Capability area 5: Culture

A long-used definition of culture describes it as “that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society" (Tylor, 1924). Although this definition is not specific to organizations, all of these elements have been important aspects of organizational culture studies.

Developing a culture of knowledge sharing is vital for supporting innovation and the generation of new knowledge, developing staff, preparing an organization for change and improving problem definition and decision-making. Yet, changing culture is also recognized as being one of the most challenging and long-term aspects of this work.

In many ways, culture is an outcome of adopting practices outlined in the other capability areas. But it is also a critical success factor and issues or challenges with culture will always impact the effectiveness of other initiatives. For example, if an organization does not have a good level of trust, people are far less likely to share ideas or try something that runs the risk of failure. In the same way, if people are not empowered to contribute to a Web 2.0 site or are not given clear expectations that knowledge sharing is part of their job, these sites may not be well used.

 So, where leadership provides the spark, it is the culture of the organization that keeps the fires burning. It is very difficult to change culture directly. However, as thinking and acting in a way that values knowledge expands, and as benefits to the organization are recognized, culture can shift. At an executive level, this shift requires consideration of policies, models and innovative approaches for maintaining accountability while mitigating the problems caused by separation of silos, disincentives to learning and work across boundaries. It also requires all managers to champion change and to build trust both within and outside their work units.

The assessment questions: Culture

In this capability area, the questions help organizations assess the extent to which they are developing environments in which knowledge grows and flows easily, thus ensuring effective operations even in complex, and rapidly changing environments.

Leaders across the organization should consider the following questions:

  • Have you established a connected, collaborative workforce that operates through trust?
  • Do employees comfortably engage in conversations across boundaries and across hierarchies?
  • Are staff regularly participating in knowledge-sharing and generating activities? Do many of these activities go beyond the organization into other organizations, communities or sectors?
  • Have areas of mistrust been explored? Are perceived levels of trust improving?
  • If work with knowledge as an asset is still new, are there respected change agents at different levels of the organization?
  • If this work is more mature, to what degree can change agents step back and monitor sustained momentum?
  • Do practitioners select appropriate practices and learn from experience?