posted 1 Mar 1999 in Volume 2 Issue 6
Navigating the organisational
In 'Implementing Knowledge Management: Lessons Learned' (Volume 1, Issue 4), Bill Ives & Adam Gersting provided an overview of best practices in implementing knowledge management solutions. These best practices, related to strategy, process, people and technology were taken from the creation of knowledge management solutions for their clients and themselves. In this follow-on article, they focus on the map route of strategies for executives leading organisational change. The summit is knowledge management success.
Executive commitment, sponsorship and leadership are critical factors for knowledge management initiatives to succeed. Moving towards a knowledge sharing environment is primarily a cultural change and business executives must actively sponsor and guide the organisation's journey towards a knowledge sharing environment. In order to move from a simplistic information environment to a sophisticated knowledge sharing environment, critical steps must be taken to provide navigation towards the future, while enabling this advance and building a sense of ownership over time
Considerations around the four organisational change areas are shown in the figure below and are detailed in turn in the following sections.
Actively setting the course and keeping the organisation on track towards a knowledge sharing environment
Set the target
Executives must play a very active role in controlling the direction of cultural change arising from knowledge initiatives, initially by defining the course and direction for the initiative. By working to define a clear vision for knowledge management, executives will set and keep their organisations on track
Executives at one major U.S. steel company for example, realised that their organisation was gathering knowledge in different plants and offices using different processes, and various technologies with varying results. Through recognising the opportunity to improve information and knowledge sharing, a strategy was developed to provide future direction on knowledge roles, processes, information to be captured and shared, as well as new technology approaches to enable this sharing. Similarly, executives at a major automobile company realised the need to share decades worth of experience and insights in the heads of engineers in order to remain competitive in the global market. Repeating mistakes or resolving problems was too costly, and greatly impacted time to market. Additionally, a core of the engineering force was nearing retirement, and their knowledge would soon disappear with them. In order to provide a clear understanding of knowledge sharing efforts throughout the engineering area, a vision for knowledge management was developed: 'Bringing our Knowledge together: An environment in which information and knowledge insights are shared, synthesised and leveraged, enabling us to be more effective.'
Define desired outcomes
In addition to defining the vision for knowledge management initiatives and developing plans to reach that vision, it is important to define the desired outcomes or capabilities to be achieved once the vision is realised; what will we be able to do when this happens? It is important to define and communicate the business value to be achieved once vision is realised. For example, Texas Instruments launched a best practice knowledge sharing initiative with the goal of reducing cycle time and improving delivery dates for its wafer fabrication production. It achieved this goal and realised more than $1billion in additional capacity (O'Dell and Grayson, 1998). One common way to communicate the desired outcomes of knowledge management initiatives is through scenarios, focusing on how individuals within different business roles will work in the future environment. These scenarios are:
' ...stories about the way the world might turn out tomorrow, stories that can help us recognise and adapt to changing aspects of our present environment...Scenario planning is about making choices today, with an understanding of how they might turn out.' (Schwartz, 1991)
Defining desired outcomes using scenario tools provides different projections of the future environment towards which knowledge management programmes can navigate.
Another way of defining and communicating outcomes is through simulations of the projected business environment. For example, a major health insurance organisation created new roles to support knowledge sharing around best practices, and refined the roles of all key functions within the claims processing and provider service areas to include knowledge sharing. Simulations of the new way of working in the knowledge sharing environment were created so individuals could directly experience the vision and the desired outcomes.
Manage scope and pace
Management of the scope and pace of overall knowledge efforts begins with the pilot project. It is often important for the initial knowledge project to focus on a small, high-impact area before expanding to a larger business unit. Key users involved in the initial pilot effort must achieve several key success factors. First, they must provide guidance on the processes to be automated and the content to be leveraged. Automation of bad processes, or sharing of less important information and knowledge is counterproductive. Secondly, pilot users must help capture and refine the valuable anecdotes and success stories which arise from the overall change effort. This is critical in building buy-in and developing momentum throughout the organisation. Thirdly, pilot users must be positioned as the experienced ' champions' as the knowledge management initiative expands throughout the business unit. These committed pilot users will be able to influence and guide others, lead by example and serve as catalysts to build and sustain a knowledge-based organisation.
