28 May 2009

Finding the right glove, Enterprise 2.0 Culture and Implementation

For those of you who attended KMLF in Melbourne last night, thank-you for a great time.

Below is the presentation that led our discussion. I apreciate everybody's input. With people from large and small business, government and several consultants there too it was a great mix for this topic and I learned a lot too.

Lets keep the conversation going! You can always learn more about your organisational culture and how it impacts on Enterprise 2.0 planning and implementation.

25 May 2009

Watch & Learn about Confluence

I have enjoyed watching Atlassian really embrace Enterprise 2.0 from within including a strong twitter presence and excellent use of their blogs and forums. I have been a user of their Confluence Enterprise Wiki product for several years and today I came across a page of videos (thanks @NeridaHart) showing some Confluence tutorials. Click here to check them out.

My favorite one, about Sun using confluence to connect their 25,000 users is below for your enjoyment. Notice the focus they have put on user reputation and how they have handled it. The next version of Confluence, v3.0 which is due out any day now, has some of these features now built in, including the ability to follow other people and see what content they are posting.

If you are new to confluence, then take 2-3 minutes to check out the video on 5 user cases here.

20 May 2009

Creating Knowledge Cultures - Post 9

In this final section I try to draw all these parts together and quickly discuss some ideas for how they can be applied in the real world. If you have been following along I hope you have enjoyed this series as much as I have putting it together.

Thankyou for your interest in this series. Culture is a fascinating phenomenon; so hard to nail down and yet so powerful a force in both our personal and working lives. You may have already been aware of all these factors and more. Regardless, my wish is that you go away from this with a greater sensitivity to both the dangers and the opportunities inherent within the cultures around us and a greater ability to avoid and seize them respectively.


6. Creating Knowledge Cultures: Putting it into Practice
The question that remains is: Can cultures be changed and managed?

Opinions differ. From those who give an enthusiastic yes, to others who warn you can simply minimise the risk associated with culture clash and yet others who say that culture is more than the external symbols and artefacts, so managing it is akin to nailing jelly to the wall.

In fact, if by “managed” one infers that culture can be manipulated from on high like moving furniture in a mouse-cage, then I fall on the side of the nay-sayers.


Diagram - Schein's levels of culture
Figure 3: Schein's levels of culture (Schein, 1985, p17)


Using models such as Schein's levels of culture (Figure 3) and the delineation of subcultures, some organisational leaders are encouraged to play an active part in shaping the cultural norms of the organisation. The motivation; to best serve the organisation's goals and vision. However, even if cultural manipulation techniques were 100% successful, there is a downside: yes, constant high situational strength would mean that trust is not relied upon so much, but people would also be less free to work creatively and act intuitively or their own accord. A veritable army of “Yes men”.

Conrad & Poole
Of course most anthropologists would deride the idea that leaders could create cultures anyway (Meek, 1988, p.459), however Conrad & Poole walk somewhat of a middle-line. They define culture as “a communicative creation, embedded in a history and a set of expectations about the future. They are usually heterogeneous, composed of multiple subcultures.” (1998, p.98). Meek agrees with this compromise:
“Culture as a whole cannot be manipulated, turned on and off, although it needs to be recognised that some are in a better position than others to attempt to intentionally influence aspects of it. (Meek, 1988, p.469)
Conrad and Poole (1998) see cultural strategies for organisational design and management as being superior to traditional individualistic and relational strategies. While recognizing that human beings are emotional and community-oriented, cultural strategies stop short of considering the resulting social construct as an entity unto itself.

Cultural management strategies, they argue, focus primarily on creating a sense of community within work groups as a way of "managing the tension between individual and organizational needs." This methodology considers the impressive impact that cultural regularities have on an individual's beliefs and frames of reference and thus attempts to use them in "unobtrusive" ways via the manoeuvring of cultural metaphors and artefacts. These might include:
  1. Identification, for example the recognition and lauding of beneficial behaviours,
  2. Instituting or modifying organisational symbols like metaphors, stories and or rituals and ceremonies, and finally
  3. Unobtrusive emotional regulation via position, interpretation and self-control via embodied organisational values.
Whatever the form, this type of control tends to follow a similar process: induce participation, which leads to identification of the individual with the organisations accepted norms and finally, emotional commitments are willingly entered into on the individual’s part.

Conrad and Poole note the short-comings with these methods, unless it is an organisation or one, offering water-tight solutions should raise alarm bells anyway.

They note the enthusiasm with which, especially North American, managers took up these methods, assuming that if culture could be controlled then they would be the ones to control it.

This of course reveals the first flaw: The authors speak of different sub-cultures in the organisation responding uniquely to management's attempts to mould beliefs, however if culture is a cognitive process and not "a thing" (D’Andrade, 1995) then every individual employee will respond in subtly different and complex ways.

Secondly, the very beliefs, values and metaphors they seek to change often do not have a first-order effect on employee behaviour. Therefore, changing them can have unexpected results and they offer Disney's problematic usage of the family metaphor as an example of how things can go wrong dramatically if the strategy fails.

Conclusion
The key here is that while culture is not a “thing” to be managed, it is certainly undergoing constant transformation. As mentioned earlier, the real power of a cognitive view of culture comes from a change of perspective. If we can learn to see that cultural issues are complex and highly contextual and that intra- and cross-cultural interactions are actually collaborative, mutual learning experiences (Holden, 2002, p.54), then managing both the opportunities and pitfalls simply becomes an issue of knowledge management, specifically networking, knowledge sharing and collaborative (or organisational) learning (Holden, 2002, p.52).

