Just posted my first article on my weblog in French. Still having problems with the stylesheet though...
September 2004 Archives
Lowell L. Bryan in the McKinsey Quarterly 2004 Number 3, wrote an interesting article advocating market economics to foster knowledge sharing in corporate environments.
In short, effectively exchanging knowledge on a company-wide basis is much less a technological problem than an organizational one: encouraging people who do not know each other to work together for their mutual self-interest. There is, of course, a well-known, well-tested solution to making it possible to exchange items of value among parties who don't know each other. We call it a market.
Yes and no.
On the one hand, market economics are certainly far better than the tyranny of org charts, territories and budgets when it comes to sharing knowledge, as the fall of the Soviet Union demonstrated. Besides, they are likely to be more easily accepted by corporate staffs, because they have been taught for a long time in business schools, and because they can be monitored and measured.
On the other hand, I don't think that knowledge sharing can be fully described as a market, even in business settings. As Howard Stevenson, a Harvard Business School, once wrote something like: "Markets appear when organizations fail, not the other way around" (He's quoted somewhere in Tom Stewart's "Wealth of Knowledge" but I can't find where). The dynamics of knowledge sharing communities show that social obligation and emotions play a key role in maintaining the flow of knowledge within the group. And surely it benefits everyone, but, in some cases, it can be more a question of self fulfilment than a question of self interest, like when retired people are happy keep the conversation going with junior people just for the sake of transmitting their wisdom to the next generation (Happy grand-parents do that!). Can we talk about market economics within a family circle? Some families do, especially in the US, but these are usually not very tightly bound together.
Ultimately, the economics of knowledge have something to do with the economics of love.
In such environments, the organizational cultures traditionally rooted are ones of hyper-competitiveness, where people hoard knowledge because it makes them more valuable and thus more likely to be promoted (or less likely to be sacked). In such organizations, for better or worse, the emphasis on competition, individual achievement and reward, and financial opportunities have well-fertilized these patterns of behavior.Jamie proposes three paths to overcoming this cultural pattern:
- Create sub-cultures or initiatives that focus on small-group interactions
- Model from above
- Integrate "teaching and sharing" into the group fabric
These ar all good ideas, but I would argue that this is only one part of the equation. If people don't share what they know, it's not only because they are better off keeping it to themselves, but also simply because they don't know how to. Knowledge sharing can be an extremely cumbersome and time-consuming process both from the giving and the taking perspective. It needs methods and tools that must be learned at three levels in the company:
1- at the sponsoring level, top managers must understand how they must walk the talk themselves
2- at the program governance level, managers must understand the social dynamics of knowledge sharing communities, especially CoPs, be genuinely interested in learning more about social networking technology, and stop focusing exclusively on challenging new ideas with business cases and ROIs
3- at the giver/taker level, people must adopt new forms of communication and behavior, and sometimes even learn again some basic writing techniques such as the three level writing of journalists (catchy title, summary, and extended text).
For me 1 is easy; 2 is more difficult, and 3 is a nightmare. We might have to wait for the new generation currently in their twenties to really overcome this barrier unless we really tackle it in innovative ways. That's why I was impressed by Headshift's approach. So far I don't know any other consulting company that dared to address the nightmare.