Being at the front of the organisation as it makes its journey
Top executives as role models
It is not enough for executives to set the direction and make sure the organisation is headed that way. Executives cannot 'push' others in the organisation to change ('A man convinced against his will... is of his own opinion still.' - Samuel Butler). Executives must be at the front of the change, motivating others to follow by setting an example. Within the Andersen Consulting environment for example, partners are expected to share their knowledge just as new hires are. When others see senior partners taking the time and effort to participate actively in knowledge sharing by posting as well as answering questions within discussion databases(or sharing documents or practices they have found beneficial) the message is relayed that knowledge sharing is critical. Executives must use the knowledge contributed by others, and more importantly make this known. Posting a comment that the document someone else shared was very helpful provides incentives for employees to share their own knowledge and encourage others to follow. Organising reward and recognition processes to celebrate knowledge sharing achievements are also powerful motivators for human performance. Some of the motivating strategies that our knowledge champions have implemented are:
i.Recognising employees who post the greatest number of contributions
ii.Capturing our best knowledge capital in thought leadership databases
iii.Recognising employees for their contributions, including employee contributions to our knowledge centre in our performance appraisal processes.
In summary, executives must demonstrate leadership in their behaviour. Consistency in action is a powerful way of helping to steer an organisation forward. As in any large-scale change initiative, if executives do not change there is little incentive for employees to follow.
Provide the support and funding
In addition to providing leadership through sharing of knowledge, executives must lead the efforts by securing support of others. In a highly competitive global economy it is no longer sufficient to have a single executive accountable for a fundamental change initiative. Developing a sponsorship strategy that aligns agreement to the change journey strategy, objectives, initiatives, expected value, success measures, risks and constraints are critical outcomes to ensure support and buy-in from key stakeholders. With diverse global knowledge management client delivery experiences, we have developed a robust knowledge management strategy in which sponsorship goals and expectations are integrated throughout.
By developing these strategies, and continuing to focus on strengthening executive sponsorship, top executives will more likely become evangelists, spreading the word on the value of knowledge sharing, and nurturing continued growth. For example, Ken Dorr, chairman and CEO of Chevron has linked knowledge sharing to organisational strategy and has been an untiring supporter of it: 'Every day that a better idea gets unused is a lost opportunity. We have to share more, and we have to share faster.' (O'Dell and Grayson, 1998). Chevron has realised more than $650 million in benefits as a result of this dedication to knowledge sharing.
Another way of supporting the initiative is to ensure that time - and more directly, money - are available to make the knowledge sharing initiative successful. The sharing of knowledge cannot be seen as something 'extra' that employees are asked to do above and beyond their 'normal' responsibilities. Employee job descriptions and expectations must be modified to include the sharing of knowledge as a part of their job, or the investment will not be made. According to Davenport and Prusak (1998): 'If a company's most influential employees are the very ones who are too busy to a attend knowledge fair or forum, then the knowledge market is not working well.' Executive support will be required to ensure that employees have the time, that the company's knowledge sharing market is working well.
Providing the overall environment to enable the success of change within the organisation.
Provide the Right Technologies
Although developing a knowledge sharing organisation primarily involves a cultural change, collaborative support technologies must also be in place to successfully enable that change. In order to make the most of these technologies, one must determine which technologies should be integrated to support the knowledge sharing processes. The assessment of the available technology should be two-pronged. First, look at the knowledge sharing vision or processes that have been defined, and identify which technologies are necessary to enable these processes. Then, review the technologies that are available in the market today that could be integrated into a knowledge sharing environment. You also need to determine if the types of processes these technologies offer can provide value to the organisation. In other words, identify technologies to support your requirements, and review the technologies to see if leveraging them should be a requirement.
Knowledge management systems no longer just involve threaded discussion and document posting, but real-time collaboration, integration of document management technologies, powerful search engines and agent technologies. As the amount of information and knowledge captured in knowledge systems continues to grow, agent profiling and knowledge mapping tools should be considered for the knowledge environment. These tools will be very important in getting the right information to the right people at the right time, resulting in sharing of best practices and improved decision-making.
As with any new change, expectations of knowledge sharing should be documented and distributed to all employees involved in the knowledge management initiative. Expectations should be developed for all the roles involved in the solution, contribution, consumption and management of the systems and content. In most cases a majority of employees will be both contributors and consumers of knowledge. Roles and responsibilities for Knowledge Base Integrators (who manage the structure of knowledge systems), and Knowledge Integrators (who handle the content within systems) should be well defined. Through communicating expectations, and ensuring that incentives or rewards are in place to motivate employees to perform successfully in the knowledge environment, sharing and leveraging the information, insights and experiences of others will take place implicitly.
