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

View Original Source (nickmilton.com) Here.

How benchmarking and KM make a powerful combination

One of the main barriers to knowledge transfer and re-use is complacency. Benchmarking (internal and external) can help remove this complacency.

not invented here - BINGO
Not invented here Bingo, by Ramon Vullings on Flickr

One of the biggest barriers to overcome in Knowledge Management is a lack of desire to learn from others, and therefore a lack of demand for knowledge re-use. You can create the best communities of practice, the best knowledge bases, you can publish all sorts of ideas and knowledge, but if nobody is interested in this knowledge, you have wasted your time.

Some of the phrases you will hear from those complacent people who are not interested in knowledge, are shown in the “Not Invented Here” bingo card to the right.

Behind the reluctance to re-use is the “Not Invented Here” syndrome, and behind “Not Invented Here” are two things

1. People are comfortable and familiar with their own performance, and with the way they currently do things
2. Change involves risk and effort. “If my way works” they think, “why risk changing it? Why change horses in midstream? Why ditch a perfectly good approach, for something unfamiliar?”

The way to break this cycle is to help people realise that “my way” is not the best way, and that the improvement they would get outweighs the effort and change. And the best way to help people realise this, is to show that others are already doing better. In other words, to use benchmark data. 

Benchmark data helps people out of their comfort zone

We see this very very clearly in our Bird Island exercise, where people were comfortable building an 80cm tower, and think they might be able to stretch it to 120cm. Then we show them benchmark data where the record is over 3m, the mean is 285cm, and even a bunch of American lawyers achieved 250cm. And we show them a picture of the record tower, so they can see this is not a joke.

What happens, is that the people are shaken out of their comfort zone, They realise their own performance was pretty poor. They become very open to learning. And they DO learn, and in the next round of tower building they also turn in a top quartile performance.

I also have a story from the Peruvian asparagus trade, which tells how publishing data about aircraft loading procedures among Peruvian asparagus producers motivated the poor performers to learn from the good performers, for the benefit of all. The authors of the study I quoted claimed

Objective proof of superior performance helps overcome a principal barrier to
convincing experienced professionals to adopt new practices – that is, the
belief that they are already doing the right thing and that their current
results are the best that anyone can expect

The great thing about good performance data, and good benchmark data, is that people then often come to realise that their approach is not “perfectly good”, that their way may “work”, but it works pretty badly. They become uncomfortable with their own performance, and become open to learning. “Not Invented here” disappears, because they realise that “Invented Here” is not actually very good!

The driving forces here are two-fold – embarrassment at current poor performance, and competition – to get up there with the leaders. The old motivation, to be safe and secure with a known approach, is replaced by a new motivation. The new motivation is “To do a decent job”. (And they often feel that if they are being soundly beaten by a group of US Lawyers, or if they are loading Asparagus in 10 hours when others do it in 4, they aren’t doing a decent job!)

When you think about it, most people are professionals. They have pride in their work. They don’t like to put in a poor performance.  So the existence of benchmarking data or performance data makes people aware if their performance is bad, they become dissatisfied with their approach, and are open to learning something better, hence creating a market for knowledge, and an incentive for re-use.

Benchmark data

  • Shows you your poor performance, and that you need knowledge;
  • Shows you which knowledge you lack;
  • Shows you who does it better.

KM without benchmarking can backfire.

KM without benchmarking is difficult, as there is no objective way to tell which knowledge is better. Therefore, as we have argued, there can be a big supply of knowledge (everyone thinks their own way of doing things is best) but no demand for knowledge (everyone thinks their own way of doing things is best). Therefore, despite much KM activity, there is no impact to the organisation, as everyone merely reinforces what they are already doing. 

Benchmarking without KM can backfire

The key here is to combine benchmarking with two other things; Knowledge Management and collective target setting.