References for the Series:
  • Abrams, L. C., Cross, R., Lesser, E. and Levin, D. Z. 2003, Nurturing interpersonal trust in knowledge-sharing networks, Academy of Management Executive, vol. 17, no. 4, pp. pp.64-77.
  • Argyris, C. 2001, Good Communication that blocks learning. in Harvard Business Review on Organizational Learning Harvard Business School Publishing, Boston, MA, pp. 87-110.
  • Argyris, C. and Schön, D. A. 1996, Organizational Learning II. Preface; Chapters 1-3. in Organizational Learning II. Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, Reading, MA.
  • Bourdieu, P. 1977, Outline of a Theory of Practice (Cambridge Studies in Social and Cultural Anthropology), Cambridge University Press, Paris.
  • Britannica Online 2005, 'Encyclopædia Britannica Online', [online database], Chicago, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., viewed 13-Jun-2005,
  • Clarke, T. 2001, Part one - knowledge management: The knowledge economy, Education & Training, vol. 43, no. 4/5, pp. 189-196.
  • Conrad, C. and Poole, M. S. 1998, Strategic organizational communication: Chapter 4 - Cultural Strategies. in Strategic organizational communication: into the twenty-first century Harcourt Brace College Publishers, Fort Worth, pp. xiv, 479 p.
  • Cross, R. and Prusak, L. 2003, People who make organizations go - or stop. in Networks in the knowledge economy (Eds, Cross, R., Parker, A. and Sasson, L.) Oxford University Press, New York, pp. 248-260.
  • D’Andrade, R. G. 1995, The Development of Cognitive Anthropology., Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
  • Dirks, K. T. and Ferrin, D. L. 2001, The role of trust in organizational settings, Organization Science: A Journal of the Institute of Management Sciences, vol. 12, no. 4, pp. 450-467.
  • Dodgson, M. 1993, Organizational learning: A review of some literatures,, Organization Studies, vol. 14, no. 3, pp. 375-394.
  • Erez, M. and Gati, E. 2004, A Dynamic, Multi-Level Model of Culture: From the Micro Level of the Individual to the Macro Level of a Global Culture, Applied Psychology: an International Review, vol. 53, no. 4, pp. 583-598.
  • Fiol, C. M. and Lyles, M. A. 1985, Organizational Learning., Academy of Management Review, vol. 10, no. 4, pp. 803-813.
  • Garbarino, M. S. 1983, Sociocultural Theory in Anthropology: A Short History, Waveland Press, Illinois.
  • Garvin, D. A. 1998, Building a Learning Organisation. in Harvard Business Review on Knowledge Management Harvard Business School Publishing, Boston, MA, pp. pp.51-69.
  • Geertz, C. 1973, The interpretation of cultures; selected essays, Basic Books, New York,.
  • Hedberg, B. 1981, How organisations learn and unlearn. in Handbook of Organizational Design. (Ed, (eds.), P. C. N. a. W. H. S.) Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  • Hofstede, G. 1984, Culture's consequences : international differences in work-related values, Sage Publications, Beverly Hills.
  • Hofstede, G. 2005, Fun and Pitfalls in Cross-Cultural Research, Guest Lecture - Emeritus Professor Geert Hofstede, Melbourne University - Architecture (Prince Philip Theatre), Friday 6-May-2005, www.hofstede.com.
  • Holden, N. 2002, Cross-cultural management : a knowledge management perspective, Financial Times Prentice Hall, Harlow.
  • Huber, G. P. 1996, Organizational learning. in Organizational Learning (Eds, Cohen, M. D. and Sproull, L. S.) Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks, CA.
  • Hutchins, E. 1991, The social organization of distributed cognition. in Perspectives on Socially Shared Cognition (Eds, Resnick, L. B., Levine, J. M. and Teasley, S. D.) American Psychological Association, Washington , DC, pp. 283-307.
  • Hutchins, E. 1996, Organizing work by adaptation. in Cognition Within and Between Organizations (Eds, Meindl, J. R., Stubbart, C. and Porac, J. F.) Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks, CA, pp. 368-404.
  • Levitt, B. and March, J. G. 1988, Organizational learning., Annual Review of Sociology, vol. 14, pp. 319-340.
  • Liebowitz, J. and Beckman, T. J. 1998, Knowledge Organizations - What every manager should know, CRC Press.
  • MathDaily.com 2005, 'Ecological Fallacy', [online article], www.MathDaily.com, viewed
  • Mayer, R. C., Davis, J. H. and Schoorman, F. D. 1995, An integrative model of organizational trust, Academy of Management Review, vol. 20, no. 3, pp. 709-734.
  • McGill, M. E. and Slocum Jr., J. W. 1993, Unlearning the organization. in Organizational Dynamics (Autumn), pp. 67-79.
  • Meek, V. L. 1988, Organisational culture: origins and weaknesses, Organization Studies, vol. 9, no. 4, pp. 453-473.
  • Mezmer 2005, 'Dr Mezmer's Dictionary of Bad Psychology', [Website], viewed 3-Jun-2005,
  • Mischel, W. 1977, The interaction of person and situation. in Personality at the crossroads: Current issues in interactional psychology (Eds, Magnusson, D. and Endler, N. S.) Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Hillsdale, NJ, pp. 333-352.
  • Nonaka, I. and Nishiguchi, T. 2001, Knowledge emergence : social, technical, and evolutionary dimensions of knowledge creation, Oxford University Press, Oxford ; New York.
  • Robinson, V. M. J. 2001, Descriptive and normative research on organizational learning: locating the contribution of Argyris and Schön, International Journal of Educational Management, vol. 15, no. 2.
  • Rogers, Y. and Ellis, J. 1994, Distributed Cognition: an alternative framework for analysing and explaining collaborative working, Journal of Information Technology, vol. 9, no. 2, pp. 119-128.
  • Schein, E. H. 1985, Organizational culture and leadership, Jossey-Bass Publishers, San Francisco.
  • Schein, E. H. 1999, The corporate culture survival guide : sense and nonsense about culture change, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, Calif.
  • Seely Brown, J. and Duguid, P. 2001, Balancing Act: How to capture knowledge without killing it. in Harvard Business Review on Organizational Learning Harvard Business School Publishing, Boston, MA, pp. 45-60.
  • Simons, T. 2002, Behavioural integrity: The perceived alignment between managers' words and deeds as a research focus, Organization Science: A Journal of the Institute of Management Sciences, vol. 13, no. 1, pp. 18-35.
  • Snowdon, D. 2002, Complex acts of knowing: paradox and descriptive self- awareness., Journal of Knowledge Management, vol. 6, no. 2, pp. 100-111.
  • Sperber, D. 1985, On anthropological knowledge: three essays, Cambridge University Press; Editions de la Maison des Sciencs de l'Homme, Paris.
  • Sperber, D. and Hirschfeld, L. 1999, Culture, Cognition, and Evolution. vol. 2005 MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass, pp. [Online Paper].
  • Strauss, C. and Quinn, N. 1997, A Cognitive Theory of Cultural Meaning, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
  • Swidler, A. and Arditi, J. 1994, The new sociology of knowledge, Annual Review of Sociology, vol. v20, pp. 314-323.
  • Theron, A. 2002, University of Pretoria – South Africa, Pretoria, pp. 32.
  • Tuomi, I. 2002, The future of knowledge management., Lifelong Learning in Europe, vol. 7, no. 2, pp. 69-79.
  • Wenger, E. C. 2001, Harvard Business Review on Organizational Learning, Harvard Business School Press, Boston, MA.






