Knowledge Management Cases in a University in Asia/Applying Knowledge Management in Career Resources for Higher Education Institution in Asia
The purpose of this research is to analyze how KM is implemented. KM strategies, organizational culture and KM metrics are considered to examine the operations in dealing with career resources in a higher education institution (named as ‘C&P department in institution X’ for reference) in Asia. Relevant data has been gathered through conducting interviews with director and staff. The findings indicate that the institution has a strong demand for knowledge sharing, in which a network filing system can be used to share important data within the organization. However, improvement in KM application can be seen as for having limited structural KM system embodied in the institution. Also, housekeeping can be further enhanced and more encouragement can facilitate higher level of sharing culture. It is recommended that the institution can enhance their knowledge management by using different KM strategies and tools together with interactive features, in order to reinforce existing platforms for more collaboration and more rapid sharing of career resources.
Recently, there has been growing awareness in KM in higher education. KM Team in libraries is one of the common departments, which starts adopting KM in the very first beginning. The implementation of knowledge management is now well established in some organizations like Ernst & Young (EY) and Langham Place Hotel. These successful KM implementations have brought various benefits towards the companies through appropriate KM strategies and metrics.
As Rumizen (2002) pointed out that people tend to be inactive in receiving others’ sharing rather than giving feedback. As a result, this may discourage the initiative of sharing, and hence is one of the reluctances of knowledge exchange. Undoubtedly, organizational culture largely influences the degree of knowledge sharing. In the institution we interviewed, there is lacking of tools and incentives to support sharing culture. Therefore, employees are indifferent to participate in sharing. Besides, the opportunity to gather all staff together is little due to complexity within the department.
It is suggested that Web 2.0 technologies can enhance the organizational culture. Web 2.0 facilitates participatory sharing, allowing information shared from different information providers. Though there are many researches regarding to the application of KM in commercial companies, application of KM in higher education institution, using Web 2.0 technologies are rarely investigated for this domain.
Aims of study
Since KM has been neglected in certain organizations, the institution is a case in point which has been investigated in this study. C&P department is one of the departments in institution X, which engages in generating and handling tremendous information in daily operation. The professional knowledge of advisors which is one of the major knowledge needs to be captured and shared. Although the nature of the department is certainly to deal with knowledge and sharing is weighted as the important culture. However, the existing approaches do not embody a full picture of KM models for implementation, which may affect its accessibility and efficiency in terms of connecting people, KM system and evaluation of working process.
Therefore, this report aims at conducting an in-depth analysis on knowledge management practice on career resources in a well-known higher education institution in Asia, in order to evaluate the comprehensiveness and maturity of KM application within this department. It is undoubtedly that what they are doing is totally relevant to KM that knowledge sharing is a significant issue, which can be used to facilitate their work. Therefore, it is worth for spending effort and time to examine the application of KM in C&P because of its job nature which is closely related to knowledge capture, exchange and preservation and they may have significant impact on the working process in C&P. Last but not least, this report investigates the capability of technological innovations in university departments, which can facilitate a two-way knowledge exchange approach in order to meet a higher degree of knowledge sharing.
Considering job nature of C&P department, services provided are their main duties. Attitude of staff, level of collaboration between staff, use of latest information technology and adoption of knowledge management are factors affecting their performance. Therefore, references are sourced in these 4 aspects, including individual’s perception, organizational practices, technology, and implementation of knowledge management.
Individual’s perception towards knowledge sharing
Many people nowadays tend to keep their knowledge to themselves and rarely share with others. This is illustrated by Collison & Parcell (2004) that people are afraid of allowing others know what they possess because competitive advantages may be lowered if others also share the same knowledge as theirs. Besides, according to Dalkir (2005), employees are reluctant to share their experiences with colleagues and their counterparts for the reason that employees regard their own knowledge as assets. As a result, for the matter of knowledge sharing, people are generally not willing to circulate their explicit materials and tacit knowledge.
Mayfield and Mayfield (2012) illustrated that feedback is important when experiences are shared within a community. However, Rumizen (2002) pointed out that most people only gather others’ sharing but seldom give feedback, which frustrates those people who take initiative to share, discouraging sharing culture. Consequently, no feedback will be a barrier for people to share. Collison & Parcell (2004) demonstrated one of the reasons why people are not eager to share is that people think they will lose their knowledge during the process of knowledge sharing. Hence, from these peoples’ perspective, they cannot get the tangible benefits when sharing their knowledge. However, Hercheui (2012) pointed out that change in behavior of people can be foster by using the KM tools in order to accelerate the spread of explicit and tacit knowledge. Therefore, these tools mainly online technology can change people perception towards knowledge privacy.
From the above perspectives, it can be concluded that people nowadays are still reluctant to share and in turn this hinders the knowledge flow as well as block the knowledge management. Chen (2011) shared the same view because research conducted showed that there is a significant relationship between knowledge-sharing attitudes and knowledge-sharing intentions. Staff employed by the university departments may also have similar attitude towards knowledge sharing.
Practices of organizational culture
Dalkir (2005) stated that organizational culture can generate cross-individual behavioral consistency such as shared values and shared mental models. Moreover, open organizational culture facilitates knowledge sharing as well as forming communities of practices (Collison & Parcell, 2004). Hence, employees, who are encouraged to share, are more engaged in knowledge sharing activities. Furthermore, Nola (2012) reflected that knowledge transfer and sharing could be facilitated by the well-established policies and sharing culture of an organization. Consequently, organizational culture no doubt largely influences degree of knowledge sharing.
