Can KM change culture? Results from research

I think it is well established that introducing Knowledge Management is an exercise in culture change, but can KM itself change culture?

In this summary of findings from an Oxford Review research study, the answer is a qualified Yes.

The research in question, available to subscribers of the Oxford review, was an eight-year study of three organisations, which (according to the authors) follows a number of similar studies in a number of sectors that show it is possible to promote culture change using knowledge management.

The authors cite the following conclusions

  • Leaders can use knowledge management programmes and tools to promote a specific culture change, but this requires persistence, as well as the use of a wide variety of tools and approaches, backed by a clear and sustained vision and rationale. 
  • It is important to promote knowledge management and support the people who have the right attitudes and aptitude to act as champions across the organisation. This helps to enhance local adoption of knowledge management as a tool.. 
  • Technology seduction (popular software tools) can support culture adaptation but the researchers found this approach will not work in isolation. Software and technology based methods must be accompanied by training and the promotion of related activity to ensure that people can absorb the new behaviours into everyday work practices. 
  • One problem is that knowledge management programmes on their own often promote simplistic notions of culture change. It is important to remove barriers to improved performance and think about how to change long-term assumptions, approaches and norms. Knowledge management on its own rarely does this. 
  • If the organisational culture is identified as needing to be changed, an assessment of what those cultural aspects are that need change is important, as is an understanding of why it is no longer appropriate. This can be part of the knowledge management programme. 
  • The use of short-term activities and exhortation to alter deep-seated values and assumptions does not work and is often counter-productive.

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