June 1, 2015

Preparing the Ground For KM

It is sometimes assumed that every company is ready for knowledge management, all you have to do is get started.  That assumption isn’t always correct however and sometimes you have to prepare the ground before you plant the seeds.

Let me try to illustrate this with the following case study.

The manager had been able to hand pick the people from two companies to work on the new joint venture.  These people were all high performers and destined for high office within their respective parent company.  The problem the manager had was that they weren’t performing; knowledge wasn’t being re-used or transferred.  Something was very wrong but the manager didn’t know what it was and hence how to resolve it.  I was asked to meet the team and see if I could identify what was wrong and then solve it.

At the beginning of the workshop I asked the attendees to identify what their greatest fears were in relation to being involved in this joint venture.  This was a prime joint venture to be involved with so my expectation was that there would be few fears and we would focus mainly on positive desires or outcomes.  To my surprise fear of failure of the joint venture was almost endemic; these high fliers were genuinely concerned that failure of the joint venture would permanently damage their career.

To try to get to the bottom of this fear I asked them to identify what could potentially cause the failure of the joint venture, I was very careful to focus the conversation on what might cause it to fail rather than what would cause it to fail.  I wanted them to focus on perceptions rather than facts because at that stage it might be difficult to identify and get agreement on what the facts might be.

The main driver behind the fear of failure seemed to be lack of commitment of the other team members to the joint venture.  When I asked them what might create a perception of lack of commitment, a number mentioned something really, really surprising and it was lunch.

It transpired that one group would sit at their desk, eat a sandwich while continuing to work while another group would leave as a group, visit a restaurant and eat a meal. 

The facts were;

  • One group had sandwiches while at their desks
  • Another group went to a restaurant for a meal

The perception was

  • The group that went to the restaurant weren’t committed to the success of the joint venture
  • The joint venture will fail
  • My career will be damaged
  • I will be seen as a failure in my parent company
  • I wont get the top jobs
  • News of the failure of the joint venture will get out into the industry
  • I wont be able to move to another company
  • My family will impacted
  • Etc, etc downward spiral

What they hadn’t taken time to understand was the social norms of the company that they had come from.  In one company, the norm was to eat lunch at your desk, whereas in the other company, the norm was to leave the building and eat at a nearby restaurant.

Once they understood that the lunch behaviour was nothing to do with commitment to the joint venture, just reflections of their parent company norms, we were able to identify possible solutions.  In the end the group agreed that two days a week everyone would eat a sandwich at their desk, two days a week they would all go out to restaurants and on the day before the weekend, a buffet was served in the conference room to which everyone was invited.

Alignment had been achieved.

Now that they had alignment they could move onto understanding how they could share best practice from their parent company and build a high performing team.

If you plant your KM activities in soil that hasn’t been prepared, you might be disappointed in the results.


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