Sunday, April 26, 2009

Knowledge hoarding

Consider the case of Ms X. She has been working in the company long enough to look at a customer order and instinctively know what raw materials have to be ordered. As she doesn't trust the stock levels of raw materials being reported by the ERP program, she goes onto the factory floor and performs her own stock taking. She then figures out how much she has to order, based on what there is and what is needed, and then places that order. Some people would consider Ms X a very important worker, but I would consider her a very dangerous person.

She is an example of a knowledge hoarder, someone who keeps her albeit important knowledge of company procedure and needs to herself instead of sharing. What happens when Ms X is ill or on holiday? Does the factory stop producing because no one knows what to order? And in fact, no one knows what to order because Ms X, intentionally or otherwise, has sabotaged the ERP database by not entering essential information into it. And what happens should the order be changed (as frequently happens) after Ms X has seen it? The purchase order becomes out of date, and items that we don't need get ordered (and probably items that we do need don't get ordered), thus building up stocks of materials which possibly will never be used.

Not surprisingly, Ms X opposes all the suggestions for change that I have made. She says that she can't trust the ERP program and that the procedures necessary are too time involving. Whilst it's true that the ERP program has to have complete and correct data in order to work properly, it is possible to make small changes in procedure which will improve matters. If today we make a 10% improvement, and tomorrow we make another 10% improvement, then we are well on the way to making a 100% improvement, whereas if we make no improvement today, we will never make any improvement.

I can see two possible reasons for Ms X's behaviour, one conscious and one subconscious. The conscious reason is that as long as she hoards the necessary knowledge, she can't be fired. Should management be foolish enough to fire her because of her knowledge hoarding, then the company would be in a worse position that it is now, because then nobody would know what to do. Apparently, she uses this power as a stick with which to improve her conditions of employment, but I don't know about this personally.

The subconscious reason is due to fear of change. According to "One small step can change your life", a structure within the brain called the amygdala is responsible for this fear. The amgydala is absolutely crucial to our survival. It controls the fight-or-flight response, an alarm mechanism that we share with all other mammals. It was designed to alert parts of the body for action in the face of immediate danger. One way it accomplishes this is to slow down or stop other functions such as rational and creative thinking that could interfere with the physical ability to run or fight (Dr Robert Maurer, pp 23-4). Dr Maurer's solution to this automatic response is to make small changes, those which don't "set off" the amygdala's alarm.

Frequently making such small changes allows the brain to create new neural connections, which eventually enable the person to internalise the behaviour required. From my point of view, the small changes which are made help improve the ERP database.

This is why I'm not looking for comprehensive plans which change overnight everything that we do. Rather, I look for small procedures which can be changed and improved without raising anybody's hackles. Such procedures stand a much better chance of being implemented, and when they do, they make the possibility of further changes easier.

I'm not sure how I'm going to overcome Ms X's unwillingness to change/share her knowledge, but I do know that I'm going to raise the subject with her superiors.

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