Knowledge is power. Shared knowledge is real power!"
As organisations face a multitude of challenges, they have to cope with everincreasing dynamics and complexity. The performance criteria have ranged, broadly, from efficiency in the sixties, quality in the seventies, flexibility in the eighties, to creativity in the nineties. However, as these characteristics become less exclusive, creativity is the battleground for competitive firms. As a response, organisations have taken a variety of measures. The common denominator of such measures is knowledge management. This involves the identification of necessary and strategic knowledge within the organisation, taking measures to retain and expand this knowledge, and finding optimal ways of utilising the knowledge. Most modern organisations have to cope with new or intensified challenges like increased customer influence, intensified competition, shortened product life cycles, continuous and accelerated technological change. Organisations may react in a variety of ways, to changes to the organisational structure, such as reduction of the number of management levels, introduction of profit centres, outsourcing of support functions; changes to the functional structure, by means of increasing task span, authority, and responsibility changes to the process structure, also known as business process redesign (BPR) and strategic quality management.
Relation between data, information and knowledge
Data represents certain characteristics of objects or events in the real world. Data can become information when it serves a meaningful purpose. Information is a means of reducing uncertainty; a CEO is uncertain of his companys competitive performance in the last quarter as long as he hasnt seen the reports over this last quarter. However, information can only reduce uncertainty if it adds something to the knowledge of the recipient of the information. We define knowledge in a pragmatic way. "Knowledge is understanding plus ability to transform it into actions (skill), which yields performance."
Knowledge - Understanding and taking action
Information - Meaningful data to reduce uncertainty
Data - Characteristics of objects or events
What is knowledge? - Knowledge is experience; everything else is just information
- Even though you were the faultiest of all sinners, this knowledge alone will carry you, like a raft across all your sins" - Albert Einstein
- "Knowledge is a fluid mix of framed experience, values, contextual information, and expert insight that provides a framework for evaluating and incorporating new experiences and information. It originates and is applied in the minds of knower. In organisations, it often becomes embedded not only in documents or repositories but also in organisational routines, processes, practices, and norms. If information falls in a forest and theres no one there to hear it, it wont become knowledge." -- Lord Krishna
Types of knowledge in organisations
Tacit - in our heads
Explicit - documented in some way, spoken or written.
Knowledge management is the management of the creation, capture, sharing, and use of knowledge to achieve an organisations objectives. Knowledge is a mix of experiences, values, information and insights that originate and is applied in the minds of people. Knowledge management turns knowledge into an organisational asset that can be used by a broader set of individuals.
What does KM do for me?
- Reduced operating costs
- Faster time-to-market
- Increased sales
- Better customer retention
- More new product and service innovations
- Better and faster innovations
- Reduced dependency on specialised knowledge
Organisation culture and knowledge
Culture exists at different levels and sub-levels of the organisation. Values are deeply embedded; they are difficult to talk about and even more difficult to change. Since they are too deep seated, and difficult to transform, unless the CEO and other senior managers in the organisation are personally driving the implementation of the knowledge strategy, who believe strongly in the need to change fundamental knowledge-related values of the firm, and are willing to lead a long term culture change project (3 to 10 years). Norms and practices are more directly observable and easier for employees to identify and are more amenable to change. The most direct way to change behaviours around knowledge use is to change the practices that generate them. New behaviours resulting from new practices will change norms over time, which will provide long-term support for more effective knowledge use. Subcultures have characteristics that distinguish them from the firms overall culture, as well as from other subcultures. For example, R&Ds values may seem focused on elegant product features to the detriment of marketability and profits, while finance appears to value only controlling costs. MIS, on the other hand, seems only concerned with maintaining strict adherence to its technology standards.
Assumptions about what knowledge is important
Some cultures will only value "objectified" knowledge that can be embedded in processes and systems, while others will recognise and favour knowledge that is the product of social interactions. These different views of knowledge often lead to miscommunication and conflict as subcultures apply different criteria in judging valid knowledge. IKEA, the Swedish furniture manufacturer, educates its customers to assemble its products after purchase. In a sense, the company views its customers as an extended workforce, and knowledge sharing about. Proper use of knowledge can benefit in increased efficiency, lower cost, improved ROI, increased effectiveness, builds organisational network, increased immediate capabilities, etc. Proper assembly techniques is an important part of a strategy. Cultures define not only what knowledge is valued, but also what knowledge must be kept inside the organisation to support a core competency, and what should be transferred outside or shared to create strategic advantage.
Relation between organisation and individual knowledge
The head of a toxicology lab in a pharmaceutical firm refuses to participate in a knowledge-mapping project but is not condemn by management because norms allow him control of the knowledge in his department. Cultural rules determine who is expected to have what knowledge, as well as who must share it, and who can hoard it. Unless management understands the current distribution of knowledge in the organisation, and how their strategy proposes to change it, altering behaviours around knowledge use becomes very problematic. Managements attempts at generating more collaborative, knowledge sharing behaviours in the company will fall short until they directly address the cultural reinforcement provided for individual-level knowledge. At the start, Bob Buckman recognised that cultural norms disregard hoarding knowledge as a source of power. Jam-packed file cabinets around the company symbolised individual knowledge banks. He recognised that as long as people benefited from not sharing, the organisations ability to leverage knowledge would be limited. When one of its mechanical engineers sought cost information related to a design project, an automakers finance department replies, "Youre an engineer. You dont need to know that." Cultural norms made this a permissible view of knowledge sharing in the company. But the implied message of holding internal information proprietary is "We dont trust you." And the level of trust that exists between the organisation and its employees will have a great deal of influence on the amount of knowledge that flows from individuals into the firm. If we recognise that culture is the silent mediator between individual and organisational-level knowledge, then the importance of renegotiating norms around knowledge distribution, ownership, and access becomes more evident.
Interaction depicts the value derived from knowledge
For example, in a company where it is not a practice to share "experiences", even if the technology makes it possible to do so, the added value of the knowledge for the organisation is lost. By establishing the context for interaction, organisational culture determines how knowledge will be used in a particular situation. Norms and practices that make senior management accessible and approachable also help create a context for effective knowledge use. At Chaparral Steel, workers lockers are intentionally located next to a vice presidents office to facilitate informal interactions. Culture determines the frequency and expectations for interactions needed to accomplish work. One firm may rely on formal communication processes and meetings designed to periodically bring people together, while another encourages frequent, unplanned, and unstructured interactions among employees.