Thursday, 25 February 2016

Culture - a self-inflicted wound (or how the BBC and Nokia hurt themselves and how KM can help)

Today, the former judge Dame Janet Smith published her report into the culture and practices of the BBC in light of allegations of abuse by the late Jimmy Savile, during his time as a DJ and TV personality there.
The full report is available here.

Some may recall my writing about this sordid episode before (here and here).
Some key quotes that struck me:

·        “…the management culture in the BBC did not encourage openness in these respects and did not recognise the sense of insecurity which inhibited staff from speaking out.”

·        “An important feature of the culture of the BBC during the period with which we are concerned was the reluctance of staff to complain about bad things which happened to them or to raise concerns about bad things which were happening within the organisation.”

·        “…organisations both large and small find it almost impossible to inculcate a culture where people feel able to report a complaint or raise a concern without fear of adverse consequences for themselves.”

·        “…most staff (other than those who had been in the higher echelons) felt that the management culture was too deferential and that some executives were ‘above the law’.”

·        “…the culture in the BBC and the BBC’s management style did not encourage the reporting of complaints or concerns.”

·        “…fear of reprisal, fear of losing your job, fear of being known as a troublemaker and fear of not being promoted [are the] reasons why complaints might not be made.” 
Now, let’s turn to another well-known organisation – the telecommunications company, Nokia. Formerly the dominant force in the mobile phone market, Nokia sold its mobile devices division to Microsoft in 2013, having been unable to respond to the market challenges presented by Apple and Samsung over the previous 6 years.
This article here, makes a compelling case that it wasn’t Apple or Samsung that damaged Nokia but its very own culture.
Again, some key points:

·        “the company’s top managers had a terrifying reputation, which was widely shared by middle managers….some members of Nokia’s board and top management [were] “extremely temperamental” who regularly shouted at people “at the top of their lungs”….it was thus very difficult to tell them things they didn’t want to hear. Threats of firings or demotions were commonplace.”

·        “Fearing the reactions of top managers, middle managers remained silent or provided optimistic, filtered information.”

·        “…the information did not flow upwards. Top management was directly lied to….There were situations where everybody knew things were going wrong, but we were thinking, “Why tell top managers about this? It won’t make things any better.””

·        “Nokia’s ultimate fall can be put down to internal politics. In short, Nokia people weakened Nokia people and thus made the company increasingly vulnerable to competitive forces. When fear permeated all levels, the lower rungs of the organisation turned inward to protect resources, themselves and their units, giving little away, fearing harm to their personal careers. Top managers failed to motivate the middle managers with their heavy-handed approaches and they were in the dark with what was really going on.”
Two organisations with different purposes and structures but with a common problem – a culture that did not encourage openness and honesty, where only ‘good news’ gets passed on up and whereby senior management don’t have the full picture, forcing them to make decisions based on partial information.
Why?  Because of the culture that they themselves have allowed to take hold. 
But these are extreme cases, right?  That sort of thing doesn’t happen everywhere, does it?
Well, how about we delete ‘sexual abuse’ or ‘touch-screen phone’ and insert, ‘project delays’ or ‘cost over-runs’ or ‘performance issues’ or ‘safety concerns’.  Or any of the other ways in which performance can end up not quite how we had intended.  Are these reported upwards in full?  Or do we only talk about the good stuff? 
In short, many organisations are places where leaders are making decisions whilst not knowing what has really happened and, perhaps more importantly, why.
So what can they do about this?
Good knowledge management requires (amongst other things) the creation of processes to help people talk about how things are going and how they can be improved:

·        After Action Reviews get people in teams to talk openly about how things have gone  and learn from each other;

·        Peer Assists, Knowledge Exchanges and Handovers get different teams to explore issues and come up with solutions that can be embedded into everyday ways working;

·        Retrospects help project teams explore how the project (or stage thereof) went, what has been learned and what can be done differently next time;

·        Knowledge Harvesting Interviews get critical knowledge and information out of the heads of a few experts and available for others to use.
These tools and others can reveal much about what things are really like inside an organisation and, for their potential as learning techniques to be realised, senior management have to show leadership and send out the message that messengers will NOT be shot if they tell the truth.
Leaders must lead by example – which means being brutally honest about their own shortcomings, to send out the message that it’s okay to do so.  Moreover, that to do so is expected and is the essential thing that will lead to better performance – lower costs, higher profits, safer workplaces, motivated employees, better quality products.
For a chat about KM tools or how to create a learning culture, please get in touch or via the Knoco website.

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Knoco newsletter - on KM Governance - is out today....

Knoco's latest newsletter is out now - available at this link here.

Let me know if you'd like to join our mailing list, or chat about KM governance, dealing with the 'if my colleague feel under a bus today' problem, lessons (both learned and unlearned), culture, rugby....