19 May 2009

Creating Knowledge Cultures - Post 8

Today I am covering the critical factor of Trust. Trust is a factor of successful collaboration that is mentioned nearly as much as culture, so it’s inclusion is appropriate not just because of it’s close proximity in the literature, but also because the part trust plays in the concept of Behavioural Integrity exposes some key factors in how individuals interact with the culture around and within them.
The proposed model of trust put forward by Mayer and his colleagues has come in very handy during my own Enterprise 2.0 implementation projects and I hope it gives you greater insight if you haven’t come across it before.

5. The central ingredients (part 2)
Trust
Explicit Knowledge Stores (in the form of electronic databases) just don't work on their own. War stories abound:
… "Yet these investments have rarely had the intended impact. While databases (and staff to support them) have grown to mammoth proportions, they are often underutilised as employees are much more likely to turn to peers and colleagues than to impersonal sources for necessary knowledge. The result has been a "second wave" of knowledge management advice geared toward promoting effective collaboration and learning in strategically important groups." (Abrams et al., 2003, p.64)
Tuomi (2002) also talks about the next stage of Knowledge Management:
Towards the end of the 1990’s, social learning, organizational sense-making, and systemic innovation and change management became prominent themes in knowledge management. In the next years, knowledge management theorists and practitioners will find themselves asking how revolutions can be managed.
One key ingredient in this venture is trust, one definition of which is “a psychological state comprising the intention to accept vulnerability based upon positive expectations of the intentions or behaviour of another.” One thing almost all researchers agree on is the concept of vulnerability. The presence of trust provides conditions where cooperation and more positive attitudes lead to higher performance. This happens both directly and indirectly due to a willingness to enter into relationships that involve vulnerability. (Dirks and Ferrin, 2001, p.451,455)

There is some debate about which characteristics build or affect trust, however Mayer (et al, 1995, p.715) proposes a model of trust (Figure 2) which combines the trustor’s propensity to trust with three antecedents – integrity, ability and benevolence - that are required before trust can exist between two parties.

It is important to note that trust itself is based on perceptions. While the trustee can build trust, they do not do so directly, but may build trustworthiness by aligning their actions with these antecedents.

Behavioural Integrity
Behavioural Integrity (BI) can be defined as the perceived pattern of alignment between an actor’s words and deeds (Simons, 2002, p.19). It includes the perception of espoused values matching enacted ones. It can be damaged by the breaking of promises and psychological contracts and in the case of leaders, any actions contradictory to corporate mission and value statements. As a pattern of alignment, it is built up over time through reiterative observations, however the focus on word-deed alignment precludes any consideration of moral principles.

While all individuals develop a perception of trustworthiness over time, Leaders tend to be given less latitude in their deviations. Simons suggests a trustor’s perception of misalignments goes up with the importance of the focal issue. Leaders have control over many such issues within an organisation and are thus their actions are constantly “in the limelight” so to speak.

At another level, organisations themselves can be ascribed a level of BI by those who deal with them at arms length. In this case the pattern affects their credibility in the marketplace. Simons asserts that “BI is highly problematic in today’s managerial environment of rapid competitive, technological and organizational change…” and that “it has profound consequences for employee retention and performance…” (Simons, 2002, p32).

Simon’s model indicates that relatively small word-deed misalignments can have significant consequences, so understanding the organisational culture can aid managers in maintaining BI, especially in times of organisational change.



Diagram of Trust - Mayer
Figure 2: Proposed model of Trust – (Mayer, et al, 1995)

Ability
The possession of skills or expertise to carry out a task will not only affect other’s perception of trust, will also tend to limit in which domains an individual can be trusted (Mayer et al., 1995p. 717).

Benevolence
“Benevolence is the extent to which a trustee is believed to want to do good to the trustor, aside from an egocentric profit motive.” (Mayer et al., 1995, p.718). It is often linked in the literature with prior relationships and some have considered it synonymous with altruism.
It plays a large part in initial trusting relationships as there is insufficient past experience for BI to be considered, however ongoing relationships will change based on the outcomes of previous trust experiences. This is shown in Figure 2 by the feedback loop from outcomes back to the antecedents.

Situational Strength
The question of how trust affects organisational performance is considered by Dirks and Ferrin (2001, p.461-2) who argue that alongside the traditional Main Effect model where trust has a direct affect on organisational processes, a second model of Trust as a Moderator. They borrow the model of ‘situational strength’ from Mischel to provide conditions under which each model will apply to a scenario.