Integrate Knowledge Management with other learning initiatives
Just as the sharing of knowledge should not be positioned as an activity in addition to or outside of one's primary job, knowledge management should not be addressed independently from other learning initiatives. For example, a large number of core Andersen Consulting schools - whether they are focused on technology or process or strategy - involve gathering key information from our knowledge system, and posting back new material. This instills (starting in first year employees) the importance and benefit of leveraging our internal knowledge sharing environment. It also illustrates that using and sharing knowledge is part of our job, not an activity in addition to our job.
Develop a sense of ownership in the knowledge environment
Frequent communication on knowledge management plans, value and results is essential. Periodic newsletters, describing plans and the value they provide, timing and expectations, and then descriptions of new content or systems changes, help to increase the awareness and understanding of the initiative. Communication should be two way, modelling the knowledge capture concept. Processes should be set up to actively solicit and gather feedback on any aspect of the initiative. It is not enough to just gather feedback; it must be analysed, responded to and acted upon, as appropriate. Users must know that the solution is theirs, that their comments and insights will shape the environment going forward, that positive perception and ownership of the environment will be taken on collectively, and not selectively. This sense of ownership is very important if the environment is to continue to evolve to support changing knowledge needs.
If active involvement of key individuals can be gained, then ownership will follow. This begins with soliciting and positioning key users to work on the initial knowledge management effort. Feedback from users is a valuable way to build involvement. Additionally, subject matter experts will need to be positioned as owners of certain areas of the knowledge systems, responsible for ensuring that the questions of others are addressed in the best way possible. One way in which these subject matter experts can help to build involvement is to contact others who they believe might be able to answer posted questions, and ask them to respond using the system. This frequently happens in our firm. The subject matter experts will also be in a position to broadly recognise valuable knowledge contributors within their areas. Executives must remember that incentives must be in place to encourage and reward knowledge sharing activities, or solicitations will fall upon deaf ears. It is through high levels of two-way communication, as well as continually soliciting and promoting a sharing environment that a sense of ownership in the environment will be established.
This article focuses on change strategies for executives leading knowledge management initiatives. The impact of senior executives'' influence in an organisation undertaking a knowledge management strategy determines its success or failure. Argyris and Schon (1978) suggest that an organisation is, at its root, a cognitive enterprise. It learns and develops knowledge, and it also learns whether sharing this knowledge is valued and supported. In addition, organisational researchers have shown that organisations develop shared frames of reference, recall of past events, as well as the creation of stories and myths, and vicarious learning and unlearning (Dunbar et al, 1982; Hedberg, 1981; Huff, 1983; Jelinek, 1979; Lyles, 1988). Every large-scale change programme competes with old paradigms, mental models, and memories that may support or inhibit a knowledge management culture.
Organisations undertaking this type of change need to ensure they have moved beyond rhetoric, and that executives and leaders of the enterprise are not only 'walking the talk,' but are also passionate about the future. Perhaps the most important factor for organisations to consider in embarking on a knowledge management cultural change is that the core values of the executives personify trust and respect, encourage risk taking, appreciate diversity and share naturally. Without leadership by example, organisations have an uncanny way of becoming disillusioned quickly, and hence carefully designed change journeys that navigate and sustain change are required to support executives. In some cases executives will need individual coaching strategies to help them move forward. Organisations that apply change strategies such as we have outlined will increase their likelihood of success. For those that don't, failure will come quickly. The winners will survive - and more importantly, achieve renewal and growth.
Argyris C, and Schon D., (1978). Organisational learning: A theory of action perspective, Reading, Mass: Addison Wesley.
Davenport, T., & Prusak, L. (1998) Working knowledge: How organisations manage what they know. Harvard Business School Press, Boston, MA
Dunbar, R.L., Dutton, J.M. ad Torbert, W.R. (1982). 'Crossing mother: Ideological constraints on organisational improvements.' Journal of Management Studies, 19, 1 91-108.
Hedberg, B. (1981). 'How organisations learn and unlearn.' In Nystrom, P. C. and Starbuck, W. (Eds), Handbook of Organisational Design, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Huff, A. S. (1983). 'Industry influence on strategy reformulation.' Strategic Management Journal, 4, 3, 119-31.
Jelinek, M. (1979) Institutionalising innovation: A study of organisational learning systems, New York: Praeger.
Lyles, M. A. (1988). 'Learning amongst joint venture sophisticated firms,' Management International Review, 28, 85-98.
O'Dell, C., & Grayson, J. (1998) If only we know what we know: Identification and transfer of internal best practices. California Management Review, 40, 3, 154-174.
Schwartz, P. (1991) The art of the long view, Doubleday Currency, New York
Adam Gersting is a manager within Andersen Consulting's Technology Practice, Cindy Gordon and Bill Ives are associate partners within the Change Management practice.