How to get the knowledge sharing/learning culture you’ve always wanted

If only I had a penny for every time I have been asked how to create a knowledge sharing or learning organisation culture…. Ahh, the life I would live 🙂

Leaders and managers seem to constantly be searching for the silver bullet that will miraculously transform culture overnight. But culture is not a phenomenon in isolation, it is a product of other concepts/phenomena. Understand this and you can begin to move in the right direction. But what should you be looking for? Simple, start with three silver bullets:

  • Leadership

    The Culture Triangle
  • Structure
  • Processes

I recently wrote a benchmarking report for an organisation, outlining structural and process changes that would help to contribute to the development of agile learning capability. Basically, they wanted to produce a learning or knowledge sharing culture.  We produced twenty action points. The twentieth point said, “The change effort will be wasted unless you address point 1.” What was point 1? Simple, “Actively model the values and standards set out in your leadership model.”

That, for me is the beginning of cultural change. Leaders modelling the behaviours, values and standards expected within the organisation. People, followers, naturally mimick leadership behaviours and that is where cultural change starts. Ask yourself, as a leader, what actions, behaviours, standards are your followers mimicking. Do you look good?

Where leadership is the mirror for culture, the sense-check for values, standards and behaviours, structure and systems nudge those values, standards and behaviours  toward performance. Because, ultimately, in an enterprise setting, such cultural change needs to develop impact, results and return against time, quality, safety, innovation and cost. More than this, Change needs to be meaningful in the long term –  change that develops sustainable (adaptive) competitive advantage over time.

I have a simple question for those who develop/design/implement/manage learning or knowledge management programs. In trying to shape culture, what adjustments, minor tweaks, have you made across the HR pathway to nudge people, performance and potential, using policy and process? If the answer is, none, I would be very concerned.

For example, in the organisation I mentioned above they had revised strategy five times in five years. HR strategy, policy and practice had not undergone a strategic design change in over ten years. Now consider this, a Millennial is not a Baby Boomer! The world is not the same for all people. One size does not fit all. So why do so many leaders/managers believe that structures and processes designed for a different age, for a different general environment, are still fit for purpose today?

Quite simply, if you want to shape culture to be come something fit for purpose in a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous)  world, you need to nudge values, standards and behaviours by tweaking the HR Pathway. In practical terms, this means adjustments to:

  • HR strategy
  • job role descriptors
  • recruitment and selection
  • induction
  • performance appraisal
  • performance development/enhancement
  • reward and recognition
  • succession (workforce/resource analytics) planning
  • and mobility (promotion/redeployment/exit).

So, still want to change culture? Start with leadership. Then, adapt structure and process to reflect the future you are trying to shape.

3 thoughts on “How to get the knowledge sharing/learning culture you’ve always wanted

  1. Hi
    Fully with you. I’ve learned that change is always a threat for people, thats why they initially dont want to have changes. Anyway if you manage to figure out the very personal added value for every single person and make him or her realize that then you become successful in changing his or her behaviour. So if further you do that with several people within a team of people you finally have changed culture of that particular team – and that solution, my dear, fits to all kind of change management 🙂

  2. What do you do if the ‘leader’ that needs to change is not interested in changing, and you, the one who is trying to change the culture and develop a working KM system has been hired by that leader? Do you leave and find another project, or stick it out. If I am not mistaken, most people stick it out and end up with personal failure in their KM ambitions.

    1. Hi Myles and apologies for taking so long to respond. I have always said that leadership, the modelling of high-performance behaviours, processes and structures, is critical to success. Bottom line, everyone has their own set of circumstances (family, mortgage – life!) and whereas the ideal answer is to leave, life often dictates that we suffer failures that are beyond our control for the better good.

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