If you just say to people “other teams are doing this twice as well as you – I want you to be able to match this performance”, this could be met by demotivation. People think “we are working our butts off – how can we do this twice as fast? Those other teams must have better managers, or newer equipment, or we working in an easier market”.

Instead you need to say “other teams may have some secrets we can apply here which would allow us to catch up with the winners. Let’s learn from them, and let’s see how well we think we would perform if we used the best of the best ideas”

Benchmarking and KM are mutually supportive. As the classic book “Benchmarking: A tool for continuous improvement” says;

“If you want to maintain the status quo, then don’t benchmark. If you want to remain where you are, secure in the knowledge that you are doing the best that you can, don’t benchmark. If reality checks are not your cup of tea, don’t benchmark. Benchmarking will open an organization to change, and to humility. Benchmarking provides the stones for building a path toward competitive excellence and long run success.”(McNair and Leibfried, 1992).

Pair the drive to change (benchmarking) with the ability to learn (KM) and you have the recipe for long term success.

View Original Source (nickmilton.com) Here.

Cultural barriers to KM – updated

Which are the most common cultural barriers to KM? How do these barriers change with KM maturity? Which parts of the world have the most cultural barriers?  

These are some of the questions we addressed in our recent surveys of Knowledge Management. The results from the 2014 survey are presented in a previous blog post, and this post includes results from the 2017 survey as well.

 First we provided the respondents with a list of the top ten elements of an Organisational Learning culture, and asked them to identify which of these elements was currently a barrier to the implementation of Knowledge Management. The graph above shows the results, with the numbers being the number of people who identified this element as a barrier to their KM program. A total of 473 people answered the question.

The greatest cultural barrier to KM is short-term thinking – hurrying on with work rather than taking the time to learn before, during and after.  The second most common barrier is a lack of openness – a lack of willingness for people to be open to knowledge sharing and to analysis of what they have learned.  These two barriers are significantly more common that the others, and the same two were in top and second place in the 2014 survey.

Respondents could choose multiple cultural barriers, and to an extent, the number of barriers chosen is a measure of how supportive or unsupportive the culture is.

The number of cultural barriers identified by the respondents is on average fewest (and the culture therefore most supportive) for those companies where Knowledge Management is fully embedded.

This graph may be interpreted in three ways; either KM is easy to embed where the culture is most supportive, that embedding KM requires culture change, or that embedded KM acts to change the culture.

This issue is further explored in the third graph, which shows the average number of cultural barriers identified from respondents from different regions (note that the numbers of respondents are small in some cases).

The most supportive cultures for Knowledge Management seem to be in Australasia and the Indian sub-continent, with the least supportive cultures in Africa and China. The USA and Western Europe sit somewhere in the middle.

View Original Source (nickmilton.com) Here.

KM and Hansei, where "no problem" becomes a problem

Effective learning within an organisation requires consistent and rigorous self-analysis, in order to pick up learning points and points of improvement. In Japan, this process is known as Hansei.

はんせい、Hansei
Hansei, by Jim O’Neil, on Flickr

Although alien to many in the west, Hansei is an important part of the Japanese culture. Han means “change” and Sei means “to review”, so the whole thing means “introspection” or “reflection for the purposes of change”.  This translates into a behaviour , instilled from childhood, of looking for mistakes, admitting responsibility, and implementing change.(When Japanese children do something wrong, for example, they are scolded and are told: hansei shinasai – Do hansei!).

Hansei can become very public, as the footage of the crying Toyota CEO shows. As a response to poor safety performance, the CEO admitted responsibility, apologised, promised change, and wept – behaviour lauded in Japan but deemed strange in the West. In the West we would probably avoid responsibility, deny the mistake as “fake news”, and insult our detractors.

Hansei is at the heart of Kaizen – the “learning from experience” approach seen in Japanese industry. It may part of the reason why Japanese companies succeed so well at Kaizen as a core component of Knowledge Management, while other cultures struggle. Where a European company might see lesson-learning as a witch-hunt, for example, a Japanese company would see it as a way to put right the embarrassment of self-acknowledged failure. Where a US company might fear a blame culture, Hansei means that individuals already accept any blame and if they fear anything, they fear the lack of ability to make restitution.

