Influencing Knowledge Maturing: The Concept of Guidance
Knowledge maturing does not only take place via bottom-up activities, driven by individual interests. It is equally important that these grassroot activities converge towards shared goals. This is particularly important for the later phases so that knowledge can have a larger impact and scope. How can we influence knowledge maturing processes? This leads us to the concept of guidance.
Guidance in the context of knowledge maturing is any influence on the direction (“goal”) or the quality (in terms of effectiveness and efficiency) of knowledge maturing processes by entities not directly involved in them. This definition of guidance neither specifies that this influence is intentional nor that it has positive effects on knowledge maturing because it is often difficult to judge (especially in advance) whether it has positive or negative effects.
Guidance is also not limited to persons as the “guiding” entity (like, e.g., leadership with respect to knowledge maturing), but is also exercised by artefacts (like documents containing guidelines), or sociofacts (like social rules, or a shared understanding). In the following, we have a closer look at these different forms of guidance.
Artefacts such as reports, process models, guidelines, have an important function in knowledge maturing processes; they facilitate exchange and cooperation, and promote boundary crossing between different communities. This function has so far been mainly seen as artefacts being part of knowledge maturing processes by documenting their (intermediate) results. However, this is only one part of their role in knowledge maturing processes. They also guide other knowledge maturing processes in which they are not the object of development. The existence of a process model, even if it is not lived by, will influence future reflection on practice and the maturing of knowledge how to do certain things. Either the artefact is taken as a starting point which is improved, or the model is completely opposed and argued against it. But the development is not free from influence.
There is definitely a positive effect of artefact-based guidance: existing artefacts provide scaffolding; new developments can be compared to established artefacts, so this is important for the Zone of Proximal Development. The risk of artefact-based guidance lies in the constraints they impose on new ideas and developments. They tend to foster continuous evolution and sedimentation instead of revolutionary developments.
Not all artefacts have the same degree of influence on future knowledge maturing processes. The degree of influence of artefacts depends on many factors, which include:
- Awareness of existence. The existence of an artefact only affects knowledge maturing processes if the actors are aware of it. A filed guideline nobody knows about hardly can have any influence, whereas the same guideline will have an impact on the way of thinking if everyone is aware of it.
- Legitimation. Even if the content of a document is the same, it makes a difference whether it is an official document endorsed by top management or just authored by an employee. In the first case, it is more authoritative, thus considered more important. In the second case, it has to convince by its usefulness. The same applies also to persons as authorities for certain topics through their reputation.
- Commitment. The guiding influence of an artefact also depends on the amount of support it gets. In addition to legitimation, support can also be provided in the form of self-commitment by members of groups, teams, communities or other organizational units, i.e. the amount of identification of these entities with the knowledge materialised in the artefact.
- Quality and usefulness. Besides organisational legitimation, commitment or personal reputation, there is also inherent reputation of an artefact that originates from its quality and usefulness/appropriateness which in turn usually correlates with the maturity of knowledge it represents: more mature knowledge guides the development of new knowledge which – in a Kuhnian perspective – can lead to both stabilizing, but also revolutionary effects.
- Level of formality. The level of formality (or degree of structuredness) plays a big role for artefact-related guidance. Higher level of formality on the one hand constrains the freedom of action by eliminating ambiguity; on the other hand it helps to gain efficiency. This applies to all forms of artefacts: highly structured documents vs. informal notes, formal process models vs. task notes, formal ontologies vs. informal tags. This also applies on a meta-level: the formalism chosen/prescribed/recommended for a knowledge maturing activity influences the progress so that it is important to consider the appropriateness.
Not only artefacts, but also sociofacts (such as social rules, norms, or shared practice) influence knowledge maturing processes as knowledge maturing is a social learning process. The challenge with sociofacts is that they are usually much less visible, but their guidance effect can be much more intense. Based on the work so far, we can identify the following most important types of sociofacts that have a guiding effect:
- Culture. Culture includes shared values and unwritten rules about socially acceptable behaviour. It influences whether sharing is good, whether new ideas are welcome, how open organisational members are to externals etc. This implies that companies assumedly have different strengths in terms of knowledge maturing, e.g., some are good in the early phases, while others are good in the late phases – because their culture is more towards communication.
- Collaboration and communication structures. These are established practices of collaboration which do not need to be negotiated on every occasion. If there are regular team meetings where you can naturally bring up new ideas, this will be the forum for discussion. If there is no such meeting, or if this meeting is not for discussion, then you have first to create such a forum. Similarly, the quality of informal communication channels, both within and across organisations, has an impact on how knowledge maturing processes actually happen.
- Shared practices. This refers to work and business processes. Even more than collaboration and communication structures, they determine how everyday tasks are executed, they structure the division of labour etc. As a consequence, they are the primary frame of reference for knowledge maturing processes, particularly those concerned with knowledge how to do things.
