Mind your culture, and mind that I don’t mind it ;)


‘Culture’ is one of the very complex, variables to face in any knowledge management initiative. It is also one of the difficult variables in Mathieu Weggeman’s ‘knowledge value chain‘. With good reason, considering what it really is. Everything that is closely related to change is difficult, and complex.

The excellent infographic below  relates to organisational change and unravels some of that complexity surrounding the evanescent concept of ‘culture’.

The iceberg of organisational change – where culture and other subtle drivers are *really* deciding the name of the game (Credits: Torbenrick)

Personally I pay a lot of attention to culture, and yet I’m never really sure what to make of it. So here are a couple of thoughts about culture in a KM context.

  • Yes culture exists, and can be a really important enabler or barrier to any KM initiative;
  • So yes, paying attention to it is not only good, it’s essential. It can become a way to harness change around local preferences (e.g. asking people what they consider appropriate or not for their culture);
  • But culture is not necessarily what people think it is, and the scale of culture changes a lot (across industries, ages, even places large or small) – so best gather a variety of viewpoints about it from e.g. high-placed people, women, youths, people of diverse ethnic and/or socio-economic backgrounds etc.;
  • Because culture is often much less (if at all !) something codified than e.g. strategies, procedures etc.
  • But culture should not become a shield behind which no change is possible. Change happens everywhere, all the time, which means no culture is carved in stone, only the levers and buttons to trigger change may work very differently in places where the people have not been exposed to a lot of diverse experiences ;
  • Realising for yourself what you put as your own cultural background vis-à-vis other people or groups is also really helpful to keep your own biases in check, and engage in more meaningful intercultural learning conversations ;
  • Culture is a good conversation trigger to loosen tongues and get people to reflect on the deeper trends that affect their lives, beyond what is formally written, or said ;
  • Using the card of your own culture in a completely different environment can also be a powerful way to trigger change by playing a neutral role – or the role of the not culturally-savvy person who can come up with provoking statements…
Culture, it keeps moving on (Credits: Scott Beale / Laughing Squid)

Culture, it keeps moving on (Credits: Scott Beale / Laughing Squid)

So in brief, culture can be a useful trigger to spawn deep conversations, and is not something any KM initiative should take lightly, but it should also not be considered a factor to wave as an excuse for change – or at least good, serious, deep conversations – not to happen.

So even more briefly : mind your culture, and mind that I don’t mind it… so much…

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