How do we develop Hansei?

In non-Japanese cultures we have not been brought up with Hansei. Seeing our leaders accepting full responsibility for mistakes and sincerely, with emotion, promising change is something exceedingly rare (name me one example!).  However this is a behaviour we would dearly love to promote at work, so that mistakes are not hidden, but lead to learning and change.

So here are six things we can do to begin to develop Hansei behaviours.

1. We can understand the current culture, and recognise the barriers. One of the 10 cultural barriers is defensiveness – an unwillingness to take responsibility and examine your mistakes. Our cultural assessment service allows you to see whether this is a major barrier in your own organisation.

2. We can build reflection into the work process. After Action Review, for example, is a Kaizen activity that can be embedded into the working pattern, to trigger reflection and change on a regular basis.

3. We can adopt no-blame learning processes. The Retrospect is widely recognised as a no-blame lesson-learning process for use at the end of projects or project stages. The open questioning within the Retrospect gives people the opportunity to examine what went wrong, and to suggest how this might be improved.

4. We can ask the team leader to set the tone. If we are concerned about lack of openness in a Retrospect, we can work with the team leader before hand to identify an area where they can openly admit to making a mistake, and explore how to avoid this happening again. When the leader sets the tone, the rest of the team may follow.

5. We can ensure all learnings lead to action. We must make sure that everyone present in a Retrospect or After Action review can see that their admissions, introspections and lessons will lead to action. Lessons will not just rot away in overstuffed databases, but become embedded in changes to process. Knowing that your mistakes can be turned into successes for others can make Retrospects into something like group therapy. This is the positive outcome of Hansei.

6. We can become intolerant of complacency. Another of the 10 cultural elements, complacency is the feeling that “we did alright, there was no problem, we don’t need to change anything”.  Here is what the Toyota website says about “no problem”:

“Even if a task is completed successfully, Toyota recognises the need for a hansei-kai, or reflection meeting; a process that helps to identify failures experienced along the way and create clear plans for future efforts. An inability to identify issues is usually seen as an indication that you did not stretch to meet or exceed expectations, that you were not sufficiently critical or objective in your analysis, or that you lack modesty and humility. Within the Hansei process, no problem is itself a problem“.

This type of thinking – where “no problem” is seen as symptom of a lack of introspection and a lack of analysis, and something to challenge rather than to feel smug about – may be what separates the  true learning cultures from the also-rans.

View Original Source (nickmilton.com) Here.

9 influencing tactics to use when promoting KM

The Farnham Street blog (reporting on the book Mind Gym) describes nine tactics you can use to influence others, while making the point that ““it is essential that you understand the other person’s reasons so you can use tactics that will work to persuade them, as opposed to tactics that would work on you.”

Let’s see how these nine tactics can be used when promoting Knowledge Management


1. Reasoning  –  the process of using facts, logic, and argument to make a case. You would use this to make a business case for Knowledge Management, but need good evidence to back it up. “Knowledge Management, if applied to the bidding process, should improve our bid conversion rate by 20%, which would be worth $5 million in new business. We calculated this by looking at the bid losses over the last 3 years that would have been avoided through re-use of knowledge and best practices”.  Reasoning will almost certainly be necessary to support your case, but it is likely that other influencing techniques will create the “sell”.

2. Inspiring  –  focusing on the heart rather than the head, appealing to emotions and creating the vision. You would use this when your Knowledge Management business case is weak or unclear and you want a high level of emotional commitment. The inspiring tactic demands conviction, energy, and passion. “Imagine what it would be like to have knowledge at our fingertips – to know, at every decision point, what we have tried in the past, what works and what doesn’t work. We hold 5,000 years of experience in the heads of our staff – imagine what would be possible if that resource was available to everyone in the building”. Inspiring works well as a sell in the early stages of KM implementation, especially when backed up by a business case. See a list of KM visions here – some more inspiring than others!

