In our last blog post, I described what formal knowledge transfer looks like as opposed to informal knowledge transfer. So how can I get formal knowledge transfer set up, you may be wondering? What does a company have to do to make sure it actually works, to ensure employees pull together to establish efficient knowledge transfer?
Knowledge management can bridge departmental boundaries, foster collaboration, and bring to light both common ground and differences within the organization. These are big changes — and for most organizations, they result in a permanent shift of the corporate culture. This is also a huge opportunity. You will be creating synergies, shortening processes to a fraction of what they were, and greatly increasing customer satisfaction.
But a knowledge management project can just as easily fail. Because it impacts the very deepest levels of corporate culture. A culture that does not value formal knowledge transfer much will erect barriers and solidify positions of power based on knowledge. Silos begin to appear in departments or divisions. A good knowledge management system can break up these silos to some extent.
And I’m not only talking about locked file cabinets and experts who have established their own fiefdoms. Barriers also exist in modern organizations with flat hierarchies, paperless offices, and table football in the break room. Siloed knowledge can happen anywhere. What I mean by the “deepest levels of your corporate culture” are norms and values that are not necessarily visible at first glance.
Spiteful comments about 1. and 2. of course demonstrate how easy it is to express criticism at the higher levels. Actual cultural change, however, happens one level deeper, and that’s where things get real. There’s nothing to complain about anymore, because things are no longer black and white. Hierarchy and control may not sound very attractive, but try to imagine a company of diehard individualists acting without any hierarchies at all…
So, for successful and sustainable knowledge transfer, you need to take a look at your corporate culture. You could initiate a massive cultural change project that would take years to complete, but that’s not what I’m suggesting. And I’m sure you don’t want to wait years to start sharing knowledge.
Instead, why not leverage the benefits of implementing a knowledge management system. It’s surprising what a deployment can set in motion. Once the ball is rolling, you’ll be in a better position to examine your culture. This way, you’ll have an easier time deciding on the details of how to implement formal knowledge transfer. Because you’ll know more about why people in your organization act the way they do.
Next, think about what knowledge is important to your business. Where is that knowledge currently being kept? Why is it there? Create a project team that represents a broad cross section of the staff, then decide which knowledge you can—and want to—make universally accessible. Which employees should have access to what information? Where do you need to draw the line? Where is no line needed at all? Whenever you find barriers like the ones I talked about above, it’s a sign that you need to make a decision. How fast can the barriers be broken down? Are there doubts about the visibility of data in the new database? Or are people afraid of losing their jobs? What options do you have to eliminate the barriers, or work around them?
Consider carefully who you bring into the project team. Doubters and newbies can be extremely helpful. Because they give a voice to important viewpoints that might otherwise be ignored.
Then do some detailed knowledge mapping. Decide which topics to include, and which ones to exclude. Have you forgotten anything? Better get some feedback!
You’ve now paved the way for the introduction of formal knowledge transfer. What happens next depends on which knowledge management solution you’ve chosen. Hopefully, it’s one that makes it possible to do what I’ve tried to describe in this post and the last one: namely, create an anti-silo philosophy.
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Edgar H. Schein (1985) Organizational Culture and Leadership, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass in Emmanuel Ogbonna (abridged from E. Ogbonna, Managing organisational culture: fantasy or reality, Human Resource Management Journal, 3, 2 (1993), pp. 42-54 in Jon Billsberry (ed.) The Effective Manager, Open University, Milton Keynes 1997).