According to Mischel (1977, p.347), “strong” situations are those in which guidelines and incentives motivate most actors to 1) construe the situation in the same way, 2) draw similar conclusions as to appropriate responses, and 3) behave in a particular way. Depending on this strength, trust may be reduced to a moderating role, modifying interpretations and actions, or cultural norms may provide unambiguous cues, making interpretation not required and removing trust’s influence entirely.

Alternatively, “weak” situations are those that lack these traits and allow for individualised interpretation and action. In these scenarios, trust as a Main Effect holds considerable power in reducing uncertainty and supporting action (Mayer et al., 1995, p.730, Dirks and Ferrin, 2001, p.461).

Discovering an organisation’s assumed norms and values allows members to determine when trust will be a determinant factor. Furthermore, a management focus on issues of behavioural integrity will not just improve trust, but have a flow-through effect by modeling cultural standards that will lead to a greater propensity to share knowledge through the group.

18 May 2009

Creating Knowledge Cultures - Post 7

5. The central ingredients (part 2)
A Theory of Action
Organisations are complex adaptive systems however, good models such as Argyris & Schön’s apply cognitive theory to explain how they learn, and the complex interactions between the types of learning in organisational contexts.

Double-loop learning

Figure 1: A theory of action (Argyris & Schon, 1996)

The term “espoused theory” means the theory of action which is claimed to explain or justify a given pattern of activity. The “theory-in-use” however, is a tacit theory of action implicit in the performance of the actual activity. (Argyris and Schön, 1996, p.13) As shown in Figure 1, this theory is driven by cultural norms, values, strategies and assumptions. This theory-in-use must be discovered through observation. The consequences of an activity are seen as a result of the espoused theories, seen as governing variables, as modified by the often tacit action strategy based on the theory-in-use.

Single-loop Learning
Single-loop learning is thus an active process of organisational enquiry that results in the modification of the theory-in-use to keep organisational performance within acceptable parameters based on values and accepted norms. The values and norms themselves – the governing variables – are not changed (Argyris and Schön, 1996, p.20).

Double-loop Learning
Double-loop learning (Figure 1) involves the exploring and sometimes painful reconsideration of values and strategies. This can be done individually or on behalf of an organisation when agents reassess the effectiveness of the organisational values.

Double loop learning is a critical part of an organisations culture of it is to maintain unity of vision and purpose during times of conflicting requirements or environmental change.

Deutero-learning and Unlearning
The process of managing the first two types of learning is referred to as deutero-learning. This is an acknowledgement that the organisation (or individual) must have in place learning systems that encourage inquiries about performance to be properly managed, overcoming a recognised tendency for higher level learning to be rather ill-defined and ambiguous (Fiol and Lyles, 1985, p808).

Another possible result of deutero-learning is the concept of unlearning (McGill and Slocum Jr., 1993) where old assumptions and values are challenged and replaced with new, more effective frameworks for interpretation and understanding. This concept of deutero-learning is an essential one for continuous improvement and should be encouraged within the culture of the organisation through management focus, coupled with a willingness to allow members to learn from their mistakes.

Communities of Practice and Knowledge Networks
In general, even the “top-down” experts recognise that organisational cultures are not homogenous. Both Schein and Hofstede are renowned for their ‘levels’ of culture, and concepts of sub-cultures, however a cognitive view of the organisation sees manifold, dynamic, informal links between individual actors over time. Cross & Prusak (2003) describe some excellent techniques for mapping and using these affiliations to better manage knowledge flows and detect information bottlenecks.

But for those leaders who are willing to see themselves as more sponsor than emperor, a valuable organisational form that takes advantage of knowledge networks in a more formal way is called Communities of Practice (CoP). Defined as groups of people informally bound together by shared expertise and passion for joint enterprise (Wenger, 2001, p.2), the organic and informal nature of CoPs makes them resistant to supervision and interference. However Seely-Brown & Duguid claim:
Knowledge Management focuses on effectiveness more than efficiency. It's bottom up! It assumes that managers can best foster knowledge by responding to the inventive, improvisational ways people actually get things done. (Seely Brown and Duguid, 2001, p.47)


So as an organisation develops a knowledge sharing culture, knowledge networks and the tools they offer become powerful drives for increased innovation, responsiveness and performance.

17 May 2009

Creating Knowledge Cultures - Post 6

The big advantage to splitting a paper like this up is:
  1. You can digest each part before moving on, and
  2. If you fell asleep during the last post, hopefully now you are wide awake to get stuck in to this exciting chapter on the ingredients that contribute to “bottom-up” culture theory. :-)
I hope you enjoy the next few posts as much as I did investigating them. In reality they are far from forming a definitive list, but with a grasp on these key concepts, you will begin to build a toolbox of concepts that you can use in your team, department or entire organisation.

5. The central ingredients (part 1)
Distributed Cognition
Distributed cognition is defined as the distribution of cognitive labour among a group toward a common goal (Hutchins, 1991). Much the same as the distribution of labour, distributed cognition, however, has received much less attention in the literature (Ibid, p.284).

While researchers have moved forward within their own fields - social interaction in anthropology and cognitive learning in cognitive psychology and neuro-science - applying the two together is a relatively new endeavour.

Since the first wave of knowledge management back in the 1980s (Tuomi, 2002), authors like Liebowitz, Beckman (1998, p.16) and Clarke (2001, p.189) followed these thoughts about corporate memory and concepts like know-how, know-why and know-what. Liebowitz and Beckman's definition of corporate memory include the concept of "professional intellect" which attempted to include tacit areas of skills, creativity and meta-knowledge about how knowledge should be contextually applied.

Citing the works of Bougon, Weick, Binkhorst and Daft over the two decades to 1995, Tuomi summarises that “this research highlighted the fact that organizational knowledge is not something that can be objectively recorded and stored in databases; instead, organizational knowing is an active process where people try to make sense of their environment.” (Tuomi, 2002, p.6)

The concept of distributed cognition moves a step beyond this. Based on the latest advances in cognitive psychology but applied to a social (organisational) or anthropological (national) context, distributed cognition is not a new learning method, but a rethink of how we see individuals and the way they learn both individually and in groups.

