A new culture of OD and knowledge management

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John Hovell, head of organisational development (OD) at BAE Systems  discusses the convergence of OD and knowledge management for a new future.

I’ve worked in the international defence industry since 1995 and have recently moved from Washington DC to London. I'm fortunate to be in discussions across many countries and industries and I hear similar issues across almost all of them. Most commonly I hear about driving down cost while maintaining quality. 

The root causes of these cost challenges are rarely understood and innovative solutions are even more rare. In defence, we talk about country and community safety in a decreasing cost container, I understand that may be similar to the health industry striving for patient safety and care in a decreasing cost container. 

Due to the declining global economy, the increasing rate of change, technology advances, four generations in the workplace and talent shortages, most organisations are facing many similar challenging situations.

In my humble opinion and experience, OD and knowledge management (KM) have a prime opportunity to partner for success. I think it's important for us to blend OD and KM for self-renewing organisational success. I also believe that several other disciplines may need to offer guidance and support as well, especially project management, design and systems experts, process improvement, communications and strategy. 

Personally I’m excited about these conversations because I believe it is critical for us all to re-think how we operate. The world needs us in new ways.

OD has been practising for six or seven decades, whereas knowledge management has been practising for one or two decades. In its first decade, knowledge management was often confused with information management. The multidisciplinary field learned that information is only on paper and (tacit) knowledge is only in brains.

Information technology departments are resourced, whereas knowledge management departments rarely exist. After many failed attempts (often called lessons learned databases) to capture knowledge and turn it into information, knowledge management learned that the core value is in connecting people. 

Like the broad integrative field of OD, knowledge management blends multiple practices with a goal of optimising the flow of knowledge. This is a dramatic shift from trying to document and share what people know.

Whilst OD is beginning to learn from lenses of diagnostic and dialogic OD, knowledge management offers approaches that are eerily similar to dialogic OD. Knowledge management does have not a silver bullet or a single solution for all collaboration challenges, but there are at least five approaches that are well worth considering.

1. Four step knowledge transfer process
The knowledge transfer process directly solves the retirement and talent shortage challenge. 

2. Expertise location
Expertise location offers a broad array of techniques to help people find the expertise they need in the moment they need it. 

3. Communities of practice
Communities of practice are a communications channel for subject matter networks (as opposed to subject matter experts) to connect, learn and practice together.

4. Work out loud
Work out loud is a cultural approach to narrating your work out loud so that all employees can have access to real-time updates and progress (as opposed to meetings, emails and progress reports). 

5. Organisational network analysis
Organisational network analysis produces a network map that visually depicts your internal trust networks so that the organisation can change intelligently to optimise people networks.

Notice how similar these networking approaches are to dialogic OD interventions. Knowledge management has been working to embed itself into daily operations so that organisations can rethink how work gets done. As many jobs are automated in the coming decades, an organisation’s ability to leverage its collective intelligence and culture may become an advantage and one of the highest reasons for organisational fit and success.

These conversations are beginning online. Are you listening or contributing to twitter conversations such as #SIKM or #lrnchat? What other innovative ways are you seeing and hearing these conversations, maybe we can continue them together across multiple industries? If it helps, I can be found at twitterLinkedIn or email.


John is a leader in the convergence of Knowledge Management (KM) and business strategy and head of Organisational Development (OD) at BAE Systems, He is also a practitioner, speaker and author in OD and KM strategy and methods.

John led a team to win a Chairman's Award at BAE Systems in 2014. Previously, John was part of a team to win the prestigious NOVA award, Lockheed Martin's top recognition award, for accomplishments related to knowledge management. Additionally, he was instrumental in the creation and execution of the enterprise knowledge management strategy for ManTech International Corporation. John serves on several advisory boards including the International Knowledge Management Institute, Training Industry Quarterly, and Synergy Development and Training.

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