The KM Culture Factor

Recently a former colleague contacted me asking for a list she thought might help her in her current job. I managed to find a hard copy and sent it to her, along with a humorous expression of my dismay that not much had changed since the days in our old office. There almost everyone hoarded information and barely a soul contributed to our simple, albeit useful, knowledge management system.

Interestingly, the experience enlightened me as to why my own efforts to motivate people to use the system had failed: I simply hadn't taken into account the company culture and non-collaborative bent of the employees. As usual, hindsight always adds a bit of clarity (not to mention humor) but ignoring corporate culture when embarking on a KM initiative is certainly no joke. It is an integral--yet often ignored--component of KM and I would imagine knowledge managers with failing projects aren't laughing.

Ironically, a recent conversation I had with KM expert David Skyrme touched on the same topic. Skyrme, author of "Measuring the Value of Knowledge" and "Knowledge Networking: Creating the Collaborative Enterprise," argues that there is a significant difference between many KM efforts in America versus those in Europe in terms of the focus on corporate culture in planning and implementation. "In Europe companies are much more balanced and in tune with people issues," commented Skyrme, who is based in England. "Technology is a great enabler but you need the processes to imbed it into the organization and you need people's attitude, knowledge and skills to make it work."

There's no question that KM is finally being accepted, understood and implemented, but technology seems to be at the forefront of these initiatives. And in the feeding frenzy to boast the latest and greatest in hopes of gaining competitive advantage, certain fundamental KM elements fall by the wayside. "The United states seems to be more of an individual-is-hero kind of culture and of course KM is all about teamwork," noted Skyrme. "It seems that a lot of people [in America] are quite happy to take the technology and let it drive the way. But if you are to be successful long term, you need to develop these collaborative kind of cultures."

New tools have revolutionized KM, but at the core of managing knowledge in any organization are certain components--particularly culture--that can't be ignored. Otherwise you risk not only alienating workers, but the impact will stretch far beyond simply sabotaging the current KM effort.

Skyrme also mentioned that while attending a recent European conference focused on portals he observed most speakers (which he admitted included one American company) discussing general business strategies comprised of 10 percent technology, 20 percent processes and 70 percent people. People over technology? What a concept.

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