3. Asking Questions – leading the other person to make their own discovery of the value of Knowledge Management. See the example here –   “When do your people use knowledge? Tell me about some of the important decisions, where knowledge is critical? If we had a situation where every person facing such a decision had complete access to the knowledge they needed, how much more business do you think we could win?  And how certain are you that people in this situation are currently handling this vital knowledge in a rigorous, systematic managed way?”  This is one of the more difficult tactics to use because it is impossible to know how the other person will respond and you have to be able to think on your feet, but is one of the most powerful approaches to use when talking to senior staff.

4. Cosying Up You almost always feel positive toward someone who makes you feel good about yourself. This is the cosying up tactic. “Dan, you are the smartest and most progressive leader in the whole management layer, and I know you are always looking for the next way to really improve your department. Let me tell you about this new thing called Knowledge Management”. Don’t use this approach when talking to people who are much more senior than you, when cosying up can look like sucking up.

5. Deal Making  – when you give another person something in return for their agreement with you. “Susie, if you agree to host a Community of Practice pilot, then in return I will support your expansion proposal in the next seniors meeting”  or, in an even braver approach (where you need a good reasoning argument to back it up), “Susie, I would like to make a deal with you. Let me set up a Knowledge Management pilot in your part of the business, and I guarantee you a 10% improvement in your results within 3 months.”  See for example the “KM deal with senior management”. Your ability to use this approach depends very much on your ability to offer something in return.

6. Favour Asking – simply asking for something because you want or need it.  “Davide, I really need a favour. I need an area of the business to set up a trial Lesson Learning System, and your department would be perfect. Can you help me?” This tactic works well only when the other person cares about you or their relationship with you. If used sparingly, it is hard to resist, but be aware you may have to pay back the favour at some time.

7. Using Silent Allies (aka social proof – using the fact that others use KM as an argument in its favour. This involves showing or telling stories of other people, as similar as possible to the person you want to influence, gaining value from Knowledge Management. This may be people from other organisations – “Did you know all our competitors are doing KM already? Let me tell you what the head of Acme said about it last week“, or people from your own organisation – “Here is one of our engineers talking about how the CoP helped him deliver his project ahead of time“. Beware of the “Yes, but we are different” response, and also of the CEO that says “We don’t want to copy the competition”.  Also for this technique to work, you need a success case somewhere you can draw from. However social proof is the most powerful convincing mechanism for most people, especially the knowledge workers and users of the framework.

8. Invoking Authority –  appealing to a rule or principle. “You have to hold your lessons learned meeting – it says so in the project procedure“. It doesn’t matter whether the authority invoked is formal or implicit, so long as it is recognized by the person you are trying to influence. This technique is one you use once you have the support of senior management, when the Knowledge Management policy (or equivalent) is in place, and when KM has become a clear expectation.  The downside is that it is more likely to lead to compliance than commitment, but well facilitated compliance can still deliver excellent results.  This is a technique to use once KM has been implemented, and you need to drive it’s application.

 9. Forcing “Do it or else.” The best example of the use of this tactic in KM comes from Bob Buckman, CEO of Buckman Labs, and his memo that says “if you are unwilling to contribute (your knowledge), the many opportunities open to you in the past will no longer be available”.  Or as Melissie Rumizen said about the same organisation, “In Buckman labs we reward knowledge sharing. If you do it, we reward you by letting you keep your job”. This is a technique that senior management can use on your behalf, and which may need to be used to remove the past few vestiges of non-compliance with KM expectations. This can only be used after KM implementation is complete, and you are looking to

People change their minds for their own reasons, not for your reasons. If you are using only one tactic to promote KM (Reasoning is the most commonly used tactic, even though it is largely ineffective), and its not working, then try something else. Also be prepared to change your tactic as your Knowledge Management implementation program progresses.

