Culture and Technology

Knowledge management without cultural awareness rarely is successful. You can be on the verge of deploying the best technology tools in the world, but if those tools aren’t in synch with your organizational culture, you might as well distribute quill pens and parchment. Carl Frappaolo (VP Market Intelligence a AIIM International) and Dan Keldsen (Director, Market Intelligence at AIIM International) made this point very clearly in a terrific presentation they gave on October 3. (For helpful summaries of their presentation, see Ron Friedmann’s blog and Jack Vinson’s blog.)

Carl has posted their slides on his blog, Taking AIIM. When you get over to that blog, pay particular attention to slide 16, which shows the stages of cultural evolution, overlaid with the stages of technology. This slide demonstrates that you need an organizational culture that reflects a specific level of collaboration before you can implement particular tools successfully. If you’ve got folks working in splendid isolation with no desire to change their modus operandi (i.e., “islands of me”), they won’t be receptive to your brilliant web 2.0 technological advances. You can coax, you can beg, you can embarrass yourself anyway you choose, but they just won’t get it. And they most certainly won’t adopt your new tool.

Besides the degree of collaboration prevalent in your organizational culture, you also have to be aware of the limits your culture puts on information. So, you want a wiki? Make sure you’ve got an organizational culture that permits the free and open exchange of information. If you’re in an organization that discloses information on a need to know basis only, don’t be surprised if your wikis are under-utilized. Equally, if you’re in an organization that is excessively hierarchical, don’t expect junior folks to contribute to your new blog or wiki without explicit permission from senior managers. In each case, the organizational culture will severely curtail the open information exchange that blogs and wikis promote.

The trick here is to get better at anthropology and then pitch the tools to meet the culture. If you’ve got your heart set on yanking your law firm knowledge management program into the 21st century by introducing social media tools, wait until you see specific forms of collaboration or conversation emerging among your lawyers. Let them enjoy that for a while and then watch for stresses or pain points to emerge. If they do, offer a tool that can alleviate the pain. If there’s no pain, it’s unlikely there will be much user interest in changing how they work. Busy lawyers rarely push for new technology if what they’ve got basically functions — even if there is something that would objectively work much better. They sensibly weigh any inconvenience of their current methods against the perceived gross inconvenience of learning something new. As with most things, overcoming inertia is tough. However, it’s a much easier battle if you harness the natural forces of your organizational culture.