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Creating Company Culture Through Knowledge-Centered Support

landscapeThis article was first published in HDI.

Last year I traveled the world and talked about defining an organizational culture that is great for service excellence. These discussions were not about a particular culture, but about the importance of considering culture when implementing new working methods, specifically, when exploring knowledge-centered support (KCS).

From this journey and other reading, I began to wonder how vital the company culture is to these methods.

What is company culture?

Geert Hofstede, the late Dutch social psychologist, IBM employee, and professor emeritus of organizational anthropology and international management at Maastricht University in the Netherlands, is best known for developing one of the earliest and most popular frameworks for measuring cultural dimensions in a global perspective. He pioneered research on cross-cultural groups and organizations, and was excellent at comparing different countries and their cultures based on his pioneered six-dimensional cultural category scale.

But Hofstede also created a model to describe a culture in general. This model can be used for defining the company and even departmental culture. Culture is most often described as the shared ethos of an organization. It's the way people feel about the work they do, the values they possess, where they see the company going, and what they're doing to get it there.

Culture is like an iceberg. Only the top is visible. What lies below the surface is the foundation of each organization’s culture. The culture below the surface is usually unknown, vague, or intangible. Hofstede’s model is perfect to explain the parts of the culture that is above and below the surface. It is an onion model, one you can peel off different layers to expose the interior.

The importance of values

At the core of the onion are values. Values are defined, slow to change, and influenced by the history of the organization's people. Values are ideas that tell what in life is considered necessary. Describing or discussing them can be difficult, and outsiders cannot directly see them.

A strong organizational culture keeps your company’s core values front and center in all aspects of its day-to-day operations and organizational structure. The value of doing so is incalculable. People find out that culture becomes more and more critical in the strategy for success.

A thriving organizational culture brings together the people at your company and keeps them aligned. When your culture is transparent, different perspectives can gather behind it with a common purpose. Your organization's culture sets expectations for how people behave and work together and how they function as a team. In this way, culture can break down the boundaries between siloed teams, guide decision-making, and improve workflow overall.

Organizational culture is essential, but you need to be aware of your own culture, its values, and unlock the core of the organization or department.

Discovering KCS

Now let’s cover KCS a bit. Remember, this is an example of the importance of culture in implementation. This could easily count for agile or a new helpdesk system, but knowledge management is a great way to work through this work.

Knowledge-centered service is not just about support anymore. Helpdesk employees spend a lot of time every day repeatedly answering the same questions. When an operator doesn't have the answer at hand, it's not always easy to find it there and then. Knowledge-centered service then is a creative way of sharing and reusing your team’s expertise. For example, your support staff creates a knowledge base using answers to customer questions, which they can share with end users.

These knowledge items are also available to other operators, helping them efficiently answer the same questions. And if the solution provided is insufficient, the operator can adjust the knowledge item or create a new one. Knowledge-centered service is an easy way to make your services smart, quick, and scalable.

KCS centralizes the management of knowledge. This will lead to a shift left movement, where information is brought closer to the end user, which benefits both employees and customers. Rolling out KCS is easy. KCS is a well-thought-out process, it doesn’t require difficult skills to participate in, and anyone in the organization can do it. KCS is process change.

So why isn’t every organization that implements it successful? That’s because KCS can’t be just a process change; it must be embedded into a company's culture. Yet understanding culture is challenging and demands some research.

I can’t emphasize enough the value of understanding the cultural baseline and nuances of departments and teams or knowing what the core is and what drives the employees to success. Identifying ways for KCS to work within those cultural norms is vital. Some behaviors may need to change completely; others may need to be modified to include KCS. The flexibility is crucial, without compromising the basic KCS practices required for success.

In a KCS case study I once read, I found the following quote: “KCS is a journey, not a destination; it’s an adoption, not an implementation.” Cheesy but true. KCS doesn't have a clear ending; therefore, embedding it is crucial.

You need to understand and examine your organization’s culture to understand how knowledge sharing can be a part of it. In the same case study that I read containing the cheesy quote, I also read the following: “By fostering a knowledge-sharing culture, we’ve dedicated our organization to getting the right answers to the right people when they need it, not a moment later.”

It’s easy to tell people they need to use, flag, fix, and add knowledge to their organizations, but if you don’t talk about why organizations are doing something, they likely won’t stay engaged. Therefore, you need to figure out what makes a department tick, what they find valuable, and discover an organization's core values.

Not All or Nothing

KCS does not need to be an all-or-nothing proposition; it has to work within your cultural framework. Our organization elected to only partially implement KCS because implementing it fully did not match who we were as a department or company; it sometimes did not align fully with our three core values - trust, freedom, and responsibility.