Learn these 9 techniques – you will need them to market and sell KM within your organisation.

View Original Source (nickmilton.com) Here.

Whose knowledge is it anyway?

Who owns the knowledge in your head; you, or the company you work for?

Image by Frits Ahlefeldt on Wikimedia Commons

Instinctively most of us assume that we own the knowledge in our heads. It’s our head, so it’s our knowledge.  A 2012 LinkedIn poll tested this question, providing 3 options –

  • I own it and the organisation leases it from me
  • My employer owns it
  • We co-own it

Most of the respondents felt the knowledge was theirs, and was leased, not owned, by the organisation. And a New Scientist article from 2018, discussed here, took a similar tack, arguing that, in the scientific world at least, the knowledge should belong to the scientist, and that knowledge management is a mechanism or organisational control.

“Scientists are slowly losing control of their discoveries, both in private industry and in academia… (as companies) extract workers’ know-how so that the company can store and own it indefinitely”.

But is this view really fair – that knowledge in our heads belongs entirely to us, and KM is an attempt by ruthless business to take control of this knowledge? There are several arguments to the contrary.

Firstly, Knowledge Management teaches us that knowledge is a collective property.  Knowledge is distributed. What is in your head is only opinion, until it is validated through combination with the knowledge of others. No one person can hold all the knowledge of a topic in their head any more, and it is generally shared with many present and past contributors. In an organisational sense, knowledge is owned by the communities of practice.

Secondly the organisation has invested a lot of money in developing your knowledge. Through training, through on-the-job coaching, and through the provision of knowledge management frameworks, the organisation has supported and sponsored you in developing the knowledge in your head. They have a stake in it.

Thirdly you cannot share company confidential knowledge. You will have been working with confidential material for many years. Some of the codified, documented knowledge in your organisation will be confidential. Some will be secret. The same is true of some of the tacit knowledge, some of which you have have in your head. You cannot leave a company and immediately start to share confidential material just because you remember it. You cannot legally give away trade secrets, proprietary methodologies or confidential approaches.

Fourthly you may well have signed away rights to some of the knowledge. When a consultant works with a company, they sign clear agreements which define, as closely as possible what existing knowledge belongs to whom, and what must happen to new knowledge created during the consultancy. Generally the new knowledge remains with the company, not the consultant, and the consultant keeps what he/she brought to the party, and anything that was in the public domain.

There is some knowledge that is truly yours to take away, however.

The first is the knowledge that has become embedded and encoded in your muscle memory and your skills. Imagine you are a sports star and you transfer clubs. You are not allowed to give to the new club the details of your previous club’s playbook (this is confidential knowledge) but you can take your skills and ability with you, even though your previous club invested in your skills development.

Secondly you can take away your judgement. Judgement, aka wisdom, represents how you act on the knowledge you receive, and this is so innate to the way you operate, than it cannot be taken away.

Thirdly you take away your experience. This is the aggregate of all the work you have ever done, and represents the heuristics you apply to future work.

So who owns the knowledge?

I would suggest that the best approach for anyone working in an organisation is to treat the knowledge as something shared within the organisation, something that you do not own, but can contribute to and draw from.  Certainly do not hoard your knowledge – your hoard is trivially small compared the the sum total knowledge of the network. Share what you know openly, and openly benefit from the knowledge of others. Then when you move on, leave the details and the confidential material behind and take your skills and experience with you.

Take your playing skills and experience with you – those are yours –  but leave the team playbook behind.

View Original Source (nickmilton.com) Here.

Why a no-blame culture needs no-blame processes

We hear a lot about the importance of a “no-blame culture” in Lesson-learning, but a no-blame culture won’t work unless you have no-blame processes as well. 

