posted 2 May 2006 in Volume 9 Issue 8
Thought | leader: Learning for sustainability
By Dr Edna Pasher
KM needs a clear purpose. All management efforts need a purpose.
I believe the best purpose of knowledge management (KM) is to save organisations. This is what pulled me into it years ago. At its best, KM can help create learning organisations, which I believe will be necessary for survival in the future.
Organisations, on average, do not last more than 12 years. In some cases, whole neighbourhoods die with them when they die. So here’s a good KM cause – learning for sustainability.
Learning organisations involve all stakeholders and, therefore, should be committed to the ‘triple bottom-line’ – measuring organisational performance in terms of social and environmental factors, as well as profit and loss.
Knowledge sharing should not be limited to the organisation itself, but extended to all the networks inside and outside the organisation, helping to create new knowledge and to tackle all the challenges around sustainability.
This begs some core KM questions:
How do organisational learning tools and principles help us to create sustainable organisations?
How can we learn to deliver excellent business results while also achieving our other aims?
What leadership qualities do we need to lead sustainable learning organisations?
How can we build the commitment for sustainability in organisations and society at large?
Creating sustainable organisations, which evolve in harmony with the environment, means new business models, establishing new values and norms, changing leadership and working styles, and developing new capacity for creativity and innovation.
We need to replace old values with sustainability values: ‘systems thinking’ instead of linear thinking, co-operating to succeed instead of competing to succeed, understanding the whole picture instead of step-by-step planning, evolving with the environment instead of trying to control it.
It takes a culture of transparency and trust, life-long learning for people, teams and companies. If we choose sustainability as KM’s big purpose we need to move from focusing on ‘the knowledge enterprise’ to the ‘knowledge city’ or region.
This focus must make us care about the physical environment, too. Our grandchildren will need clean air and water. Only organisations that care will survive. We need to commit to sustainable development, but this will take a lot of creativity, innovation and, above all, knowledge sharing.
Of course, it is a big challenge to remain profitable while nurturing the natural systems and communities within which we do business, but I believe that good KM practices can help us cope. To start, we can learn from successful non-traditional organisations. We need to bring civil society, business and government together. This is not easy, yet we must build partnerships across value chains so they become learning communities.
KM efforts deserve a good cause and I don’t see any better cause than sustainability – of organisations and the communities where they operate. It is not just an IT challenge. It demands an open mind and heart.
So the main effort to change organisations into learning and sustainable organisations is to turn them into conversing organisations – where people learn together and create a better future for themselves, the organisation, their community and the physical environment.
Doctor Edna Pasher is the founder of Edna Pasher, PhD and Associates and can be contacted via the website: www.pasher.co.il