Managerial guidance for knowledge maturing is embedded in general management and leadership functions in organisations the purpose of which is the definition of organisational goals and the alignment of individual activities with those goals. Managerial guidance for knowledge maturing is thus interlinked with organisational goals, which typically implicitly or explicitly constitute a goal hierarchy, from very general and abstract to more specific, up to employee-level goals (as visible e.g., in management-by-objective approaches). Key performance indicators (KPIs) are typically used to measure to which degree goals have been reached.
In analogy to that, the knowledge maturing indicators from the previous section can be used to trace the effect of interventions into the organisation with respect to knowledge maturing. We can make use of the indicators at different levels, depending on the level of the intervention. From the discussion in the previous section, it has become clear that these indicators are context-dependent heuristics to approximate actual knowledge maturing processes. This means that from the presented collection and based on the identified underlying assumptions, a reasonable set has to be selected and often refined to match the needs of a company and the requirements and context of a specific situation.
But what can management interventions look like? We could identify the following:
- Setting goals and thus giving priority. Without prescribing what to do or what to change, management can influence maturing processes through setting goals to be achieved and/or giving priority to certain maturing activities or processes. The first aspect stimulates change with a certain organisational effect, thus guides the creativity towards a certain goal. The second changes the allocation of resources and could address the (most frequently) mentioned barriers of (1) lack of time and (2) low awareness of the value and benefit, such as creating a working group with a clear mission linked to organisational goals.
- Shape work environment and work organisation. Interventions could also include changing the work environment and/or the work organisation. In the first case, this refers, e.g., to improving, or deploying tools for maturing support; in the second case, this refers to division of labour, the conscious, goal-oriented shaping of communities-of-practice and business processes.
- Organise and coach learning processes. Interventions can take place both on an individual or on a collective level. On an individual level, this encompasses typical human resource development activities aimed at individual development (through trainings, coaching etc.). On a collective level, this is also about organisational learning, e.g., establishing reflective practice, continuous improvement processes, but also more local aspects, such as interventions into group processes.
In-Depth Considerations and Scientific Context
Guidance in Related Fields
There are a number of similar concepts that relate to the term guidance, e.g.,
- governance: specifying the decision rights and accountability framework to encourage desirable behavior
, (Weill and Ross, 2004)
- influence: generally meaning that a system, e.g., an agent, can impact on another system’s behaviour, e.g., another agent’s, behavior
, (Cialdini, 2008)
- intervention: meaning an external agent systematically attempts to induce a desirable change of a system by applying a specified set of instruments,
- scaffolding: describing a form of cognitive learning support to help learners to solve tasks that they would not be able to solve on their own
. This support takes place within the learner’s Zone of Proximal Development (Wood et al., 1976) , i.e., the zone between what the learner currently is capable of and the potential developmental level which can be achieved through guidance and support. (ZPD, Vygotsky, 1978)
- leadership: comprises among others traits
, attributes, styles (Eysenck, 1992) , behaviour of leaders in organizing collectives of people to pursue a joint goal, (Lewin et al., 1939)
- management: comprises analysis, decision, evaluation and control
and, with respect to change, creation, adaption, and coping with change (Ansoff 1966) (Leontiades, 1982)
The analysis of definitions of terms that are related to guidance also supports a closer look at the dyad of guide and guided system. For example from leadership theories, we can learn that personality traits, attributes, styles and behaviour of the guide with respect to the guided system will impact on the relationship between the two and the extent to which the guided system will feel inclined to accept the guide’s influence on the decision taken by the guided system. In case of supervision/subordinate and thus hierarchical relationships between guide and guided system, the view that guidance leaves the decision with the guided system can be overlaid by a postulated congruency between the goals of the guided systems and those of the guide.
From management theories we can learn that also guides might pursue a part of the management cycle of analysis of the situation, decision of whom, what and how to guide as well as evaluation of what happened to the guided system afterwards. From governance theories, we can learn that implementing and using MATURE concepts and software tools might require or, if not considered appropriately, simply bring with it changes to the decision rights and accountability framework in which decisions concerning knowledge maturing will be taken.
From theories on the psychology of persuasion, we can learn that guidance can influence human behaviour by exploiting “weaknesses” of the guided system so that it commits to the guide’s goals which might even contradict the goals of the guided system. From psychological theories on intervention, we can learn that guidance might even become a more or less systematic intervention into the guided system with the more or less explicit goal of change in order to prevent or to resolve a disorder or to confine its negative consequences.
From scaffolding and the Zone of Proximal Development, we can learn that when approaching guidance from an individual learning perspective guidance should be (a) temporary (i.e., learners should be on their own again when they have learnt to master a task or problem) and (b) within the Zone of Proximal Development (i.e., it should be outside the current capabilities of the learner, but still within reach) to avoid a patronizing effect and mental overload – both of which stifle motivation. In our view, this can be generalized to a team level, where ZPD would be defined on the collective level.
