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28 January 2010

W.L. Gore & Associates: A workplace that epitomize the corporate culture conducive to knowledge-sharing I keep bragging about

Check the full news article on the W.L. Gore & Associates website but here is the extract that made my day:

[..]
In addition to its diverse innovations, Gore is known for its unique, team-based culture and flat management style. President and CEO Terri Kelly said Gore remains true to its core values, even in the face of challenging business conditions.
"We recognize the importance of fostering a work environment where people feel motivated, engaged and passionate about the work they do," she said. "In difficult economic times, the true values of an organization are tested, and I am proud to say that our associates have rallied together to make the company stronger than ever. Our culture promotes an incredible level of ownership and entrepreneurship. It encourages associates to channel their talents and interests to produce a continuous stream of innovative, high-value products for our customers."

[..]

How many more successful example like this one do most leaders need to be convinced that this is the right type of corporate culture in the Knowledge Economy?

04 January 2010

Are the consulting firms partly to blame for the fact that only a relatively small minority of companies have adapted their internal culture to the knowledge intensive economy?

Last month (Dec 09) I posted this question on Linkedin:

Are the consulting firms partly to blame for the fact that only a relatively small minority of companies have adapted their internal culture to the knowledge intensive economy?
In so few companies are collaborators incentivize to internally share freely their valuable knowledge (and rewarded for it). I would think that if consultants were to start advising "en masse" their clients about the benefits of such cultural change, "knowledge focused companies" could become the norm, not the exception.  This question concerns only the companies that do call in consultants (however, the others do get to learn of successful cases so could benefit indirectly). I am assuming also that most consultants would be aware and agree about the knowledge sharing benefits but maybe this is being optimistic. As for the competitive advantage of a knowledge focus culture, I believe it is not an assumption but a fact.

This question received 16 answers.  About 5 disagreed with the suggestion that consultants have to share the blame for the lack of organizational knowledge-sharing.  A couple seemed “neutral” on this point.  So, a majority seemed to agree.

I particularly liked how Nerida Hart put it: <<I think that what is happening is that the 'big' consulting companies only tell their clients what they think they want to hear - rather than - guess what guys you have a massive cultural problem and it won't matter what I write in the final 'report' - unless you want to address these issues nothing will change.>>

As the best answer, I chose Nicole Marchand’s:

<<Thanks for raising a subject that I really believe organization should all practice. Here is my take!

There are a few issues here that I believe contribute to the lack of buy-in, to adapt a knowledge focus culture. Are consultants responsible? As mentioned above, I believe it is a partnership between the consultant and the CEO but most importantly success is proportional to the leadership commitment to implement such an initiative. The lack of involvement at the senior level has proven to be a barrier in building a knowledge focus culture. Commitment from Senior Management is not restricted to the allocation of resources but also requires them to champion the initiatives, model the desired behaviour through the enhancement of their own learning, participation in the collaborative process, in essence; the promotion of knowledge sharing through concrete actions and consistency. Knowing that, I am honestly curious to know if senior leaders are willing and capable to commit to that extent. Could this be part of the lack of collaboration to implement such an initiative?

Another factor, because knowledge is an intangible asset, the business requirements to produce a return-on-investments and cost/benefit factor is often a huge challenge and tough sell. KM (knowledge management) practitioners need concrete evidence both qualitative or quantitative including a special place in the organizational financial statement to enhance the value of this intangible asset. (that will be my next question!) Experts report that 80% of organizational knowledge lies in the head of individuals, a fact worthy of attention.

A knowledge focus culture is a newer way of doing business. If leaders and managers keep thinking that water cooler conversations are a waste of productivity and not part of sharing knowledge and building trust and relationship, its implementation will be difficult. It requires a change in mind-set and behaviour and yes trust.

Implementing a knowledge focus culture takes considerable time, effort, energy and resources, it is the consultant’s responsibility to enhance the value of knowledge management, provide an accurate and informed assessment of the present knowledge manipulation situation, present a solid implementation plan and educate leaders on its present status and benefits. The success of the execution though, at the end of the day lies in the hands of the leaders. According to Bossidy & Charan (2002), “no company can deliver on its commitments or adapt well to change unless all leaders practice the discipline of execution at all levels” (p. 19).

There are many other factors affecting a successful implementation but I have hope I have managed to bring a contribution to your question.
>>

My position is also that the responsibility is shared and successful cultural change depends on a partnership between the leader(s) and the consultant(s):  “…it is the consultant’s responsibility to enhance the value of knowledge management, provide an accurate and informed assessment of the present knowledge manipulation situation, present a solid implementation plan and educate leaders on its present status and benefits.”  The leader then makes it happen.  However, I believe that only a minority of consultants initiate this change unsolicited.  The consultant should not wait for the leader to ask them “help initiate a knowledge-focus culture”, as he unlikely knows that this is indeed what the organization needs to gain competitive advantage in a sustainable way.

Could it be that knowledge-focused companies less need to call on consultants? Since these companies make much better use of their human capital by leveraging internal expertise and talents for creativity and innovation, maybe they can do away with consultants for most problem-solving situations.   I do not want to initiate another conspiracy theory but what if many consulting firm partners are aware of this and consciously refrain from spreading too quickly the knowledge word?

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