Sunday, December 31, 2017

Company-wide culture change (evolution): is it an art form, corporate bluff, or is there a coherent methodology to guide practices?

I was reading this Guardian article on New Year's Eve

The article looks back at the management history which gives me some inspiration on how to improve organisation life in 2018, and how best to evolve an organisation culture. (Note: I intentionally not use the word "change" the organisation culture, because this implies a non-communicative top-down push approach to change people, more on this point later in the blog). 

Quoting the article, "If we hope to improve organisational, then a good place to start is by reducing the amount of bullshit our organisations produce. Business bullshit allows us to blather on without saying anything (...) As we find our words become increasingly meaningless, we begin to feel a sense of powerlessness."

I agree with the author, this does not need to be the case. Company wide culture change cannot and should not be fluff that is filled with meaningless words. The issue I like to think through Is "how" to design culture program in a coherent, practical and repeatable way (that is not based on a cookie cutter recipe)? 

I try to experiment and practice in my corporate life the following:

- Instead of using "big words", I find ways to have genuine dialogue with my colleagues, to understand one another the purpose of our jobs, why we think/behaviour in certain ways at work, where we struggle, where we could help one another, and sharing our dreams. 

- And, I know I must be pragmatic, knowing that to achieve this "utopian" level of exchange, I  must overcome some thorny challenges. The deep sharing won't happen by chance, certainly not through spontaneous conversation, it has to be done by design. I am mindful that there are experts (people-in-power, thought leaders, bureaucrats, nice people) who will intentionally or unintentionally silence the voice of those who are not like them, and so not all the colleagues are willing to speak up, and many voices and passion will remain hidden. They become labelled as the " uninitiated group" who are not willing to embrace change. 

- Spontaneous communication seems easy, nice to do. Let's have a meeting or run a townhall to talk about culture change! Let's have an interactive training and knowledge exchange session!  Talking and sharing always make people feel involved. This is not what I am talking about here. Meetings and talking shops do not mean building deeper understanding, nor would the quality of exchange lead to better informed decisions to change things for the better. 

- I believe there is a need to have genuine conversation to share ideas and knowledge  - based on equal status that everyone has something to offer, there is give-and-take, based on a fundamental belief that coming out from the conversation, everyone involved experience some changes  - and I believe one has to put in extra effort to attend to power issues if we want to communicate in a communicative way. It is really hard, it requires deliberate practice and deliberate interventions, communication procedures. And ithey form the core foundation methodolody to design any company-wide culture evolution program. 

- I constantly remind myself: if I want to play a part to evolve the company culture, I should start by changing myself, not changing others. The first step is to change the way I facilitate communication, listening to myself and one another, bring out people's needs, pains and dreams in a communicative way. 

Some experienced communicators, facilitators or coaches call this an art form. They bring out best ideas and make people listen to one another. The limitation is that only these experienced people can make it happen. 

I am interested in experimenting ways to scale company-wide culture evolution, by introducing interventions/practices that are informed by a set of coherent theorectically informed methodology. I am inspired and indebted to  Dr Brenda Dervin's Sense Making Methodlogy and her 40+ years of research evidence to guide my thinking and my practices. 

If you are interested, this is a good reference article to go deep into the theory. (Mind you, I don't use the theoretical language in my workplace, I do not ask my executives team not my colleagues to read academic papers at work, I don't want to make it too abstract. These theories inform what I do, I stay very pragmatic and result oriented at work, designing practices to achieve business outcomes). Yet, I know my blog readers have diverse interest, so I share an article here. 

Dervin, B. (2015). Dervin's Sense-Making as theory, meta-theory, methodology, and method, pp.59-80. In Nasser, A. & Saif A. Understanding information  science: Twenty key theories. Hershey, PA: IGI Global. 

I welcome your thoughts and anyone who are willing to share any alternative approaches to design culture program. Get in touch! 

Saturday, September 09, 2017

Information Literacy in the Workplace: Who cares?

The ability to identify the need for information, to access, to effectively use and present information - from an individual or a group perspective - is critical for any knowledge worker to be effective in the workplace. Business executives strongly support the idea that knowledge workers need to continue to develop themselves, to further understand external customers' (or internal customers') needs, to draw on information and personal/collective experience to make decisions and present ideas. Information literacy enables employees to effectively undertake these activities and fulfil business goals.

However, if information literacy (IL) is so important, why do we commonly hear only of the need to upgrade employees' leadership, communication, time management, project management, team management, lean/six sigma or digital skills, but rarely hear of employees being encouraged to attend "information literacy" professional development course?  

Does that mean information literacy is unimportant? Or do business leaders assume that all employees are equipped with information literacy skills from the education system? Do business leaders expect their employees to acquire information literacy skills on the job? Outside the library and information science community, does IL mean anything? 

Having worked in numerous global companies and working with senior executives establishing information/knowledge management strategy to become knowledge-driven companies, I concluded that the phrase Information Literacy does not mean anything to knowledge workers / business executives; IL are disguised within different functional labels, and business processes which are specific to the business context.

In fact, the embeddedness of information in the business context makes it impossible to talk about "information" or "information literacy" out of context. This make the promotion of information literacy in the workplace extremely difficult (but not impossible)! 

Why has information literacy not gained much traction in the workplace context. If information professionals are aware of the challenges, we are in a better position to make a difference. Consider these 3 angles:

1. Think about knowledge workers working in these functions: R&D, innovation, sales, marketing, client services, IT support, product management, business analysis, they have to interact with information to carry out their work. Information literacy is obviously needed. IL is "hidden" in their respective function labels. 

2. Knowledge workers face different demands at work at different times - ranging from the need to "drive efficiency/reduce costs" vs "increase effectiveness" vs "innovate" vs "handle crisis situation" - and in different context, information is defined and handled in different ways. There is no one-size-fit-all information literacy process/tools that work under all business scenarios. 

3. The level of information literacy exhibited in a workplace is highly influenced by the company culture. Whilst organisations with open, networked culture value information literacy, those with hierarchical, command-and-control culture would not value information literacy as much.

I am going to be a keynote speaker for the European Conference on Information Literacy ECIL 2017  and I look forward to explore these topics in more depth with the conference delegates. My presentation is based on a book chapter titled "The hidden value of information literacy in the workplace context: how to unlock and create business value" in the "Information Literacy in the Workplace, edited by Marc Forster, published by Facet Publishing in Apr 2017.