Why is it so hard to deliver lasting change?


Lessons seem to fall into the big gap in the middle - obvious design flaw!

This article bounced in via one of my connections on LinkedIn or Facebook…it’s interesting but on the light side especially it’s parting shot whimper “…In summary, change at all levels is tough and many initiatives fail to deliver – that’s human nature. But, never give-up trying…” I really hate these “…oh, well, it’s just human nature…” pseudo-arguments. They essentially just say “…it’s all too hard…” and, in the lessons world, that’s just not true.

The problem is that people and organisations see lessons learned as some sort of blend between a universal panacea for all that ails them and good old-fashioned magic (except that, of course, magic generally works whereas lessons learned…). Lessons learned or L2 as it is becoming known in ‘in’ circles is not difficult, not that hard and certainly not magic…like most trades, skills and professions, there is a fundamental need for practitioners to have some idea of what the hell they are meant to be doing.

The simple fact is that the perception that enduring lessons are so difficult to implement is because most people and organisations tend to focus on the solution and not the reason why behind it. So, after some time, normally when those with first-hand knowledge and experience of the original issue and the applied solution move on, we are left with an implemented solution that slowly loses context as the individual and corporate memories of reasons why behind it fade into insignificance. What we are left with then is either dogma where that solution continues to be implemented without any real knowledge of the why, or satisfaction of the urge to change especially if the solution is considered onerous or too hard.

Even more important than the actual implemented solution we must keep alive the reasons why the solution was implemented in the first place – this allows use to evolve if and, when necessary, as circumstances and environments change.

While I was drafting this post this morning, the first Knoco newsletter for 2012 dropped into my inbox. It has some good pointers, even though it is technically about knowledge management than lessons learned (like there’s a difference?) (text in italics in from the original Knoco article, the rest is my thoughts):

How to build a KM strategy

There is no such thing as an “off the peg”, “one size fits all” knowledge management strategy.  Every organization needs to create their own knowledge management strategy, which fits their own context and their own business needs.  Here is how to do it (for more detail, order the strategy guide)

Start with the Business Drivers

Looking broader than a mere business perspective, driven by bottom lines, etc, look at what your organisation or agency is actually meant to do and why. There’s that word again ‘why’ – the good old ‘in order to’ of the mission statement…if you’re deviating from your chosen path of truth, light and purpose, you need to identify why – and whether that is both a good thing and a sanctioned thing: the two do not always go hand in hand.

Identify the knowledge that is crucial to delivering business strategy

Work out where that knowledge lies

It is the easiest thing in today’s world to simply drown in too much information: the crux of any system has to be getting the right information to the right people at the right time and knowing that they know how to apply it – again the rationale of all the ‘rights’; otherwise, really, what’s the point?
Knowledge management, at its simplest, consists of building a system to transfer strategic knowledge from the people who have it, to the people who need it, in an effective, efficient and routine manner.
So once you have identified the strategic knowledge, you then need to map out where it lies, and where it needs to be transferred.
Is the knowledge centralized, in a small number of company experts?  Is it dispersed among a community of experienced practitioners?  Is it created as best practices and lessons from projects, living in the heads of the project managers?

If it’s penny-packeted away, do you need to kick in some doors? Does the organisation still have bastions of ‘need to know’ resisting ‘need to share’? Do they even know that there is external interest in what THEY do and produce?

Understand the audience

It’s absolutely crucial to understand the users of the knowledge; how many there are, and the degree of context and knowledge they have already, then knowledge needs, their working styles and habits.  The knowledge demographics of the organization are important (see section below), and knowledge supply needs to be compatible with working style. A mobile workforce, for example, needs to be able to access the knowledge of their peers through smart phones or other mobile devices, while a office based workforce can use desktop computers.

Simply, despite our natural inclinations to revert back to this, there is no easy simple cookie-cutter solution to much except, of course, cutting cookies.

Choose an effective transfer approach

The two main strategic approaches for knowledge management are Connection and Collection, otherwise known as personalisation and codification.  Although any knowledge management strategy will need a combination of these two, one might receive more focused than the other.

A Collection approach, where knowledge is collected and codified and made available as documents, is effective where the knowledge is relatively straightforward, and needs to be transferred to a large number of people, for example in a company with a large turnover of staff, or a company wishing to transfer product knowledge to a large sales force.

A connection approach, where knowledge is transferred through communities of practice and social networks, is suitable for complex contextual knowledge shared between communities of experienced practitioners.

When you get down to it, you need to be able to apply and actually apply a blend of both what are referred to as collection and connexion approaches (when did connection lose the ‘ct’???????). Things won’t solve all things and neither will talk – together they may.

Drive Pull before driving Push

Many of the knowledge management strategies we asked to review, talk about “creating a culture of knowledge sharing”; in other words, they seek to promote publishing and “push” of knowledge around the organization.

This is the wrong place to start.  There is no point in creating a culture of sharing, if you have no culture of re-use. “Pull” is a far more powerful driver for Knowledge Management than Push, and we would always recommend creating a culture of knowledge seeking before creating a culture of knowledge sharing.

Create the demand for knowledge, and the supply will follow.  Create a culture of asking, and the culture of sharing will follow.

While I don’t necessarily agree that ‘ a culture of knowledge sharing’ automatically leads to a ‘push’ culture, I do agree that ‘pull’ is the most effective way to go. While staff must pull information to themselves, some knowledge sharing culture is necessary for there to be anything to pull in the first place…Create just a ‘culture of asking‘ and all that may happen is that people wull turn away when you approach the water cooler…

Which all comes back to the original question “Why is it so hard to deliver lasting change?” It is hard because current L2 practitioners focus tend to too much on the lessons for its own sake; worry less about ensuring that it is current, relevant and practical for its targeted audience; and pretty much totally forget the key rationale for the change, the reason why – that’s not doctrine, that’s dogma….

3 thoughts on “Why is it so hard to deliver lasting change?

    • I’ll look forward to seeing what you come up with…am covering two jobs at the moment so am having to work a lot hard to produce much original blog material apart from the weekly photo challenges…lots of ideas, just need to create time to type ’em all up…


  1. Pingback: Lessons learned | Travels with Shiloh

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