When being small is an advantage
An article financed by the Research Council of Norway took a critical eye to the challenges of ensuring knowledge transfer within multinational corporations. Much of Japanese industry's success has been predicated on seamless and rapid communication between functional areas and different locations on the value chain. Innovation is linked tightly with an ease of knowledge transfer. Our traditional understanding of multinational arrangements is to acquire access to cheap labour but increasingly, organizations are reaching beyond their borders to acquire knowledge assets.
Multinationals are impressively bad at leveraging knowledge assets throughout their systems, however. This is not surprising, though, when one considers knowledge transfer as a form of change and its delivery, a form of change leadership.
In order for any change initiative to succeed, the receivers of the initiative must have developed the adaptive capacity necessary to internalize the new knowledge. Specifically, those being asked to change must have an opportunity to surface their tacit responses to the change, and change generally. They must then be given an opportunity to participate in the framing of the challenge at hand. Once the frame is set, solutions begin to take an adaptive form as the complexity of the challenge under consideration is internalized. Finally, animating a desired solution restabilizes the knowledge state so that the change initiative is no longer perceived as 'foreign'.
Narratives are one effective way to surface the tacit assumptions that hinder knowledge transfer. One organization we've worked with implemented a signficant IT solution affecting thousands of employees. A connected institution in Europe had had success with the solution and our client commenced implementation. Few could understand why such a complex project was necessary for a relatively local concern. The solution was quite simple, and quite effective. The Canadian CEO brought along middle managers and frontline staff from the European concern to share their stories about the frustrations and failures of the implementation and the eventual improvements they saw. The contexts where different, but the lived reality was relatable and although the costs of bringing two dozen staff to Canada to meet their peers was significant, the relations persisted, the change assumed a human face and they could move beyond the tacit assumptions into a space of truly framing the challenge and animating adaptive responses.
Multinationals often fail in transfering best practices throughout their ecologies because the complexity of lived reality far surpasses the models intended to map it. Investments in time, money and human resources are necessary to surface tacit responses to change, consolidate an understanding of the challenge and then animate and internalize effective solutions that may or may not align with the intended change initiative. Organizations must be willing to be wrong. Only one in seven change initiatives succeed. Our experience shows that far fewer than one in seven change initiatives are rejected when those intended to support or be supported by it have an opportunity to participate in appreciative inquiry into their assumptions, the change context and possible paths forward. In fact, far more change initiatives are refined by this process than rejected.
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