Image from wikimedia commons

Learning lessons in an organisation requires a culture of openness, so that people are willing to explore honestly and openly what happened, and what might be learned.  This is particularly important when learning from projects or incidents where things have gone wrong and where mistakes have been made.  If people feel they are likely to blamed for the mistakes, and that their career or reputation might suffer as a result, they are unlikely to discuss the issue openly.

When we discuss the topic of lesson-learning with clients, we often hear the concern that lesson-learning meetings could be seen as “witch-hunts” – in other words, a search for someone to blame. To reassure them, we talk them through the lesson-learning process we use; the Retrospect.

The Retrospect is an externally-facilitated team meeting, held after the end of a project or project stage, where the team identifies and analyses learning points through discussion and dialogue, in order to derive lessons and actions for the future. The facilitator leads an inclusive discussion to identify

  • What went well and what did not go to plan in the project
  • Why the successful elements succeeded, and why the failures and mistakes happened (looking for root cause)
  • How future projects can repeat the success and avoid the failure. 

The key questions are therefore What, Why and How; very open questions which allow full exploration of the lessons learned.

Note that there is no Who question. 

We do not really care who was the hero or who was the villain. This is a no-blame process, as well as a no-praise process. We are searching neither for Witches or for Knights; only for the truth.

An open, no-blame culture requires open no-blame processes such as the Retrospect.

View Original Source (nickmilton.com) Here.

Driving the desire to learn by pushing people out of their comfort zone

Nobody will look for knowledge from others if they think they already know what to do, and you cannot teach anyone anything if they think they know it already. Therefore the most effective way to promote a desire to learn in an organisation, is to move people out of their comfort zone.

I don't know
An honest post-it, by Hilary Perkins, on Flickr

If people are in a familiar situation, where they think they know what to do, then they  will just rely on their own knowledge. After all – they know its provenance, and they trust it more than they trust anyone else’s knowledge.  Why look for new knowledge, if your existing knowledge is sufficient?

This means that the best way to promote learning and re-application of knowledge across an organisation is to give people challenges they don’t know how to meet. To push them out of the comfort zone of “I know how to do this”, into a zone of “this is tough – I’d better see what knowledge is out there that can help me”. Then they will look for knowledge from others, to help them solve the problem.

It’s a question of receptivity. You can’t transfer knowledge unless the recipient is receptive. To be receptive, they have to feel a need to learn something. If they feel they don’t need to know, they won’t be receptive to external knowledge. Epictetus knew this in 2nd century Rome when he said “It is impossible for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows.” See also the story of the nurses.

Examples from industry

John Browne (the BP CEO in the 90s and early 00s) recognised this issue, and offered a challenge.

He said that he expected every project to deliver better than the previous project (often radically better), and his budget allocations and performance targets reflected this. He forced continuous improvement in delivery and cost, and the only way to continuously improve was to continuously learn. For the project manager, these “stretch goals” were often seriously uncomfortable (“How on earth does he expect me to cut the budget by another 20%?”) and it pushed them to seek advice, look for the best of the best, and build upon the entire knowledge base of the organisation. As a result, these stretch targets were drivers of innovation, knowledge management and continuous improvement.

Ford did this as well, in the days of the Ford Best practice Replication System. Through applying continuously decreasing operating budgets, they forced their plants into a situation where they were outside their comfort zone, and had to learn in order to deliver to the new budgets.

In both cases, the strong delivery push from management was supported by an organisational framework that made knowledge management possible.

Just increasing the pressure without providing the framework would not have worked – it would have added stress to the organisation. Increasing the pressure while also providing the ability to learn, on the other hand, provided the incentives for knowledge to flow around the system to where it was needed (driven by “demand Pull”), and fuelled continuous performance increase over a number of years.

So remember, if you want to promote a knowledge seeking culture in your company (and a knowledge seeking culture is a far better driver of KM than a knowledge sharing culture), then you and your senior managers need to push people out of the comfort zone, so that they can no longer rely on what they already know.

