KM Component 1 – Culture and Values

Stan Garfield

Stan Garfield

March 25, 2021

This is the first in a series of 50 posts promised in Select and Implement People, Process, and Technology KM Components. Culture and values are the way things are done in an organization, and what things are considered to be important and taboo.

The KM 10 Commitments require that your organization embody a culture with core values conducive to knowledge sharing. Identifying the current culture and values of your organization will help you take advantage of those elements conducive to knowledge sharing and address those which are not, with the help of the senior executive’s commitments.

Understanding how people interact with each other in your organization, typical styles of behavior, fundamental operating principles, and the code of conduct is a necessary prelude to introducing a knowledge management initiative. If the culture of the organization does not include sharing and collaboration, a significant change management initiative will be needed. If it does, the KM program will be adopted more readily.

Core Values

Most organizations have codes of conduct, core values, and ethical standards which are widely communicated. In the post-Enron world, there is considerable pressure to train all employees on expectations for behavior, and to repeat this training every year. Start by reviewing the published values, and then compare these to the observed culture. If they are not consistent, your management of change initiative will need to address aligning corporate culture to the stated core values.

Core values typically include some of the following: delight customers, respect others, achieve exceptional results, work collaboratively, move quickly, be creative, act with integrity, embrace diversity, deliver with high quality, and be decisive. Codes of conduct will usually address how to conduct business, treat customers, work with partners, deal with competitors, avoid conflicts of interest, handle confidential information and intellectual property, care for assets, interact with local communities, and treat the environment.

Cultural Elements

Actual culture will encompass both positive and negative elements. Positive attributes include: caring, collaborative, cooperative, networked, decisive, egalitarian, supportive, open, sharing, trusting, transparent, fair, inclusive, willing to try new ways, giving credit, adopting good ideas, volunteering, communicative, bold, respectful, honest, responsive, thorough, nurturing, generous, helpful, altruistic, appreciative, pleasant, accepting responsibility, and optimistic.

Negative attributes include: insensitive, selfish, undermining, not invented here syndrome, cover your rear, old-boy network, reticent, secretive, closed, dictatorial, waffling, uncooperative, isolated, manipulative, exclusive, blaming, ridiculing, usurping credit, hierarchical, controlling, resistant to change, hoarding, siloed, passive aggressive, critical, making excuses, backstabbing, complaining, and pessimistic.

If the culture of your organization includes primarily positive elements, a KM initiative will fit in well with the prevailing behavior modes. If it includes mostly negative attributes, you have your work cut out for you. Culture change will be a critical success factor to embracing the new ways of behaving needed to support knowledge management. If the culture is a mixture of positive and negative elements, you will want to use the positive ones to support your efforts and use a change management process to address the impact of the negative ones.

Seek Support

People in your organization will support, ignore, or undermine a new initiative. Your goal is to attract as many supporters as possible, while watching out for and neutralizing detractors.

Search for supporters to embrace knowledge management, including connectors – those with wide social circles who connect people to each other; mavens – knowledgeable experts who connect people through sharing knowledge; and salesmen – charismatic people with powerful negotiation skills who use knowledge to engage and persuade.

Be vigilant for those who will oppose, delay, or stall the KM program, including naysayers – those who are negative, contrary, and pessimistic; whiners – those who complain about anything and point out defects, flaws, and obstacles; and snipers – those who attack new ideas, are threatened by others, and who actively oppose change. When detractors are identified, try to engage them constructively. If that fails, contact their leaders to coach them to improve their behavior. If all else fails, be prepared with responses to the most typical objections, criticisms, and complaints.

To help establish the right culture for knowledge management, see How Can You Nurture a Knowledge-Sharing Culture?

Stan Garfield

Stan Garfield

Please read Stan’s additional blog posts offering advice and insights drawn from many years as a KM practitioner. You may also want to download a copy of his book, Proven Practices for Implementing a Knowledge Management Program, from Lucidea Press.  And learn about Lucidea’s Inmagic Presto and SydneyEnterprise with KM capabilities to support successful knowledge management programs.

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