Originally published on September 22, 2016

First in a series of 50 Knowledge Management Components (Slide 4 in KM 102)

Culture and values: the way things are done in an organization, and what things are considered to be important and taboo

The 10 Commitments: Securing Executive Support for a Knowledge Management Programrequire that your organization embody a culture with core values conducive to knowledge sharing. Identifying the current culture and values of your organization will help you take advantage of those elements conducive to knowledge sharing and address those which are not, with the help of the senior executive’s commitments.

Understanding how people interact with each other in your organization, typical styles of behavior, fundamental operating principles, and the code of conduct is a necessary prelude to introducing a knowledge management initiative. If the culture of the organization does not include sharing and collaboration, a significant management of change initiative will be needed to start changing the culture. If it does, the KM program will be adopted more readily.

Most organizations have codes of conduct, core values, and ethical standards which are widely communicated. In the post-Enron world, there is considerable pressure to train all employees on expectations for behavior, and to repeat this training every year. Start by reviewing the published values, and then compare these to the observed culture. If they are not consistent, your management of change initiative will need to address aligning corporate culture to the stated core values.

Core values typically include some of the following: delight customers, respect others, achieve exceptional results, work collaboratively, move quickly, be creative, act with integrity, embrace diversity, deliver with high quality, and be decisive. Codes of conduct will usually address how to conduct business, treat customers, work with partners, deal with competitors, avoid conflicts of interest, handle confidential information and intellectual property, care for assets, interact with local communities, and treat the environment.

Actual culture will encompass both positive and negative elements. Positive attributes include: caring, collaborative, cooperative, networked, decisive, egalitarian, supportive, open, sharing, trusting, transparent, fair, inclusive, willing to try new ways, giving credit, adopting good ideas, volunteering, communicative, bold, respectful, honest, responsive, thorough, nurturing, generous, helpful, altruistic, appreciative, pleasant, accepting responsibility, and optimistic.

Negative attributes include: insensitive, selfish, undermining, not invented here syndrome, cover your rear, old-boy network, reticent, secretive, closed, dictatorial, waffling, uncooperative, isolated, manipulative, exclusive, blaming, ridiculing, usurping credit, hierarchical, controlling, resistant to change, hoarding, siloed, passive aggressive, critical, making excuses, backstabbing, complaining, and pessimistic.

If the culture of your organization includes primarily positive elements, a KM initiative will fit in well with the prevailing behavior modes. If it includes mostly negative attributes, you have your work cut out for you. Culture change will be a critical success factor to embracing the new ways of behaving needed to support knowledge management. If the culture is a mixture of positive and negative elements, you will want to use the positive ones to support your efforts, and use a change management process to address the impact of the negative ones.

People in your organization will support, ignore, or undermine a new initiative. Your goal is to attract as many supporters as possible, while watching out for and neutralizing detractors.

Search for supporters to embrace knowledge management, including connectors — those with wide social circles who connect people to each other; mavens — knowledgeable experts who connect people through sharing knowledge; and salesmen — charismatic people with powerful negotiation skills who use knowledge to engage and persuade.

Be vigilant for those who will oppose, delay, or stall the KM program, including naysayers — those who are negative, contrary, and pessimistic; whiners — those who complain about anything and point out defects, flaws, and obstacles; and snipers — those who attack new ideas, are threatened by others, and who actively oppose change. When detractors are identified, try to engage them constructively. If that fails, contact their leaders to coach them to improve their behavior. If all else fails, be prepared with responses to the most typical objections, criticisms, and complaints.

To help create a culture dominated by positive elements, get your senior executive to endorse, communicate, and exemplify the following credo:

  • I will practice and reward caring, sharing, and daring — caring for others, sharing what I know, and daring to try new ideas.
  • I will insist on trust, truth, and transparency in all dealings — earning and respecting the trust of others, communicating truthfully and openly, and demonstrating and expecting accountability.
  • I will look for opportunities to help, thank, and praise others.
  • I will eliminate criticism, blame, and ridicule in all interactions with others.

In 13 Myths of Knowledge Management, Steve Denning provides an example of culture and values in action: “Mindtree Consulting launched a persistent multi-year effort to establish five values as the dominant values of the organization:

  • Caring — requires empathy, trust; needed to enable sharing and individual push of knowledge
  • Learning — required for individual pull of knowledge
  • Achieving — high performance requires resourcefulness and heavy reliance on knowledge
  • Sharing — active cooperation; requires fair process, openness, transparency.
  • Social Responsibility — an outward extension of all the above values

The focus on values greatly facilitated the implementation of knowledge management in the firm.”

Creating a Knowledge Sharing Culture

A knowledge sharing culture includes three elements:

  • Knowledge reuse is valued over reinvention.
  • Sharing knowledge helps you advance in your career.
  • In the process of innovating, failure is encouraged — as long as the lessons learned are shared so that similar failures are prevented.

