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The Invisible Hand of Culture Published: Sunday, August 11, 2002 By: Dr. Manuel Ángel Morales

Years ago, I had the great opportunity of sharing with Jack Welch as part of an executive session of the Association of Manufacturing Excellence. At that time he made a solid expression indicating that their business behavior was driven by a fundamental core belief: the desire and the ability of their organization to continuously learn from any source, and rapidly convert the learning into action for assuring competitive advantage.

Share learning is an amazing concept. It allows organizations to capitalize in what they have already invested, which is the knowledge and experience of talented people. It gives institutions of all kind the opportunity to constantly harvest a crop of innovative solutions and creative applications. Thus, leaders have to work with the challenge of establishing how to separate time and make the necessary investments, so that share learning could achieve a secure place at their respective organizational cultures.

In the knowledge society, and of course in the learning organization, distinguished individuals will be those who can easily do the job of transferring knowledge to others.

Infrastructure, culture, technology and measurement are all necessary for effective organizational performance. But none alone is sufficient. Rather, they must all work in concert as part of a management system to achieve sustainable success. Where as all four components are critical, one is more potent and difficult to alter. It yields less quickly or easily to change, because it is so much a function of your past learning foundation. We are referring to the culture of the organization. Each organization has one, and if you take it to the extremes, each division, department or unit has one.

Culture is the combination of shared history, expectations, unwritten rules, and social mores that affect the behavior of everyone, from managers to housekeeping personnel. It is the set of underlying beliefs that, while never exactly articulated, are always there to color the perception of actions and communications. Culture can be a solution or a problem as part of the venture of eliciting any kind of behavior.

If the institution’s natural tendency is to share and collaborate, all you have to do is to eliminate structural barriers and provide enablers, like technology, mentors and facilitators, to allow learning practices to flow easily across work time and space. But if the nature of the institution is hoard knowledge, then the best and greatest knowledge management exercise may not be enough to alter the undesirable behavior of some people.

So if institutions want to leverage the people-culture factor they will have to: (1) Foster learning through teaching and sharing. (2) Induce communal understanding through story telling. (3) Create and exchange new knowledge. (4) Integrate common areas of interest and expertise. (5) Stress robust professional ethics. (6) Improve interpersonal relationships.  

Copyright 2002 QBS, Inc.

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