In distributed cognition, groups are seen as cognitive systems, capable of adaptive responses to changes in their environment (Hutchins, 1996, p.380).

For this reason the concepts of distributed cognition and learning organisations are intimately joined and some (Hutchins, 1991, Argyris and Schön, 1996) agree with the point that while single and double loop learning certainly can be witnessed at the explicit level, more often than not, organisational learning (and unlearning) happen at the deep and often shared cognitive level. Hutchins (1996) goes further again and explains how organisations not only remember as a group, but also re-organise and adapt themselves in such a way as to improve performance using the same cognitive process – sometimes despite a managerial preference for a more traditional, hierarchical style leadership.

The result is a more organic view of the organisation which, when applied to the traditional views of organisations (and the link between structure and culture), reveals the flaws in policies based on the assumptions that top-down thinking can engender.

Learning Organisations
Organisational learning speaks of far more than employee training and skills management programs.

Organisational learning can be described as the way firm build and manage knowledge and processes around their activities to contextually adapt and develop organisational efficiency (Dodgson, 1993, p.377). It involves the concept of having all members of an organisation participate in a process of double-loop learning that encourages self-examination, personal responsibility and share first-rate information about their roles with others (Argyris, 2001).
“Learning organizations are skilled at five main activities: 1. systematic problem solving, 2. experimentation with new approaches, 3. learning from their own experience and past history, 4. learning from the experiences and best practices of others, and 5. transferring knowledge quickly and efficiently throughout the organisation. Each is accompanied by a distinctive mind-set, tool kit, and pattern of behaviour." (Garvin, 1998)

Research
Robinson describes two different strands of research on organisational learning (Robinson, 2001). The Normative strand is concerned with the management of outcomes with respect to organisational improvement, as opposed to the Descriptive strand which holds a social and cognitive psychological focus on how organisations actually learn. She notes that the work of Argyris and Schön straddles these strands by providing a theory and practice of intervention (normative) plus a rigorous and useful theory of action (descriptive) which we will go further into here.

Organisational Memory
While organisations without individuals are nothing but a pile of paper and databases, it is recognised that organisations as a collective do have the capacity to learn and store information. Rules, procedures, technologies, beliefs and of course cultures are preserved over time and despite turnover of personnel (Levitt and March, 1988, p.326). Huber (1996, p.148) notes that poor organisational memory is far more complex than can be explained by the view of employees as “repositories for organisational information” and Levitt and March explain that the learning process is further complicated by the ‘simultaneously adapting behaviour’ of other agents in the process (1988, p.331).

16 May 2009

Creating Knowledge Cultures - Post 5

“The real difficulty in changing any enterprise lies not in developing new ideas, but in escaping from the old ones” - John Mayand Keynes.

Today, in the 4th chapter of Creating Knowledge Cultures, I introduce a different approach to describing and understanding culture and begin to move towards how Knowledge Management can actually play a part in this process with it’s underpinnings in complexity theory and it’s openness to think beyond the logical positivism of the early and mid 20th century.

4. The new solution
Culture as cognitive process
With tongue planted firmly in cheek, Mezmer defines cognitive science as a branch of psychology that aims to figuratively find out how minds work without literally having to figure out how minds work (Mezmer, 2005). Although satirical, it is somewhat appropriate when considering the application of neural cognition to the problem of culture.

The step from symbolic language-based cognition to a connectionist approach takes the study of learning and sense making to a deeper level, on both the individual and social dimensions. Laszlo noted the similarities between the brain and organisations in their roles as information processing systems, (Hedberg, 1981, p.6), however, to go all the way and model a human brain, neuron-by-neuron, is simply implausible given our current level of ability in measuring and modeling brain function.

Instead, cognitive science makes no apologies and focuses on expanding beyond the traditional cultural theories by building a set of common characteristics of the human brain to act as models that explain the creation and use cultural schemas, both at the individual and social levels. It places meaning and cultural schemas in the minds of the society’s individuals, rather than in the symbols and artefacts those individuals create. In this way, it serves to solve the paradox of culture by describing an individual’s capacity to build these schemas based on shared and similar experiences with others in their group – providing the centripetal force – while allowing the individual’s schema to be built from the ground up based on their unique set of experiences, many shared with the group and possibly some exclusive to the individual – allowing differences between individuals and groups and also the ability to change over time - thus the centrifugal force (Hoecklin cited in Holden, 2002, p.24).

Of course, this does not dismiss the extra-personal realm of culture, just as Hutchins’ work on distributed cognition did not seek to dissolve the psychology of the individual (Strauss and Quinn, 1997, p.12,42). It simply serves to give a more holistic view of culture, being the interaction of regular occurrences both in the world and in the cognitive schemas people share (Ibid, 1997, p.7).

Unfortunately this disagreement between internalists and externalists has gone on for decades and despite all this insight, we should take note of this pragmatic but disheartening remark from Sperber:
“While cognitive science has come a long way in the last 15 years, the development of a common conceptual framework between the biological, cognitive, and social sciences is still a long way off.” (Sperber and Hirschfeld, 1999).
Bottom up
The key difference is in perspective. Facets of a particular culture are now seen as tacitly learned schemas that are built from the past experiences of the individuals entire experiences, including those within the organisation. These schemas serve to provide us with guides for interpretation, negotiation and appropriate action, just as before, however a more accurate understanding of an organisation's culture can only be gained through observing the actions and interplay of the groups individuals in a wide variety of circumstances - not by applying organisation-wide interpretations from the top-down.

How Knowledge plays a part
Holden reveals that the heartland of cross-cultural management is viewed in terms of knowledge management, organizational learning and networking at both local and global levels (Holden, 2002).

We have already mentioned the problems of ‘culture-as-difference’; however Holden suggests a new viewpoint on cross-cultural issues. By recognising that culture is an organisational resource, and building cultural management factors and processes into a corporate knowledge base, resolving international management problems becomes an organisational knowledge issue and can be dealt with in terms of its benefit to the firm.