To help instill a knowledge sharing culture, create a vision of how things should work in the organization. Specify how sharing, innovating, reusing, collaborating, and learning should be done. Have the senior executive and the leadership team communicate the vision widely and regularly.

Here is an example of people, process, and technology elements in a vision for a knowledge sharing culture.


  1. Managers regularly inspect, talk about, and directly participate in knowledge sharing and reuse.
  2. All employees belong to and regularly participate in at least one community.
  3. Desired knowledge behaviors are rewarded significantly, regularly, consistently, and visibly.
  4. Time is allowed for knowledge management tasks.
  5. Employee promotions require demonstrated knowledge sharing, and everyone knows this.


  1. All project teams reuse standard, institutionalized knowledge from previous, similar projects.
  2. All project teams submit reusable content to the appropriate repositories at standard milestones.
  3. Knowledge management processes are integrated with standard business processes in a way that is transparent to users.
  4. Proven practices are replicated.
  5. All reusable content is checked for quality, scrubbed to remove confidential data, and provided in standard formats.


  1. It is easy for any question to be asked or any problem to be posed such that a useful answer or solution is provided rapidly, regardless of the location of the requestor, the time of day, or the nature of the request.
  2. Useful information is delivered to users when they need it based on the work that they are doing.
  3. Information flows are automated between all systems and tools so that no data needs to be re-entered.
  4. Users can access the knowledge they need even if they are not connected to the network.
  5. All teams collaborate using team spaces.

Getting People to Share Knowledge

To change from a culture of knowledge hoarding to one of knowledge sharing, examine why people may not be sharing their knowledge with one another. Here are the main reasons, along with recommended solutions, using reasons from Why Employees Don’t Do What They’re Supposed To Do and What To Do About It by Ferdinand Fournies.

1. They don’t have time.

  • Challenge: They think they have no time for knowledge sharing.
  • Solution: Embed knowledge-sharing into the basic work and processes of your organization so that it is not viewed as a separate task which can be avoided.

3. They don’t trust others.

  • Challenge: They are worried that sharing their knowledge will allow other people to be rewarded without giving credit or something in return, or result in the misuse of that knowledge.
  • Solution: Reward people on team goals, and nurture communities within the organization to create an environment of trust.

3. They think that knowledge is power.

  • Challenge: They hoard their knowledge waiting for someone to beg them for it, treat them like a guru, or give them something in return.
  • Solution: Recognize, reward, and promote those who share their knowledge, while denying promotions to those who fail to do so.

4. They don’t know why they should do it.

  • Challenge: They don’t think they need to spend time on knowledge sharing. Leadership has not made a strong case for knowledge sharing.
  • Solution: Set specific knowledge-sharing goals for employees and communicate them repeatedly through many different channels. Have the senior executive communicate regularly on knowledge sharing expectations, goals, and rewards.

5. They don’t know how to do it.

  • Challenge: They are unclear about how and where to share their knowledge. They have not received training and communications on how to share knowledge.
  • Solution: Develop, deliver, and make available on-demand training which makes it clear how to share knowledge, including links to the relevant tools and systems. Regularly communicate and conduct webinars and knowledge fairs. Web-based training should be available for all tools.

6. They don’t know what they are supposed to do.

  • Challenge: Leadership has not established and communicated clear goals for knowledge sharing.
  • Solution: Establish and communicate clear knowledge-sharing goals.

7. They think the recommended way will not work.

  • Challenge: They have received training and communications but don’t believe what they are being asked to do will work.
  • Solution: The KM leaders, knowledge assistants, and other members of the KM team have to convince people in small groups or one-on-one by showing them that it does work.

8. They think their way is better.

  • Challenge: They are used to working on their own or collaborating only with a small group of trusted comrades and believe this is the best way.
  • Solution: Regularly share stories of how others are benefiting from sharing knowledge using the recommended ways. This should help sway those stuck in their current ways to consider using better ways.

9. They think something else is more important.

  • Challenge: They believe that there are higher-priority tasks than knowledge sharing.
  • Solution: Get all first-level managers to model knowledge-sharing behavior for their employees, and to inspect compliance to knowledge-sharing goals with the same fervor as they inspect other goals.

10. There is no positive consequence to them for doing it.

  • Challenge: They receive no rewards, recognition, promotions, or other benefits for sharing knowledge.
  • Solution: Implement rewards and recognition programs for those who share their knowledge. For example, award points to those who share knowledge, and then give desirable rewards to those with the top point totals.