As much as these terms can be seen on varying levels as the object system might be a single individual, a group, a project team, a department, a division, an organization or even a group or a network of organizations, as much guidance can be exerted on varying levels of intervention. However, with respect to the MATURE concepts and software, the following guidance levels are of primary importance:
- knowledge maturing capabilities: guidance means here that participants, organizational or technical infrastructures of an organisation as a guided system are influenced with the aim that this organisation can improve its general capabilities useful for improved knowledge maturing, independent of a specific domain, topic, project, process or other concrete initiative in which these capabilities should be applied.
- knowledge maturing process type: guidance means here that participants, organizational or technical infrastructures are influenced with the aim that the process of knowledge maturing is improved in general, as laid out in the knowledge maturing phase model, i.e. independent of a specific domain or topic,
- knowledge maturing process instance: guidance means here that participants, organizational or technical infrastructures are influenced with the aim that a specific process of knowledge maturing is improved, i.e. concerning maturing of knowledge on a specific domain or topic,
- knowledge maturing activity type: guidance means here that participants, organizational or technical infrastructures are influenced with the aim that a knowledge maturing activity is generally improved, e.g., reflect on and refine work practices or processes or find people with particular knowledge or expertise.
- knowledge maturing activity instance: guidance means here that participants, organizational or technical infrastructures are influenced with the aim that a specific knowledge maturing activity is improved, e.g., reflect on and refine work practices or processes or find people with particular knowledge or expertise concerning knowledge on a specific domain or topic.
From this categorization, it becomes easier to distinguish between different forms of guidance. The more general levels (general capability, process types, and activity type) are typically the target of tool support or structural interventions as they need to have a generic effect, while direct human interventions are also effective on a less abstract level (like giving advice).
Based on an in-depth analysis of cases of companies that were particularly successful in supporting knowledge maturing, the following guidance activities have been identified:
- Provide feedback. This refers to external input on the progress and development. It can be based on an assessment, but could be also a form of information, e.g., how one’s own ideas and contributions are used by others.
- Respond. Responding to inquiries from others is a form of guidance. This does not necessarily include recommendations (can be also a response to a question without any opinion part).
- Recommend, suggest & advice. This activity comprises various forms of influencing the direction of development where a peer, a more senior counterpart, or a superior recommends changing direction, using certain artefacts, executing certain actions.
- Irritate & challenge. Here, the guiding entity does not suggest a certain route, but rather provides a possibility for reflection by challenging the status quo and the associated assumptions and beliefs.
- Structure & organize. This can be a preparatory guidance activities (seeding), but also a form of reseeding where the knowledge area or certain artefacts are structured to reduce the complexity. The structure itself as the result of the guidance activity also has a guiding effect.
- Make aware. In this activity, the guided person is made aware of new or changed developments, existence of other items outside his current perspective, the need or potential for action in a certain area. This is typically done through informing, or peripheral awareness facilities. In contrast to recommendation, it is non-judgmental.
- Encourage. This refers to targeting at the motivation of individuals, particularly to overcome uncertainty and doubts associated with new fields. This encouragement can be on a peer level, but can be also effective in a hierarchical setting.
- Evaluate & assess results. Within this activity, results (or partial results) are more closely examined by the guiding entity. While it usually is also a form of feedback, it is based on a more thorough assessment.
- Coordinate. Particularly for managing the complexity of parallel knowledge maturing processes, coordination is an important guidance activities as it might create links between different strands and avoid duplication of efforts. Coordination can be personal or structural; in the latter case coordination is institutionalized through team and collaboration structures.
- Create opportunities. This is typically not an activity that targets at the individual knowledge maturing process instance, but it rather refers to decisions like giving free time, institutionalizing regular meetings, introducing tools like new collaboration platforms etc. that represent enablers for effective knowledge maturing processes. It could also refer to changing cultural conditions that block opportunities as part of an organizational development process.
- Reward. This refers to giving someone credit for an achievement in the past. This is more typical for hierarchical structures to signal appreciation of the work done so far. This can have a positive motivational effect for future activities, and it
- Monitor activities & progress. This refers to observing ongoing developments and can serve as a prerequisite for other guidance activities.
- Give legitimation. This refers to an organizational activity which is particularly important for advancing from earlier phases of knowledge maturing to later phases – phases IV and V cannot be achieved without a form of legitimation. With legitimation, the organization signals that this activity is in line with organizational goals. It usually implies also that it is easier to get additional resources.
We can observe that for guidance activities we can distinguish between activities that are based on the organizational hierarchy and those based on peer influence. Guidance activities 1-8 are clearly independent of the company hierarchy, while the activities 10-13 are embedded into the hierarchical system of the organization. Activity 9 can be both, depending on the form of coordination. Coordination can happen in a self-organizing system, but it can be also the role of management.
A second observation is that some knowledge maturing activities are closely related to a guidance activity, such as assess, verify & rate and evaluate & assess results, respond/provide feedback and communicate with people, structure & organize and reorganise information at individual or organisational level, or make aware and keep up-to-date with organisation-related knowledge. The main distinction between the two that in case of guidance activities, the actor takes an external perspective on the knowledge maturing process while in the case of knowledge maturing activites, the actor forms part of the knowledge maturing process.