This is a powerful insight, however it tends to under-rate the reverse impact ‘Culture as Cognition’ has on the concept of knowledge itself.

Knowledge is often defined as a type of deep, sometimes tacit, information summarised by terms like know-how, know who and know-what (Clarke, 2001, p.189). Nonaka (et al, 2001, p.14) defined knowledge as “a dynamic human process of justifying personal belief toward the ‘truth’”. However, knowledge is now defined as the complex and embodied effect of an individual’s life experience in its entirety. The positivistic distinction between tacit and explicit is gone and what was previously considered knowledge is simply the tip of the iceberg. The great depths of tacit knowledge now includes everything from higher thought to muscle memory to an unconscious awareness of the colour-change of ear-lobes when a person is embarrassed. Unconscious is the key here – or more correctly sub-conscious – and the tacit culture that derives from this type of knowledge is networked, tribal and fluid (Snowdon, 2002, p.103).

15 May 2009

Creating Knowledge Cultures - Post 4

Still here? Fantastic, this post will be brief but very important.

Today I discuss arguably the most famous (certainly the most cited) anthropologist in the field. Geert Hofstede is known for his positive approach to culture which is captured nicely in the quote "Culture is more often a source of conflict than of synergy. Cultural differences are a nuisance at best and often a disaster."

I was privileged to attend a lecture by Mr Hofstede at Melbourne University a few years ago. He is an excellent speaker and ran an extended question time afterwards which I really appreciated. I asked him how he felt about some of his followers that apply his theories to groups smaller than nations or people groups. His response was interesting. He pointed out that his Cultural Dimensions should never be applied to groups of less than 5000 people and referred to these students as “wayward sheep”.

That said, if you haven’t heard about Hofstede’s dimensions I encourage you to spend a little time on his site and learn about them so you can be aware of their power at the international (especially marketing) level and problems when applied to smaller groups.

3. The problem with the solution (part 2)
Hofstede
Geert Hofstede is one of the most widely cited anthropologists in the last 30 years. His studies of international cultures beginning with IBM have led to models of cultural development and human mental programming that are used in sales, management, economics and the social sciences (Hofstede, 2005).

His pragmatic, “broad-stroke” style acknowledges the interplay of the brain’s learning capability with culture – which he defines as a society’s “collective programming of the mind” (Hofstede, 1984, p.13). However he greatly simplifies these interplays (perhaps this is his appeal?) in favour of more empirical models by stating “It is possible that our mental programs are physically determined by states of our brain cells. Nevertheless, we cannot directly observe mental programs. What we can observe is…words and deeds.” (Ibid, p.14)

As a behaviourist, he avoids the positivist fallacy when relating values to behaviour, however his repeated claims that culture may only ever be used in relation to nations has been often ignored by his followers {e.g. “Culture shapes the core values and norms of its members.” (Erez and Gati, 2004)}, and his own leanings are exposed when he states that “the more accurately we know a person’s mental programming…the more sure our prediction [of future behaviour] will be.” (Hofstede, 1984, p.14)

We would do well to beware of similar fallacies when investigating an organisation’s culture and not presume to understand an individual’s behaviours or motivations based on prevalent mental models observed in the group.

14 May 2009

Creating Knowledge Cultures - Post 3

In the next two posts of creating knowledge cultures I start to critique some of the big thinkers in culture theory. It is a brave move. Many of these amazing people have contributed wonderfully in both theory development and practical methods for dealing with groups based on their described cultures and sub-cultures.

Underneath these theories though is what I believe is a serious shortcoming in the foundations upon which these theories are developed. Read on to see if you agree with the argument.

3. The problem with the solution (part 1)
Top down view of culture
While much of the work on culture has value, there are several criticisms of the traditional view of culture that need to be dealt with. Abraham Maslow said, "If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail." Armed with the predominantly externalist definition of culture, corporate leaders around the world have implemented cultural analysis and change management programs and while each author warns of potential dangers, the seemingly endless benefits to efficiency and productivity are hard to overlook.

However, the top-down view of culture tends towards generalisations and while these can hold enough weight at the national level, when applied at a group or organisational level, discrimination can often be the result for two reasons.
  • Firstly, using top-down averages on a heterogenous group will almost certainly overlook or alienate nonconformists.
  • Secondly, human beings are complex organisms. They are motivated by unique value structures that re-interpret (or miss-interpret depending on your viewpoint) management’s attempts to mould beliefs and instill corporate values (Conrad and Poole, 1998, p.100, 104-105).
It shouldn’t surprise us that people are different. Even the most altruistic want to be noticed and respected by peers and elders. Yet mankind’s need to build patterns and algorithms of understanding (or schemas to use the cognitive psychologists term) is so strong that leaders quickly accept and apply these assumed patterns in their leadership strategies simply hoping for good results.

Seely-Brown and Duguid noted the chilling affect that top-down thinking can have on organisational processes, for example creativity (2001, p.46).

Culture as Essence or Difference
Schein makes the surprising statement that leaders are distinguished from managers because the former create and change cultures while the latter simply live within them (Schein, 1985, p.5). He states that culture “is the result of a complex group learning process”, however the assumption that the culture is either the essence of the group or the difference between groups remains basically unchallenged.

As Strauss and Quinn (1997, p.12) note, each view of culture adds value to our understanding and most are not mutually exclusive, however, each theory’s individual focus usually leads to a quite different methodologies and practices. It is these methodologies that may or may not be applicable in the field of organisational design and management.

Most visible of late has been the predominance of gloom and doom statements in the culture-as-essence and culture-as-difference camps. Even the language “culture war”, “conflict of cultures”, “culture clash” reveals the underlying assumption…the personality of this group of people is fundamentally different to the personality of this other group of people so the only strategy left is damage minimisation.

