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Vancouver, B.C., Canada
Chief Knowledge Officer, The Knowledge Management Institute of Canada; Senior Advisor, Knowledge Management, Organizational Effectiveness, Husky Energy

Friday, 14 June 2013

Building Cultural Capacity for Innovation - A Time for Reflection

During our CKM program last week we focused on the challenge of building the  cultural capacity for innovation and excellence in our organizations.

Organizations represented around the table included:
  • KPMG
  • St. Lawrence Seaway
  • Sutton City Realty
  • Mercer
  • UCLA
  • University of Toronto
  • Enbridge
  • WSIB

The program featured three fantastic guest speakers:

Nowshade Kabir@nakosy, Owner of the Knolee Group of companies. Nowshade presented a theoretical framework for both personal knowledge and corporate  knowledge within organizations, which supported the Knowledge Building principle of Symmetric Knowledge Advancement - Individuals advance their personal knowledge, while at the same time advance the knowledge of the organization.

Margot Brown@KPMG, Executive Director of Knowledge Management Services for KPMG Canada, presented KPMG's strategy for advancing knowledge and capability within large and complex matrix organizations. Margot's presentation focused on  the importance of identifying the KM imperative, which for KPMG is "how to harness the knowledge of our 155,000 people, in order to create new levels of value for our people, teams and clients, and help drive our “one firm” culture. Margot's presentation demonstrated the need to align all the components of KM strategy to support this vision.

Oswald Zachariah@ONAgFoodRuralRI, Manager Innovation & KM for the Research and Innovation Branch of the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, provided us with a case study: Knowledge–Based Challenges & Corrective Strategies for supporting a culture of innovation at OMAF/MRA.

“In learning you will teach, and in teaching you will learn"(Phil Collins)

I have to say that I love being involved in these programs - I learn so much from the students and guest presenters. Their ideas, challenges and questions help to significantly advance my understanding of the KM field as well as my professional practice. Below are my reflections around key issues which emerged over the 3-days.

Technology of Use Rather than Use of Technology

I was delighted to hear Margot and Oz as well as others reinforce the idea that technology needs to support the work people actually do within their organizations - This is so important in terms of adoption, effectiveness and impact.

Margot thanks for not falling into the all too familiar trap of referring to collaborative and social environments as "tools" (see my rant in the previous post). And Oz, for resisting the "one size fits all" approach that many organizations apply when looking for a "quick fix" technology solution for their knowledge challenges.

Piaget's Constructivism

It has been some time since I studied Piaget's philosophy of constructivism in the context of KM. What struck me in Nowshade's presentation, was how Piaget's theory of Accommodation - The challenge of changing mental models to accommodate changing external reality, is so relevant in today's constantly changing world, and very important for KM experts to keep in mind when implementing change management strategies, introducing new ways of working or implementing technology solutions.

Piaget recognized the first cognitive step people go through when presented with something new, is to try and relate it to their existing mental models - something they already know.  This explains the very typical response people have when confronted with new technology - e.g. collaborative or social systems - when we often here a typical response like "This is just like email or Facebook.... Herein lies the challenge. If people see your collaborative system is basically the same as email, then they will resist using the technology or use it exactly like they use email limiting its potential value and usefulness.

If we understand this very natural tendency, then we can design our communication, roll-out plan and training programs to focus on helping people to change their mental models by demonstrating how to view the new system; How it differs from the old,  and of course by addressing the "What's in it for me?"

KM in Global, Matrix Organizations

I gained a new appreciation for the added complexity of designing, implementing and supporting a KM strategy within large matrix organizations like KPMG.  So much of what KM professionals focus on  is "silo busting" in order to improve knowledge flows across the organization. Matrix organizations especially large, global ones, actually perpetuate silos by compartmentalizing expertise and knowledge and creating multiple lines of reporting. They are like businesses within a business. As a result developing a common body of knowledge is extremely difficult (if not impossible?) Here are a few questions to ponder:

  1. Technology - Can you realistically expect consistency of adoption and use of company wide systems?
  2. Culture - Does the matrix model lead to multiple cultures reflective of the lines of business?
  3. Training - Can you develop training / learning programs which address the needs of all employees or do you need to develop specialized training for each functional area? 


Constraints are Accelerators of Change and Drivers of Innovation


Oz's case study from his work at the Research and Innovation Branch at OMAFRA clearly demonstrates that constraints provide the fuel for creative thinking and innovation. The constraints faced by Oz and his team should resonate with a number of you:

  • How to effectively translate knowledge from the producers to the consumers to drive measurable outcomes.
  • A one size fits all approach when it comes to technology which may not map to everyone's needs.
  • Difficulty publishing results and conveying the knowledge imperative in a risk adverse, bureaucratic environment

What Oz and his team have managed to accomplish over a three year period is nothing short of remarkable (This will be covered in greater detail in my next post). He managed to find creative solutions for overcoming barriers and for clearly demonstrating the effectiveness of his KM strategy.

The Organizational Challenges Brought by the Students


Prior to each program we ask students to identify KM related challenges within their organizations, which they would like help in solving. We use these challenges to tailor the program to address their needs.

The key challenges tackled over the 3 - day, in class session were:

  1. Breaking down silos within our organization (Government and Professional Services)
  2. How can I add value and Increase my customer base through better KM practices?” (Real Estate)
  3. How can I develop meaningful curriculum for learners with diverse backgrounds Higher Education)
  4. How do I get my users to adapt to our new social technology? (Professional Services)
  5. What are the key elements of an effective KM strategy? (Oil and Gas)
  6. How do I share across knowledge disciplines and challenge the knowledge hoarder mentality? (Government)
  7. How do I Implement KM Initiatives in an organization facing major financial and structural constraints? (Higher Education)
What I've come to understand is that almost all organizations are facing the same challenges. This makes sense as external factors are impacting all industries and sectors in virtually the same way, forcing them to think, learn and work differently. Most of the challenges noted above are related to culture.

Over the next few months I will continue to explore the theme of Building the Cultural Capacity for Innovation and Excellence and provide concrete strategies for shaping organizational structures to support this outcome.


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