November 22, 2003
"It is the priviledge of the powerful to see catastrophies from a terrace"
I just came back from a three day company seminar. We had good food, nice entertainment, beer mugs with the corporate logo, little gifts and awards... More than a hundred people attended. We were celebrating the progress of a knowledge network of communities of practice I have been supporting since two years now. It was fun. Sort of.
I should have been happy, and yet I felt uneasy. I kept on thinking that maybe it wasn't worth the spending. Guests were by and large employees of the company. Only one individual from another partner company was invited. No client. I had this nagging impression of being part of a exclusive group of priviledged employees who were allowed to travel around the globe, sit around in cocktail parties and engage in political lobbying among themselves, with no real justification (Why are we doing this? What's the business problem we are trying to solve here?) while the rest of the company is struggling to make business and keep their jobs.
It made me think of the soviet Nomenklatura of Party members, who had the right to shop in supermarkets, while the people were standing in the line before empty grocery shops.
Indeed, the justification for events like these is not to reward a homogeneous group of people for "good work", but to establish relationships between people that the company believes should know each other, and for a good identified business reason. It doesn't mean that we shouldn't have fun, but that the event should be organized to make sure that this actually happens. How many business cards were exchanged for future joint work? Very little, I suspect.
Clear business purposes, clear metrics, clear reward schemes... Transparency is the only way to fight against tyranny, in the political sphere as well as in the corporate sphere. That's what I believe, and that's why I joined the Knowledge Management movement.
PS: The title is a quote from Jean Giraudoux in the play "the war of Troy will not happen". In French: "C'est le privilège des puissants que de voir les catastrophes du haut d'une terrasse"
C'est génial que tu puisses publier la vue de l'intérieur. L'allusion à la nomenklatura est pas mal... un signe?
Posted by: Seb at November 27, 2003 04:05 PM
Hi - I really like your perspective (and linked to it from my fairly new blog) but I find your use of the word movement a bit too much. Knowledge management after all is not here to make the world a better place, but I guess to make the economy more efficient and people more transparent. We are not the Zapatistas of the corporate environment... I have been to quite a few conferences etc. lately but I can not recall a single event where a moral question was raised.
But anyways, keep up the good blogging. Your blog was one of the first I started reading and I liked it ever since.
Posted by: Ingo at December 5, 2003 01:47 PM
Myaybe ou are right, Ingo. I shouldn't use the word "movement", because it is indeed a loaded word. However, you have to agree with me that "making the economy more efficient and people more transparent" is not something that everybody really wants. There are many people, including at the highest levels of corporations, who have a clear interest in maintaining the status quo, and who will either only give lip service to the whole idea of knowledge sharing, or make sure that they are personally left out of it. This is unfortunately true including in companies who have been praised for their KM practices. Look at the corporate scandal in Skandia. Do you really believe that Lars-Eric Petersson, the former CEO, wanted to be transparent about the reward scheme of top executives of the company? He even lied to the Board of Directors about this...
Whenever you want to make thing more transparent, there is a moral issue at stake, whether you like it or not.
KM will have reached its objective when there will be knowledge sharing also on salaries and compensations, which is not going to happen any time soon.
Posted by: Martin R. Dugage at December 6, 2003 08:27 AM
It's even worse than that.
I went to another corporate event Friday, Dec. 9, 2003. Fourty managers from my company just "graduated" from the corporate executive program for high-flyers, and were delivering their final presentation to our CEO. I was there because I sponsored one of the teams who had chosen Communities of Practice as their research topic.
The choreography was perfect. Nice hotel, good food. The graduates reported on some work they had done in groups on "key topics" they had chosen (e.g. "enhancing international logistics" with HR managers in the group), pretended they had worked extensively (many obviously hadn't, and some recommendations to the CEO were downright questionable). The CEO pretended he was extremely pleased and convinced by this outstanding work. The Dean of the program pretended this year's promotion was particularly productive and encouraged us to disseminate the ppt slides. The COO pretended he would enforce the recommendations made. Then the CEO made a very positive speech about our corporation being a "democratorship" ("démocrature" in French) whereby managers must listen to the employees before they take decisions (democracy phase) and then execute without discussion (dictatorship phase). He then distributed the diplomas (100% success rate apparently), shook hands with all the new graduates and patted them on the back. Then there was the official photo; everybody congratulated each other and went for lunch, while the CEO and the COO escaped through the back door...
Beam me up Dr. Spock. There's no life on this planet.
Posted by: Martin R. Dugage at January 4, 2004 05:32 PM
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