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Complexity and Knowledge Management Navigators…

KM lesson: Develop OPIE Congruence

It seems like an age since I last blogged, but, after fulfilling a promise to my wife and not doing any work during our first holiday in three years, I’m back…

I’m currently putting a new toolkit together for an organisation we are working with in the US and I thought I would share with you our O.P.I.E (Organisation, Process, Individual and Environment) congruence tool.  I developed this as a macro KM diagnostic/visualisation tool to stimulate discussion on the scope/scale of Knowledge Management challenges in the organisation.  This isn’t highbrow science, just common sense that is often overlooked and sometimes an organisation just needs something simple to stimulate a moment of realisation.

Organisations looking to develop knowledge based advantage (informing dynamic capacity, agility and adaptive capability) need to find alignment between the needs of the organisation as it positions itself in the marketplace (the environment), the processes that bind these organisational needs with the needs, and agency, of the individuals who fall within the organisation’s boundaries.  Organisations that find congruence between these four elements (Congruence Conditions – see below) are on the path to success.

The following are examples of four basic conditions that occur when congruence is not maintained.

Extinction conditions:  Where all four components decouple the organisation cannot survive.  It doesn’t align with the needs of the environment it transacts in, the people within the organisation do not align with its needs and nor are their needs, or agency, as knowledge resources, considered.  Processes fail to bind the elements together and the organisation is primed for extinction.  We have seen this once over the last four years and the organisation was out of business within twelve-months.

Leadership failure conditions:  The people within the boundary of the organisation align with its perceived, but misguided, needs and their agency, as knowledge resources, is considered.  Processes have been designed that align individuals with the organisation (harmonisation occurs at individual, group, team, department and divisional level).  However, the organisation does not align with the environment it transacts in.  The market has moved on, the organisation has drifted and is probably experiencing diminishing returns.  The organisation is going to have to go through a period of punctuated equilibrium to realign. The problem being that if the change is not managed correctly there will be a total decoupling and the organisation could move towards extinction conditions.

Process failure conditions: This is the failure condition that we find to be most significant within the organisations we work with.  The organisation aligns with its environment, consideration is given to ensuring the right individuals are brought within the boundaries of the organisation and their needs and agency, as knowledge resources, are given consideration.  However, problems with process failures reduce efficiency and effectiveness when it comes to the acquisition, storage, sharing, use and development of knowledge resources (process flows are disrupted, to varying degrees, at individual, group, team, department and divisional level – the disturbances at one level do not sit in isolation, but instead create a cascading impact).  This has a significant impact on the agility and adaptive capacity of the organisation.

Resource failure conditions: The second most significant failure condition that we encounter.  Here the organisation aligns with its environment and has even developed appropriate processes for the acquisition, storage, sharing, development and use of knowledge resources.  However, the needs of the individuals within the organisation are overlooked, which can often present itself as process failure, but, upon closer scrutiny, it is the individual need that is being overlooked.  The expectation on the part of the organisation is one where the individual will function as a resource, without understanding the agency of the individual as a knowledge resource.

I hope this helps visualise your challenges, get in touch and let me know your thoughts.

5 comments on “KM lesson: Develop OPIE Congruence

  1. Intellectual Juggernaut
    October 8, 2012

    David, this is a pretty good model. Sounds like all the organization really needs to do, however, to develop congruence is to define and design (or redesign) its culture. Culture takes into account the organization’s environment, its vision and goals, its people, and its processes.

    • David Griffiths
      October 9, 2012

      Hi Daryl,

      I wonder how many organisations would see process design as a cultural change programme? Similary, a reassessment of the value associated with the HR cycle. It is not that I disagree with your argument for culture being a mode for change, but, for me, the drivers (and the internal elements) associated with complexity (and the KM response) is far more than that. For example, I would say that ‘experimentation’, as a response to complexity, is culturally driven. However, I would argue that the individual competencies that inform ‘dynamic, agile and adaptive’ (and enhance modes of experimentation) move beyond culture.

      • Intellectual Juggernaut
        October 9, 2012

        David, process (how we do what we know) whether by design (evolutionary) or by redesign (revolutionary) will effect the rest of an organization from a complexity perspective as the organization is a living system of systems. Can you explain a bit further how individual competencies move beyond culture? Great discussion. Thanks!

      • David Griffiths
        October 9, 2012

        I agree with competencies impacting the rest of the organization – see my work on complexity, dynamic, adaptive and agile, from a HR change perspective.

        I don’t know whether I agree with the idea of competencies being fractal or self-affine in an organisation, driven by a single cultural lens,

        The nature of complex adaptive systems is such that we are in search of dynamic competencies (problem-solving, networking for influence, collaboration) that allow organisation to better couple with the environment they transact in.

        This, for me, is more about a balanced ecosystem (for example, see my blog on predators needed) and cultural imprinting, assuming culture to be fractal in an organisation, actually moves against the competitive needs of many organisations.

        Costly to copy competitive advantage, associated with core competencies, for me, is much more than culture. If you subscribe to the Knowledge Based View (linking back to dynamic, agile and adaptive as a way to mitigate the impact of complexity) it is built on knowledge, skills and attitude of its people…moving down this strand, if it is all about culture, how do organisations survive (such as the Russian government) when their culture is counter intuitive (toxic, if you subscribe to Niall Ferguson’s view) to the environmental drivers?

        What about hard system design, technology itself, is that an artifact of the culture you are referring to – would a cultural change agent/consultant be expected to work across the spectrum of hard/soft system design? Returning to complexity, how does one cultural management programme account for the cultural diversity found at the interface of the organisation and its environment? Variety, as in the diversity of culture impacting an open organization needs to be met with variety – linking back to my argument for competencies that enable that coupling.

        My point here is that I do not believe ‘culture’ or ‘cultural change’ to be a change management panacea or silver bullet to overcome organizational complexity. I’m not expecting you to answer all my open questions, but I do not see cultural change, using the lens you appear to be advocating, as being enough to mitigate the effects of complexity. I do however see culture as an influencer (which I believe exists in the ‘Organisation’ aspect of the OPIE model), for example in creating what Snowden refers to as ‘safe to fail’ environments or Palchinsky’s Principles, where he calls for experimentation in an environment that scales failure.

        Not sure if this has answered your question, but thought provoking none the less.



  2. Intellectual Juggernaut
    October 10, 2012

    David, great questions and brilliant perspective. I definitely agree that cultural change is not a silver bullet for overcoming organizational complexity. It’s one approach amongst many that can be brought to bear on the problem domain. I agree, this has been a thought provoking and very interesting discussion. I’ll take a look at the other works you’ve suggested. Thanks!

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