"Pendulum swings" in Knowledge Management – a story
Knowledge Management often involves balancing two forces – Connect and Collect, for example, or value to the individual and value to the firm. If you are not careful, this balance can turn into pendulum swings from one factor to the other. Here is a story of this happening.
|Typical cycles in the balance between predator and prey|
This is a story about how KM activity and support, in one organisation, has fluctuated wildly on an 8-year periodicity. It is also a story about why this happened (with reference to predator-prey cycles) and how other companies can avoid it happening to them.
In the mid 80s, the company in question first realised that the various factories around the world were failing to learn from each other, and that there was a massive efficiency gain to be made by sharing best practice. They started a series of Global Practice Groups, and immediately began to deliver some quick wins in terms of business value.
These CoPs were a lot like the GPGs but initially there were fewer of them and they now had more effective processes, better KM systems and designated leadership teams. They immediately began to deliver ………you can guess the rest. Delivery of business value, declaration of victory, growth in popularity, eventually deemed too expensive, too numerous and too time consuming. Management closed them down in the late 2000s and replaced them by Continuous Improvement Forums. The story continues.
Why did this happen?
The GPGs, PITs, CoPs and CIFs started off small and focused, working on organisational problems. The members then found they also were gaining value, the groups grew, and the pendulum swung from “value to the company” to “value to the members”. The company saw costs growing and value diminishing, and restarted the cycle with a fresh swing of the pendulum.
These cycles happened on about an 8-year periodicity. In a way, they are reminiscent of predator-prey cycles such as the one in the picture, where an increase in prey population causes an increase in predator population, which then causes a subsequent crash.
A predator prey cycle, and the KM cycles seen above, can both be thought of as a balance swinging between two extremes. In the predator/prey cycles the extremes are
- many prey, increase in predators (growth)
- many predators, decrease in prey (crash)
- much value to the organisation, less value to the members (growth)
- much value to the members, less value to the organisation (crash)
How do you avoid the pendulum?
- sustained value to the business
- sustained value to the members
Both the leadership of the groups and the KM leadership of the organisation need to ensure that the CoPs/GPGs are focused on both value propositions. They need to:
- help the communities develop charter that stress the need for value both to the organisation and the members;
- track and report the value to both sets of stakeholders;
- intervene when needed to balance the two value propositions.
Without such governance, communities of practice in any organisation may suffer from the same problem of radically fluctuating support, and constant 8-year cycles of growth and crash.