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KM Capability Maturity – How does one create a knowledge-sharing culture in an organisation and bring it to maturity quickly?

Over the past year, Imaginist has been developing a new methodology which integrates people and process transformation to improve the success rate of complex change programmes in large public sector organisations: The Change Equation. An important part of this is focused on assessing an organisation’s capability maturity:- the capability of an organisation to align and empower their workforce, to achieve compliance to new ways of working and to bring in standardised, managed processes across the organisation.

But capability maturity can be measured in another way, too.

We have been leading a Knowledge Management audit exercise for a public sector organisation which is in the middle of restructuring and re-inventing itself. One of the main findings was that there had been no official recognition of the degree to which knowledge lay in people’s heads and of the huge importance of social and peer-group networks to enable this knowledge to be shared and disseminated in the original organisation. Consequently no action had been taken to avoid the wholesale corporate memory loss and the dispersal of these trusted informal channels for knowledge-sharing, as people changed jobs and the organisation underwent its transformation.

The original networks had grown organically over time and depended heavily on people knowing other people and having the motivation to share knowledge with them. In some cases the incentive to share would come from an enquiry: “Who do you know who can help me with this?” The trust relationship would thus be extended. In other cases the exchange of ideas and information would be casual and opportunistic – a conversation at a meeting or over lunch or coffee.

The new organisation cannot afford to wait for these trusted networks to form spontaneously, but there is plenty of evidence to show that imposing a Knowledge Management strategy and structured system is also not the answer. As we saw, the success of the orginal networks was the willingness of people to share knowledge – not a feature one finds typically in a newly-formed, complex organisation with many people focused on learning their new roles and others brought in for the first time.

How can one instigate a knowledge-sharing culture and bring it to maturity in a relatively short time?

Well, by insisting that everyone takes responsiblity for the sharing of knowledge and giving this clear priority. That means focusing attention on discussion and exchange of ideas, involving eveyone from the CEO to clerical assistants, and including all functions from customer-facing staff (who typically do not comunicate internally) to IT boffins (who tend not to commuicate at all!).

Networks need to be sponsored and encouraged. The time and space needs to be allocated to this – it won’t happen otherwise (so its not good enough to rely on keen participants gathering in the pub on Friday nights!). Participation needs to be a key performance criteria for staff and manager appraisals and the importance of tacit vs explicit knowledge has to be central to the organisation’s approach to achieving its objectives.

Upskilling people and giving them the motivation is only one part of the task. The other is providing some simple but crucial tools – a people directory (with pictures) and an Intranet that everyone can access, search and input to, as a natural part of their job. (It almost doesn’t matter how the intranet is structured – what is vital is a good search facility.)

Of course one can go further – David Snowdon at Cognitive Edge has developed powerful tagging and analysis tools to enable unstructured knowledge (like this blog) to be searched and included in the knowledge base.

I’d be interested in hearing from others who have developed approaches that have worked successfully to transform an organisation’s capability to manage its knowledge effectively.



March 9, 2008 - Posted by | business change management, knowledge management, project and programme management | , , , , , , ,

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