If they think they know what to do, there is no incentive for them to learn

View Original Source (nickmilton.com) Here.

To share more knowledge, build bigger tribes

We are built to share knowledge within our tribes. To improve knowledge sharing, build bigger tribes.

Papua New Guinea - True North - Sepik
Papua New Guinea – True North –
on Flickr – source/credit: North Star Cruises.
Photograph by David Kirkland.
 Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0)

As humans, we have  always had the ability, through language to share what we know. It’s just that, very often, we don’t want to. share with everyone. Sometimes we would rather keep knowledge “within the tribe.”

In New Scientist December 2012, Mark Pagel, the author of  “Wired for Culture: Origins of the Human Social Mind” wrote an article called “The War of Words” in which he argued that languages evolved in order to keep different tribes separate, just as much as to allow communication within the tribes.

He points out that that the greatest diversity of human societies and languages (and there are over 7000 languages on the planet) arises not where people are most spread out, but where they are most closely packed together. Papua New Guinea is a classic case. That relatively small land mass – only slightly larger than California – is home to between 800 and 1000 distinct languages, or around 15 per cent of all languages spoken on the planet. A different language is spoken every few kilometres, and Pagel suggests that these have evolved to keep the different tribes distinct, separate and competing. He says

“In support of this idea, I have found anthropological accounts of tribes deciding to change their language, with immediate effect, for no other reason than to distinguish themselves from neighbouring groups. For example, a group of Selepet speakers in Papua New Guinea changed its word for “no” from bia to bune to be distinct from other Selepet speakers in a nearby village. Another group reversed all its masculine and feminine nouns – the word for he became she, man became woman, mother became father, and so on. One can only sympathise with anyone who had been away hunting for a few days when the changes occurred”.

The two features that drive this are, according to Pagel “groupishness” – affiliating with people with whom you share a distinct identity – and xenophobia, demonising those outside your group and holding parochial views towards them.

So language and knowledge sharing are linked, and both language and knowledge sharing are very much kept “within the tribe”.  Sharing knowledge with other tribes is an unnatural act; something languages have evolved to deter.

We can recognise the same effects of groupishness and xenophobia at work. Organisational boundaries create teams and silos, they create groupishness, and they create “us and them” feelings, which may be reinforced by internal competition.  Knowledge sharing happens within the silos, but seldom between them.

So what can we, as KMers, do about this?

We need to create new tribes.

This is the idea behind Communities of practice – that we can build a new organisational structure along knowledge lines, that cross-cuts the existing silos. By creating these new tribes, we create a feeling of groupishness and a sense of identity which align with the needs for knowledge sharing. One community leader I know calls this “dual identification” – identification with the business silo, but also identification with the community of practice.

We need to create new vocabulary.

This is particularly important after a merger, when terminologies between the merged organisations will be different. Without finding a common terminology, the old divisions remain, reinforcing old groupings. I have argued before that a Community of Practice is united by a common jargon and where multiple jargons exist, you need to lead the attempt to merge them.

I read an article recently about how a national rugby team can be created from individuals from different and rival clubs – a process of creating groupishness from a selection of xenophobic competitors – and the first step was to create a common vocabulary for the patterns and techniques they would encounter on the field of play. To create a common group, they needed a common vocabulary.

We need to remove the influences that keep us most separate. 

The most pernicious of these influences is institutionalised internal competition; reinforced by awards like “factory of the month”, “salesman of the year” and so on.  Anything that separates and divides, creating us (winners) and them (losers) will kill Knowledge Management stone dead and must be removed and replaced with awards that unite.  “Us” needs to be the company (plus key allies, stakeholders and supply chain) and “them” needs to be the competition – and then only where you are in a competitive context.

Create new tribes, create shared language, create shared groupishness, keep the xenophobia for the competition, and then Knowledge sharing will follow.

View Original Source (nickmilton.com) Here.

