Thursday, April 2, 2009

Can We Manage Organizational Knowledge??

The question here is if we can manage organizational knowledge. If someone were to ask us if we could manage money for example, they are definitely not asking us if we could JUST safeguard the money or accrue more of it. They are, in simple terms asking us if WE are capable of controlling the influx and outflow voluntarily, according to our preferences and not involuntarily or in a way that is out of our control.

I feel the same applies to knowledge management as well. It is important for us to realize not just the methods to store the knowledge but also effectively handle it, both in situations of successful achievements- which could be a result of effective knowledge management in the organization and in times of failure- which could also be a derivative of poor knowledge management.

Many influential businesses around the globe consider knowledge to be one of the most important organizational assets and the answer to maintain a competitive advantage (Davenport & Prusak, 2000, p. xxiii). Although organizations recognize knowledge as a key component, they little know how to create and enforce it (Wenger, 1998). Many companies think knowledge management & information management to be the same (Gupta & Govindarajan, 2000). They further mention that such a perception that an IT infrastructure development would automatically result in better knowledge management is misleading.
Seeley also mentions in a study that many organizations tried to realize effective knowledge management with development of information technology applications (Seeley, 1999, p. 18). However, the efforts of many such organizations to manage knowledge could not be very successful. Wenger also mentions the same that, many conventional and modern knowledge management approaches attempt(ed) to capture existing knowledge within systems, such as a database (p. 2). However, he also says in contrast that, it is the “involvement of people that makes a difference in knowledge management”

So, what do the above examples tell us? The authors and their examples are trying to tell us that those methods that related to direct manipulation of knowledge through passive means as described above could not be very successful. They created a need for further practices in addition to existing ones making it more complex
For example, Let us consider a major IT infrastructure project to handle all knowledge building, sharing & usage through an interactive database. This is definitely a positive step in view of effective knowledge management within the organization. An initial build of knowledge that could be shared between individuals across the organization is good, however what would happen to updates in the organization that occur at different times and in-between different people and how do we account for different perspectives and the correct one among those?
This would require resources to validate the knowledge that needs to be updated and programs to keep the whole effort going. This could make the program complex and boring and unless people knew how to use that knowledge, it would be worthless.

Nonaka & Takeuchi (2002) focused their work on how knowledge was created in an organization and the importance of organizational culture that impacted organizational knowledge. They concentrated on two types of knowledge- Tacit and Explicit. They considered tacit knowledge to be more significant as this is gained by experience and is efficient in terms of gaining a competitive edge. Explicit knowledge however is more procedural and passive. Tacit knowledge being a product of human interaction, Nonaka & Takeuchi thus found “organizational culture to be the key to the effective knowledge management”

In the same context, Davenport and Prusak explained that a company is nothing more than a group of people organized to represent the company through its products or services or both. Their ability to represent the company and its products depends on their knowledge and operation procedures that govern the production or services
(Davenport & Prusak, 2000, p. xxii). If people did not know how to represent or handle the products and methods to produce or improve; the company could be a failure regardless of all passive knowledge forms.

Organizational culture, however, is believed to be very intricate and many-sided. It is very important as it governs the employment of certain individuals, following guidelines, policies, interaction of its people within and outside of organization, market influence and many more factors. An effective culture is a crucial component of knowledge management in an organization within which people function (Gupta & Govindarajan, 2000). While most business leaders recognize the importance of this culture, they find it extremely difficult to enhance and enforce a relationship between knowledge and culture for effective results (De Long & Fahey, 2000).

So, why is it so difficult to build a relationship between culture and knowledge that would help achieve and sustain great results?
In a study conducted by De Long & Fahey (2000), the authors concluded that most organizations fell short of a culture that encouraged mutual work because people thought individual ownership of knowledge as a scheme to guarantee job security (De Long & Fahey, 2000, p. 113). As a result, knowledge sharing became a constrained effort

Many authors agree that organizational culture holds the key to successful knowledge management (Gupta & Govindarajan, 2000). It is important for organizations to coin organizational culture in way that would ensure what kind of organizational knowledge is important, how it could be utilized and based on that; create methods to ensure knowledge is converted in to action, reused and processed. It would thus share an inherent bond with action in all forms.

IT-driven solutions, although important, mostly failed to achieve the true purpose because cultural factors were not considered critical to effective knowledge management and people enjoyed their personal ownership of knowledge which provided them with job security in turn. Just as knowledge management is crucial to an organization's success, organizational culture is crucial to an organization's implementation of its business strategy & procedures within and outside of an organization. Thus, knowledge management cannot be effectively attended to without considering organizational culture. However it is feasible.

In short Organizational Culture should be used to build an effective knowledge sharing environment rather than just an IT-driven solution which could be considered as a support alternative.

Botkin, J. and Seeley, C. (2000). The Knowledge Management Manifesto.

Davenport, T.H. and Prusak, Laurence. (2000). Working Knowledge: How
Organizations Manage What They Know. Boston, Massachusetts: Harvard Business
School Press

Antonina Holowetzki, Dec. 2002 The relationship between knowledge management and organizational culture

De Long, D.W. and Fahey, L. (2000). Diagnosing Cultural Barriers to Knowledge
Management. Academy of Management Executive

Martin, B. (2000). Knowledge Management within the Context of Management: An
Evolving Relationship. Singapore Management Review

Nonaka, I. and Takeuchi, H. (1995). The Knowledge-Creating Company: How Japanese
Companies Create the Dynamics of Innovation. New York, New York: Oxford
University Press

Rastogi, P.N. (2000). Knowledge Management and Intellectual Capital - The New
Virtuous Reality of Competitiveness. Human Systems Management

Wenger, Ettienne. (1998). Communities of Practice Learning as a Social System

Gupta, A.K. and Govindarajan, V. (2000). Knowledge Management's Social Dimension


  1. This is great debate Nandita and good critical arguments to the article's elicitation. Please refine your referencing - it is not that complete according to Harvard style.

  2. Is a gud arguement about can organisational knowledge be managed, and ur comparison of money with knowledge mnagement is really innovative thinking of comparing withe practical issues,,,,will be great if u could go a bit deepr in to the context

  3. Interesting argument, thanks

    For me, the closest analogy to knowledge management is safety management, Both of them require culture change, and both of them are concerned with "intangibles" rather than tangibles such as money. The main difference is that safety is more measurable, and therefore safety management is far further advanced than knowledge management.

    See an argument here
    which suggests that knowledge management does not mean "the management of knowledge", but rather "management, with knowledge in mind"