I agree with Holden (2002) who argues that “the concept behind culture-as-essence and culture-as-difference has limited explanatory power”.

Flawed logic
Of course here lies the root of the problem. It may well be beneficial when dealing with a nation as a whole to base business decisions on national averages or societal means. For example if the average Bahamian wears casual attire 360 days of the year, then setting up a men’s suit store in Nassau may not be a very profitable business decision.

However, averages across a large group cannot be applied to the individuals within the group (or even sub-groups or subcultures within the group) without more information about the individual. This is a widely recognised error called an ecological fallacy (MathDaily.com, 2005, 'ecological fallacy'), and Hofstede warns against it repeatedly in his presentations (Hofstede, 2005). For example, if Class A averages 92% on their maths scores and Class B averages only 67%, it does not follow that an individual from Class A is better at maths than an individual from Class B. The student from Class A could have failed math while being surrounded by geniuses and the student from Class B might have found themselves in the opposite situation.

This error leads to discriminatory stereotypes as explained above and can destroy perceptions of benevolence and trust in the individuals concerned.

The reverse ecological fallacy, or ‘exception fallacy’ (MathDaily.com, 2005, 'exception fallacy'), raises its head frequently in top down cultural models. This occurs when a group is judged based on observations of a few individuals or exceptional cases.

This fallacy is at the root of a lot of racist assumptions and both trust and knowledge sharing will suffer if it is in evidence.

Image courtesy of "The Far Side" & Gary Larson.

13 May 2009

Creating Knowledge Cultures - Post 2

Welcome to part two of my series on creating knowledge cultures. In this chapter I talk about the early pioneers who started to define culture from their anthropological roots by focusing on a top-down view of cultural forces within nations, people groups, communities and organisations.
This is a light treatment of these authors who have made significant contributions to theory and research in the wider social sciences.

2. The solution to the paradox of culture
Anthropology & Geertz
Arguably the best known and possibly most influential anthropologist of recent times is Clifford Geertz. His seminal work, The Interpretation of Cultures (Geertz, 1973) is still quoted by many today and played a central role in changing the definition of culture from a general catch-all term to describing a semiotic concept of social connections within which man is suspended; and the analysis of which was then redefined as an interpretive search for meaning (Ibid, p.5).

An ethnographer, Geertz claimed that ‘thick description’ was the only way to study the culture of societies. By thick, he meant a recorded enquiry that includes as many observations about a scenario as possible. For example the actor’s background, race, emotional, financial & social state, political and environmental factors, everything the ethnographer can discern. Geertz claimed that to break down such an observation into its component parts would be to rob it of its ability to function as a useful record.

This thick description is then run through a process of analysis which involves sorting out the cultural symbols and their structure and then use these to interpret the situation – if possible – without bias from one of the elements or by the ethnographers beliefs (the later leading to the most hated claim of ethnocentricity).

Of course the concept of removing the key elements via this analysis, distorts the context of the scenario, and reduces the significance and accuracy of the research. Geertz admitted this claiming that “Cultural analysis is intrinsically incomplete” (p.29) and went on to define cultural analysis and interpretation as more “a refinement of debate”. But being committed to this methodology meant he used the same logic to pronounce as anathema, anything that sought to crystallise cultural facets into universal principles or ascribe them to properties of the human mind (p.20).

Watching first the behaviourists, and later the lingual cognitivists and their attempt to apply privacy theory to the problem of culture, drew forth Geertz’s scorn (p.12). The assertion that to break down a scenario, for example a wink, into its component private parts, i.e. the contraction of the muscles controlling the eyelid, not only robbed it of any ability to be interpreted, but also led to the assumption that meaning, therefore, must exist externally. The obvious target for this reasoning must then be the cultural symbols that an ethnologist would be so familiar with. This is exactly where his logic took him, and the early cognitivists could offer little by way of response.

Positivistic roots
Geertz went one step further, claiming that since the study of culture could be restricted to symbols and objects – upon which men have impressed meaning – empirical studies would make ethnography “a positive science like any other.” (Strauss and Quinn, 1997, p.14)

In the early 19th century, Auguste Comte – the founder of sociology - developed a philosophy which later became known as positivism (Garbarino, 1983, p.20). The central tenant of which is “any system that confines itself to the data of experience and excludes a priori or metaphysical speculations.” (Britannica Online, 2005, 'positivism').

In the early 20th century Logical positivism rose to prominence in the sciences and Geertz sought to rest his ethnographic methods on its empirical credibility just as Comte had done with sociology 100 years before.

Positivism in cultural studies tends to ignore the “wet” neuro-psychological aspects, not because they don’t exist, but because they cannot be empirically measured with any level of accuracy.

Mainstream Conceptions of Culture
Common usage of the social word culture usually refers to one of two meanings:
1) The tastes in art and manners that are favoured by a social group or
2) Behaviour peculiar to Homo sapiens, together with material objects used as an integral part of this behaviour. Thus, culture includes language, ideas, beliefs, customs, codes, institutions, tools, techniques, works of art, rituals, and ceremonies, among other elements (Britannica Online, 2005, 'culture')

The later is usually referring to behaviours and objects belonging to a particular nation or society, and the science of ethnographic and anthropology in general attacks this head-on. However, the definition of culture can also refer to smaller groups of people and the science of sociology (and to a lesser extent social and organisational psychology) tends to research smaller groups, such as organisations, etc (Rogers and Ellis, 1994, p.119).

Researchers and authors like Geert Hofstede, Peter Senge and Edgar Schein have had considerable influence in this area over the last twenty years. Focusing mainly on large multi-national enterprises as their in-situ laboratories, these and many others have created a plethora of books and papers on the subject of creating, analysing and changing corporate cultures. Many…from the top down.

11 May 2009

Creating Knowledge Cultures - Post 1

The DeltaKnowledge blog has been quiet for the last few months as I have started enjoying life without study on my back, but it’s time to start getting my thoughts back online again and to get things started I thought a good idea would be to do a series on organizational culture from the Knowledge Management point of view.