12 ways to develop trust in your KM Framework

We all know that trust is a key factor in the success of Knowledge Management, but trust in what, and how do we build that trust?

Image from wikimedia commons

Trusting a Knowledge Management Framework is like trusting a vending machine – you put money in, you get chocolate out every time, and it’s good chocolate, so you trust it to deliver next time.

The trust is in the system itself, rather than in the individuals involved. In a large organisation, knowledge can come from so many people that it is impossible to trust them all individually  (see my blog post on why people trust crowds). Instead you trust the KM Framework itself. If you engage with the Framework and it works – you gain value – and it does this reliably and repeatedly, then you trust it as if it were a Knowledge vending machine.

I think we can look at the issue of trust from two points of view – the trust held by the knowledge seeker and the trust held by the knowledge supplier.  The elements of trust described below are independent of the system used to share, store and/or find knowledge, and independent of the relative balance between Connecting and Collecting. They are generic.

Trust and the Knowledge Seeker

The knowledge seeker needs to be able to trust that seeking for knowledge will not be a waste of time, nor will it bring negative consequences. For example
  1. They need to to be able to trust that use of a search engine will bring useful results without too much effort
  2. They need to to be able to trust that any knowledge they find on knowledge bases is trustworthy and reliable and current
  3. They need to to be able to trust that asking a question of a community of practice will bring valuable knowledge
  4. They need to to be able to trust that they will not be ridiculed for asking, nor drawn into unproductive discussions
  5. They need to to be able to trust that attending a Knowledge management process such as a Peer Assist will deliver more value than the time and effort it will cost
  6. They need to to be able to trust that spending time searching Knowledge Management systems will not have negative consequences such as management disapproval

Trust and the Knowledge Supplier

The knowledge supplier or sharer needs to be able to trust that supplying or sharing knowledge will not be a waste of time, nor will it bring negative consequences. For example
  1. They need to to be able to trust that any knowledge they supply to knowledge bases will be reviewed and used
  2. They need to to be able to trust that answering a question in a community of practice will make a difference to someone
  3. They need to to be able to trust that the knowledge they offer will not be ridiculed, nor will they drawn into unproductive discussions
  4. They need to to be able to trust that attending a Knowledge management process such as a Retrospect is a valuable use of time
  5. They need to to be able to trust that Knowledge offered during a KM process such as a Retrospect will not be ridiculed, and they will not be made to look bad by offering it (especially when learning from mistakes, or from failed projects)
  6. They need to to be able to trust that spending time providing or sharing Knowledge  will not have negative consequences such as management disapproval

Developing the trust

People develop trust for themselves, by trial and error. If they try a community of practice, for example, and find that they get no answer to their question, and that their time had been wasted, they lose trust and don’t return (see my blog post on “losing trust in a community”).

So we have to make the Framework trustworthy.

For each of the trust issues above, this is how you deal with them

  1. Make sure you have good search, and well owned and curated knowledge bases
  2. Make sure the knowledge bases are owned, updated  and validated
  3. Make sure that CoPs are well led and facilitated
  4. Make sure that CoPs have a good Charter, which is enforced
  5. Use experienced trained facilitators for KM processes. Ensure that KM processes are applied only to important business issues
  6. Make sure that managers understand their role in supporting an appropriate level of KM activity
  7. Make sure there is a demand for knowledge, and that knowledge seeking gets as much attention as knowledge sharing
  8. Make sure that CoP discussions are focused on problem solving, and addressing business issues
  9. Make sure that CoPs have a good Charter, which is enforced
  10. Ensure that the lessons system is complete and managed, so that lessons are carried through to action
  11. Use experienced trained facilitators for KM processes, especially when learning from failure.  Use a no-blame process. 
  12. Make sure that managers understand their role in supporting an appropriate level of KM activity

That’s how you build trust in the KM Framework as a trusted and reliable vending machine for Knowledge

View Original Source (nickmilton.com) Here.