Becoming "One Organisation" – KM’s role in integration of approaches

Many global organisations pass through a stage of global integration. Here is how KM helps.

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Global organisations constantly draw a balance between global aspiration and local delivery. They need to balance agility and accountability in the local business units with the power and resources a global organisation can bring, and one of those resources is knowledge.

The managerial pendulum often swings between globalisation and localisation, and the swing to globalisation is often accompanied by the call to be “One Organisation”. I have seen this at BP with “One BP”, but also “One Rio Tinto”, One BBC”, “One Anglo-American” – and many others.  “One” can mean a uniform branding or a uniform strategy, but it can also mean “one way of working”. And this is where KM comes in.

KM can help learn from different local approaches to operational activity, using a process such as Knowledge Exchange, and to come out with a global “current best approach” on which any future local variants can be based. The company experts and practitioners get together, compare approaches, share knowledge of how things are done in the different regions and why, and build a “best of the best”. This then becomes the new standard way of working for the organisation, and the new baseline for continual improvement.

Immediately there is a step up in productivity and consistency. This is particularly important for global service companies, as their global clients now get a consistent standard of service worldwide.
This standardisation of approach is a Knowledge Management strategy, in that it results in pooling global knowledge into a “company best practice”.

However as a long term approach, this “one way of working” faces several problems;

  • Best practice never stays Best for long. The “global way of working” is going to need to evolve over time if the company is to stay competitive. There needs to be a feedback and improvement mechanism, such as a lessons learned cycle.
  • This is a “central push” model for KM, where knowledge (the “standard way”) is pushed out from the centre to the regions. However the regions are where The Way is applied, and unless knowledge comes back, and is shared between the regions, then that operational experience is lost. There needs to be an experience gathering approach, such as Knowledge Exchange.
  • All too often, the “global way of working” tells people what to do, but not how to do it, nor how to do it in the most effective way given the different operating contexts around the world. It provides the Standards and Rules, but not the tips and hints. The Tips and Hints come from the operators on the front line, and need to be shared with other operators. There needs to be a Community of Practice, allowing effective local application of the global ways.
In other words, a Knowledge Management Framework needs to be in place, supporting, refining and building upon the global ways of working. The first step of standardising needs to be followed by a second step of application and continuous improvement. Then the whole organisation, both global and local, form one learning organisation.

That way lies both local and global success.

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Shared by: Nick Milton

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