Jan 3, 2007

Mentoring and Coaching for KM

Indian firms have traditionally struggled to implement KM solutions.

How do Indian values affect our behavior at work, learningand performance? According to the Values wheel of Indian culture (via cultural detective) Indian values are categorized by the following:
  1. High Family/Community Ties
  2. Personal/Relationship orientation
  3. High Hierarchy consciousness
  4. Cyclical Time Orientation
  5. Contextual worldview

In addition, we are a culture whose learning is characterized by oral teaching at the feet of the guru who is never to be questioned (It is not a co-incidence that the words signifying expertise "Guru" and "Pundit" are Indian in origin).

So with these mental frames that govern an Indian workforce, it is not surprising that KM efforts that are either culturally not compatible, or imposed from the outside (in other words an organizational mandate from corporate headquarters not in India) fail.

If you are part of a workforce that has Indian employees keep the following in mind:

  1. Since Indians have a high comfort with communities/shared identities they would need clarification as to who will gain by virtue of their shared knowledge.
  2. The more "real" the community, the more will be the value of the knowledge shared. "Reality" of the community would depend on job-based/location based communities.
  3. Any help/advice shared will also depend on one–on–one relationship between the seeker and the advice giver. Sharing knowledge would be considered "personal" not organizational and personal rapport helps highly personal knowledge to be shared. Often such sharing will be verbal with both picking up the phone to talk and collaborate. Organizational acknowledgement of even this sharing will actually convince that this is a part of the ‘job’ and not ‘extra-curricular’
  4. As this culture values a highly contextual approach, clarity of where ‘one is coming from’ and ‘what is expected’ is critical for effective knowledge transfer and sharing.
  5. KM systems that focus on "documentation" will need to come up with innovative solutions to encourage sharing. Indians are not the most prolific documenters of knowledge/intellectual property. Building links with documentation heavy systems like Quality systems would be a great way to get started.

Which brings us to the most important factor to make Knowledge Sharing possible in India: the personal touch, facilitated by one-on-one relationships which are hierarchical more than peer-level.

Knowledge that gets passed on through these methods of Coaching and Mentoring are ones that help an employee learn the organizational ‘way’, the codes , the unsaid assumptions. Mentoring would help to pass along these tacit messages. However, extreme caution should be taken to choose these mentors, especially if the organization is undergoing radical change and wants to adopt new behaviors to succeed in the future.

Coaches pass on nuts-and-bolts knowledge for a certain task. They can help reinforce the ‘what’ of the job, while mentors can help inculcate the ‘how’ of work. Coaches are role-specific, mentors are people-specific.

We exalt these coaches and mentors as gurus/pundits/experts, so the approach needed to stop falling into the trap and actually passing competence to the learner is by facilitation and asking questions. Dependence on expertise is the popular pitfall that all students are apt to fall into. This should be guarded against.

(Article earlier contributed for the Global Knowledge Review)