PG&E Part III – Implement a Knowledge Based Culture

Many of the readers of this blog know I was employed by the “premium content” electronic publishing industry for almost forty years. In our positioning of products to our clients, we would often discuss the need for a knowledge-based culture. This was especially important with our corporate audience with the closing or absence of libraries.

What is a knowledge-based culture? When meeting with these customers or prospects, we would talk about how the workers who needed vetted content to aid in their planning or decision making should have unfettered immediate access to the most valuable and relevant materials for their work.

We would remind decision makers that depending on unreliable and sales-oriented information from the open web would not be good enough for their knowledge workers. We would further stress that the more important the decision, the more you need the best content to make the correct choices.

PG&E published this full-page ad in the San Francisco Chronicle on November 24, 2019.

This was a key part of the “knowledge-based culture.” But we would go beyond this. Did the knowledge workers participate in the creation of knowledge by publishing in peer-reviewed journals or giving papers or poster sessions at relevant industry conferences? Were the staff part of the “communities of practice” or “micro-communities” that helped develop and refine the bodies of knowledge relevant to the work of the organization? Did the technical or scientific staff have full access to critical industry standards that lead to sound engineering practices?

With the increasingly multidisciplinary approach required for today’s technical work, was the staff pulling ideas from related fields? For example, there have been myriad advances in materials science in the past several decades. Are the engineers at PG&E looking at the development of materials that might improve high-voltage insulation applications?

Perhaps by encouraging fuller participation in the development of industry knowledge, the PG&E teams would have had greater awareness of the technical advances being made at San Diego Gas & Electric, as was discussed in my previous blog post.

The PG&E ad talks about adding technologies that SDG&E has had in place for years.

Individual knowledge workers would serve themselves and their organizations better if they developed deeper information literacy skills. This includes being aware of the professional bodies of knowledge that relate to their work including seminal monographs, peer-reviewed journals and conference papers, the industry standards mentioned above and even a fundamental awareness of associated patents. Knowing how to search the professional tools that include these types of documents and going beyond open web searching is a must.

There are many business benefits to a knowledge-based approach to the work. These include shortening “time to market,” enhancing technological innovation, and avoiding “reinventing the wheel.” These benefits add up to a positive impact on technical development and business results.

The concept of a knowledge based culture is not new. Ernst & Young published this paper in 1997.

Most experts on organizational culture say your most important asset is your workforce. The ability to attract and retain the best technical employees is dependent on the environment and the tools you provide to enable them to do their best work. Knowledgeable young talent is used to having advanced research resources from their experience in school and use of excellent academic libraries. They expect the same tools on the job.

A knowledge-based culture includes recommendations on project team approaches to collaboration, workflow, and research process. Teamwork includes working closely with the technical teams based in the field. Surely, those closest to the actual work have insights that cannot be gained at the desk. The sum adds up to saving expensive time, improving productivity, and increasing confidence in decision making.

Hundreds of scholarly articles have been published on knowledge management.

The close on this argument is that the staff cannot do effective and efficient work without the required content tools and participation in the development of the latest ideas and developments in their fields. Just as the field teams need the right equipment to do their jobs, the knowledge workers require the same thing, just in a different format. By giving workers the means to do their jobs, PG&E would be sending a positive message to all the teams. We care about you doing the job right and we are willing to invest in it.

Surely PG&E needs to go beyond the financially driven approach they have taken historically. Anyone paying the least attention to the current news about PG&E knows they need to make big changes to their corporate culture to turn their ship around.

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