11. They think they are doing it.

  • Challenge: They are sharing knowledge differently than the recommended ways (e.g., sending email to trusted colleagues or distribution lists).
  • Solution: Assign people to work with each community and organization to show them how to use the recommended ways and how they work better than other ways. Providing a new tool or process which is viewed as a killer application — it quickly and widely catches on — is the best way for the old ways to be replaced with new ways.

12. They are rewarded for not doing it.

  • Challenge: They hoard their knowledge and thus get people to beg for their help, or they receive rewards, recognition, or promotions based on doing other tasks.
  • Solution: Work with all managers in the organization to encourage them to reinforce the desired behaviors and stop rewarding the wrong behaviors.

13. They are punished for doing it.

  • Challenge: As a result of spending time on knowledge sharing, they don’t achieve other goals which are more important to the organization.
  • Solution: Align knowledge-sharing processes and goals with other critical processes and performance goals.

14. They anticipate a negative consequence for doing it.

  • Challenge: They are afraid that if they share knowledge, they will lose their status as a guru (no one will have to come begging to them at the time of need), or that they will not achieve other more important goals.
  • Solution: Position knowledge sharing as being a critical success factor for the organization.

15. There is no negative consequence to them for not doing it.

  • Challenge: Knowledge sharing is not one of their performance goals, or it is a goal which is not enforced.
  • Solution: Work with all first-level managers to get them to implement, inspect, and enforce knowledge-sharing goals. This needs to come from the top — if the leader senior executive insists on it and checks up on compliance, it will happen.

16. There are obstacles beyond their control.

  • Challenges: They are not allowed to spend time sharing knowledge, they don’t have access to systems for knowledge sharing, or they don’t have strong English language skills for sharing with those outside of their country.
  • Solutions: Embed knowledge sharing into normal business processes. Provide ways to collaborate when not connected (e.g., using email for threaded discussions). Encourage those with weak English skills to share within their countries in their native languages.

Also see 16 Reasons Why People Don’t Share Their Knowledge — and what to do about it.

Creating Culture and Instilling Values

Creating a knowledge sharing culture and instilling positive values to enable the required people, process, and technology elements are critical success factors for any knowledge management initiative. You can use the ten other people components described below to understand and influence corporate culture.

Employee surveys can determine prevailing attitudes. Social networks can spread the key messages and reinforce the core values. Communities can be asked for advice on improving the culture, used for change management, and created to introduce new processes such as appreciative inquiry. Training is necessary to communicate values and standards. Documentation should spell out expectations for employees. Regular communications from leaders about vision, mission, and strategy should refer to relevant training and documentation. Goals and measurements should reflect the desired culture. Incentives and rewards should support the official values.

In Common knowledge: how companies thrive by sharing what they know, Nancy Dixon writes, “The third myth… is that the exchange of knowledge happens only in organizations that have a noncompetitive or a collaborative culture. It follows that the first thing you have to do is to fix the culture and then get people to share. But I have found that it’s the other way around. If people begin sharing ideas about issues they see as really important, the sharing itself creates a learning culture.”

In KM, culture and compromise: interventions to promote knowledge sharing supported by technology in corporate environments, Hazel Hall and Melanie Goody write, “The theme of knowledge sharing is discussed extensively in the knowledge management literature. Such work tends to focus on the barriers that impede knowledge sharing activity. Of these ‘culture’ is commonly cited as a major obstacle. This article examines what is meant by the term ‘culture’. In the context of efforts to promote good practice in knowledge management, it is argued that straightforward reference to culture as a barrier to knowledge sharing is inadequate. Rather, firms should be looking at power issues and, in particular, organizational politics to explain success and failure in attempts to motivate knowledge sharing. The domain of sociotechnical studies is considered as a means of unpicking cultural issues at work in specific environments through the deployment of actor-network theory to identify shifting organizational power relationships.” Also see Hazel Hall’s related presentation, KM, culture and compromise: devising practical interventions to promote knowledge sharing in corporate environments.

Additional Resources

For more information on culture and values, see:

1. My posts and presentations

2. Barriers to sharing

3. Creating a Knowledge Sharing Culture

4. European Guide to good Practice in Knowledge Management — Part 2: Organizational Culture

5. Culture and Trust in Fostering Knowledge-Sharing by Christine Tan Nya Ling

6. Organizational Culture and Changing Culture by Carter McNamara

7. Love Is the Killer App by Tim Sanders

8. On Trust and Culture by Karen Otazo

9. Understanding Corporate Culture by Tim Bryce

10. The Wealth of Knowledge: Intellectual Capital and the Twenty-first Century Organization by Thomas Stewart, Chapter 11 “A New Culture: Developing a Knowledge Perspective”

Knowledge Management Author and Speaker, Founder of SIKM Leaders Community, Community Evangelist, Knowledge Manager https://sites.google.com/site/stangarfield/

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