This series is from a paper I wrote a little while ago about the central ingredients for creating knowledge cultures and is a run-up to a discussion I am running at the Melbourne KMLF this month, so if you are coming along I hope you have a read and come prepared to participate.

In the paper I claim that in order to remain competitive in a turbulent business environment, organisations are beginning to understand the impact that culture has on every aspect of corporate life. Culture itself presents a paradox which anthropology, sociology and psychology have attempted to explain. I outline and critically review past definitions and solutions. Culture as cognitive process is then presented as an improvement. In this light, the central ingredients for the creation of knowledge cultures are presented, including distributed cognition, learning organisations, knowledge networks and the import of Trust. Finally I examine some real world applications and if and how culture can be managed is briefly discussed.

Rather than an in depth treatment, this is meant as a big picture view of the attempts to apply different cultural theories to the field of KM and touches of some of the key thinkers who have helped move this field forward to where it is today. For brevity, it ignores many other important contributors and associated theories, like Social Impact Theory, discussed recently on weknowmore.org’s theory of the week.

While “culture as an emergent property of complex environments” is not directly discussed, the discussion of distributed cognition will hopefully help dispel some of lingering ideas about the common definition of culture (especially corporate or organisational culture) as some sort of group attribute or single over-riding force.

Before I start I have to acknowledge the fantastic guidance of Professor Gabriele Lakomski of the University of Melbourne for whom I wrote this paper. I benefited greatly from her clear thinking and insistence that if the philosophical foundations were wrong, then the science could end up way off base when it comes to implementation. That said, I accept all errors and omissions as my own. The Theory of Culture is simply massive and it is with a strong sense of humility that I attempt to summarise and critique this small part of it. In fact I hope the feedback and discussion that comes from it will help me to continue learning about this important subject.

So here we go. I will post one part each day until it’s all up and if it gets done before my talk, maybe I will sum up some of the comments and answer some of the questions. Feel free to comment and I’ll do my best to answer (or to at least add to my list of discussion points for KMLF and you can come and discuss your point in person!)

1. The paradox of culture
To create knowledge cultures, one must first define what culture is. What, at first, seems like a simple task turns out to be quite a hotly debated topic, with a central paradox being enthusiastically courted by scholars of positivism, pragmatism, post-modernism and more recently naturalism and neuro-science.

This paradox is summed up thus:
“How can we explain both cultural reproduction, thematicity, and force … [centripetal forces] at work in social life – and cultural variation, inconsistency, and change … [centrifugal forces]? More plainly, how do we handle the fact this is not a homogenous world without creating separate entities … to explain the differences?”
(Strauss and Quinn, 1997)
Breaking down the paradox – the refinement of cultural definitions
As with nearly all subjective constructs, building a working model that approaches the observed nature can be a long and sometimes distributed process. This has certainly been the case with culture theory. Whether one has travelled the world, had dealings with multinational companies, or even just changed to another place of employment, the impact of different cultural norms are too obvious to reject out-of-hand. Yet individuals do seem to differ enough to make one hesitate before employing generalisations or abstracted assumptions based on the society, organisation or group they may belong to.

For this reason, researchers and practitioners in many fields have sought to define culture in ways that have enabled them to operate more efficiently where culture may impact the results of their research or change strategies. This has resulted in an omnium-gatherum of definitions with each field’s offerings slanted toward solving the problems that culture presents to them.
Coming from a sociology perspective, Swindler and Arditi (1994) remark that in previous cultural studies, “culture connotes symbolic systems that are deeply embedded, taken-for-granted, often enduring, and sometimes invisible." But go on to say, “The sociology of knowledge instead directs attention to cultural elements that are more conscious, more explicitly linked to specific institutional arenas, and more historically variable.”

Some view organisations through the metaphor of an anthropomorphic organism and speak of its culture as a collective consciousness with personality, needs and character (Meek, 1988, p.459).
In another example, Theron (2002) quotes Thurbin as follows:
“A definition of culture...is where a group of people who have worked together for some time is behaving in a consistent way. Thus, having a set of shared philosophies and common fundamental values.”
In his book, Schein, a professor of management at MIT and corporate consultant on organisational development, defines culture as follows:
"…a pattern of basic assumptions – invented, discovered, or developed by a given group as it learns to cope with its problems of external adaptation and internal integration – that has worked well enough to be considered valid and, therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think, and feel in relation to those problems." (Schein, 1985, p.12)
Later in his guide to managerial readers, he offered a simplified version, stating, "Culture is the sum total of all the shared, taken-for-granted assumptions that a group has learned throughout its history. It is a residue of success." (Schein, 1999).

Coming from the field of traditional anthropology, but with even less regard to the cognitive side of culture, Geertz presents a highly positivist view of culture claiming that “Society’s forms are culture’s substance” (Geertz, 1973, p.28). He defines culture not as a power, but as a context within which behaviours, institutions and processes can be thickly described and interpreted (Ibid, p.14) in order to build empirical credibility upon a positivist legacy: “Only public forms are observable and we should study only what we can observe” (Strauss and Quinn, 1997, p.15).

Hofstede believes culture is “the collective programming of the mind which distinguishes the members of one human group from another” (Hofstede, 1984, p.21). He equates the culture of a group to the personality of an individual and seeks to determine the culture of a nation or organisation using personality style tests of its individual members.

Finally the cultural anthropologists weigh in with a definition that includes the internal, cognitive aspects. From previous work on schemas in the 1970s and 1980s (Sperber, 1985, D’Andrade, 1995, Bourdieu, 1977) and leaning heavily on neurally inspired connectionism, Strauss and Quinn (1997, p.7) claim that:
“Culture...consists of regular occurrences in the humanly created world, in the schemas people share as a result of these, and in the interactions between these schemas and this world. When we speak of culture, then, we do so only to summarize such regularities.”