that it will include the elements that support the knowledge culture.
So what do we do? How do we “fix things” and come up with some techniques and methodologies we can take up – or put before the organization to take up – to ensure that change happens?
A cool first step is to initiate the discussion among people you’ve already identified, folks who have a stake in working smarter, who understand the value of information, knowledge, and strategic learning in the workplace and who would welcome bringing a good strategy for KM/knowledge services into the picture. In my work, what I’m seeing (very often) is that among the people who are going to be implementing KM/knowledge services strategy on the floor, so to speak (not necessarily the company’s leadership), there is great enthusiasm for undertaking whatever steps are necessary to bring about culture change. They are ready to move forward with KM/knowledge services, but no one has ever invited them to think about the subject before.
I know this because when I meet with them individually, these company employees are amazingly willing to go forward. The problem is that in the past the subject just hasn’t come up. And then when they come into a meeting to discuss the subject with other people (also people I’ve identified as being enthusiastic), you can almost feel the eagerness to get moving, to come up with some speedy and high-profile solutions and get started. Since these people have not come together before to talk about how they might use KM/knowledge services to help them work smarter, just the opportunity to brainstorm and explore a few KM/knowledge services recommendations is welcomed. They get to jumping all over the place, and the suggestions fly back and forth like crazy.
So it’s pretty exciting, this experience. It is very gratifying, too, especially for those of us who focus our professional energies on looking at KM/knowledge services applications as the way to go. I can’t help but wonder if our success with KM/knowledge services enthusiasts relates to what Peter Bregman talks about in an interesting little thought piece from last June, the idea of finding the right stories to tell. These meetings I’m describing are full of story-telling (even if it’s not called that) and the discussion often begins with everybody talking about how this doesn’t work or how that needs to be fixed. But once the attention is re-focused, with some prodding to get people in the group to share their own ideas of what they think could be done to solve whatever problem is being described, things move forward at a very fast pace.
It’s amazing what these people come up with, and I think the main thing that makes it work is just bringing people together – often people who don’t even know each other, or if they do know each other, not in a KM/knowledge services connection. Guiding the conversation so they talk about what works, what could work, what might work is a very gentle way to get things moving. And soon the discussion isn’t about what’s wrong, it’s about what we can do to make it right for the future.