Monday, September 1, 2014

Knowledge Management: Culture vs. Structure

The Knowledge Management culture needs to fit with the overall organizational culture.

Today’s digital workforce has to learn, de-learn and re-learn all the time, as on one hand, information is only a few clicks away; on the other hand, the knowledge life cycle is significantly shortened, hence, knowledge management becomes a strategic imperative for business information management and talent management as well. However, culture vs. structure, which one is more important from the knowledge management perspective?

First and foremost the leaders must create a work environment for people to collaborate and share knowledge: People will say Knowledge Management is important, but nothing more than that. No formal programs or strategy is put in place, or it is considered optional for employees to participate. It is hard to collect tacit knowledge, but it can be collected to a certain extent; it is preferably managing knowledge in live project or operational contexts, far better than forcing people to document after the fact, or worst of all asking them to make their knowledge explicit for some rainy day situation that may never occur. Some companies have managed it, but very few companies are doing what they should do to preserve knowledge for the long-term strategic perspective.

The Knowledge Management culture needs to fit with the overall organizational culture: It’s like a case of surfing the wave rather than fighting it. If the company environment is very structured, then tailor your KM to go with that. If it's not, go with less structure and embrace the chaos. The culture of heroism and individuality must be set aside for one of collaboration, socialization, and (build upon) reuse to occur. Although times exist when a company needs to change, and leveraging the existing culture may rather hinder, not help. For example, taking a highly social organizational culture where sharing of ideas and communication does occur, and the goal is to drive knowledge sharing and innovation through collaboration and reuse, and behavioral change must occur. In essence - a cultural shift.

Creating structure - particularly a knowledge management repository - in collaboration with the end-users worked well: The structure combined the professional expertise with their cultural expertise, and it has been relatively well integrated into their everyday work. Since tacit knowledge is highly personal and based on observation and experience, it is hard to collect or document. Start with the community and follow up with tools depending on the barriers (geography, divisional, structural, etc), the tacit knowledge has to flow in response to an organizational need. People don't know what they know until they need to know it. Healthy organizations usually reflect this and the Knowledge Share flows.

Great tools can certainly enhance the KM environment; but if the desire to do it is not already there, it most likely won't work: It seems that most people are reasonably happy to help out, share and are curious about solutions to managing knowledge, certainly in their everyday lives. Actually, there are software tools that help the gathering of tacit knowledge and some are very powerful. These can be applied in the management of projects and in knowledge management, clever use of collaboration tools can convert tacit knowledge to explicit knowledge, like:
-Intranet & Blog sites
- Setting up communities, closed group conversations
- Setting up discussion boards, open group conversations
- The questionnaire with open-ended questions
- Using third-party collaboration tools, to engage in real-time discussions

Digital knowledge management is not managing knowledge as an object, it is about providing the management system that enables knowledge flow, the right culture is the very fabric to weave such an effective management system, and the structure is the mechanism to keep the system running smoothly, with the goals to build a knowledge-savvy organization.


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