Rumizen (2002) observed that even if there are perfect hardwares such as knowledge sharing tools, knowledge sharing would not be successful. It can be explained by that employees are indifferent to participate in sharing under the organizational culture that promotes individual success rather than team spirit as a whole. Apart from that, Harorimana (2010) argued that individual and organizational culture could co-exist. When individual culture is exaggeratedly stressed, conflicts may be easily found and harmony of the organization would be destroyed. In this way, team spirit and open organizational culture can make knowledge management outcomes more obvious.
Interactive technological innovation on knowledge sharing
Socially oriented principles should be followed in Web 2.0 (Knol et al., 2008). Examples can be found in enterprise search tools that intelligent search reduces deployment time, improving knowledge sharing efficiency (Ghani, Djordjevic & Cumby, 2011). Multimedia content search in addition to traditional textual ones channels users to designated resources more effectively, matching with the principle that both tangible and intangible resources are directed towards the right projects and people (Mvungi & Jay, 2009).
Adoption in an organization
Depending on organizational culture, application of knowledge sharing tools may vary, resulting in benefits ranging from technology enhancement of existing platform to more unbounded collaboration (Bebensee, Helms & Spruit, 2011). Web 2.0 is in a position bonding individuals in an organization more closely, which allows higher degree of knowledge sharing that everyone in it can contribute and add value to the system (Levy, 2009).
KM in Higher Education
According to Bridgstock (2009), the application of KM to the career center of the university can enhance and facilitate the employability in tertiary students because the self-management and career establishment skills can be transmitted to the graduates effectively if the KM is well implemented to the career center. Apart from that, based on Lamont (2011), after carrying out the KM, admission department in the university becomes one very process-intensive for the reason that large amount of information is well organized and the tacit knowledge of staff are also monitored through using the method of knowledge mapping so that the expertise of the staff are fully utilized. Apart from that tertiary students could get more diverse employment information when the University’ career center employed the Knowledge Management because of the fact that employment student advisers with various background expertise (for example business and social sciences) could give professional advice for the students from different faculties and disciplines (KM 2002 workshops targets decision-makers and beginners, 2002).
Besides, Ngulube and Mngadi (2009) stated that social interaction and knowledge sharing can be facilitated by the Communities of Practice (CoP) at the University of KwaZulu-Natal and the University of Zululand but policy of Cop is needed in order to enhance the efficiency of KM implementation. Furthermore, by implementing the Knowledge management, various explicit knowledge is captured and tacit knowledge is codified into documents so complete learning resources can be provided to students. In the Higher Education in Britain, distance learning is greatly promoted because knowledge management helps to collect suitable information and knowledge to the learners (Open Text to provide Livelink to the UK academic community, 2002).
Although there are articles regarding to the commercial organizational culture, the university departments’ cultures with the use of online platform, particularly Web 2.0 are rarely investigated. Hence, it is worth to spend time research this area.
The source and data of this research report collected can be divided into two types, primary and secondary resources.
Primary Research Resources
An one-hour interview was conducted in March 2012 with Director and Student Advisor of C&P. Notes and tape-record were made for the entire interview. The interview provided original resources, which show the real practices of implementing KM within the C&P in terms of strategies, tools and metrics. This useful information illustrates a whole picture of the level of application of KM concept in a department within a university including the processes of capturing knowledge (tacit knowledge), documenting knowledge (explicit knowledge) as well as the KM tools which was being used in the department and how they were used to facilitate the knowledge sharing and meet the objectives of the department. The above data was gathered and analyzed with the findings (gaps) discovered from the literature review. Since there was only one interview being conducted, the limitation of time has restricted the scope of our research that observation of C&P’s working processes cannot be done. Otherwise, more in depth information may be collected.
Secondary Research Resources
Apart from the primary resources, a range of secondary resources were selected, for instance, scholar journals, theses and books regarding to the application and development of knowledge sharing in different organizations and higher education. These reliable resources are published materials and provided by different databases vendors with high credibility and authority, for example, ProQuest, EBSCOhost and so forth.
Besides, documentations such as brochures, PowerPoint slides and other printed materials related to the intranet (network filing system) were given during the interview. Information distributed on C&P website was also captured for our research needs. It indicates one of the ways that C&P keeps their information for open access.
Application of Knowledge Management
The application of KM in C&P will be elaborated in details according to Dalkir’s (2005) integrated KM cycle model, which suggests that the KM processes should include creation, capture, sharing and dissemination, and acquisition and application.
C&P generates a lot of new knowledge every day. Staff with different duties have different core functions and generate specific knowledge accordingly. For example, the Career Advisors who deal with students, they get the experience of handling the enquiries; also develop the expertise and skills to search related information in the knowledge base, so tacit knowledge is created. Then they input the enquiries and solutions to the knowledge base, so explicit knowledge is created. Take the staff that is responsible for organizing the workshops as another example; they need to find sources before giving speech to the audiences. Through referring to the best practices in career advising or listening to experienced colleagues, they get some new understanding or ideas about a specific subject, so tacit knowledge is generated. In addition, PowerPoint slides, worksheets, agendas and other useful resources are created by them for the workshop, so explicit knowledge is generated.
There are several methods for C&P to capture and codify the tacit knowledge. They learn from history, learn from others, interview with partners and build a knowledge asset. If the department needs to organize similar activities, they will refer to and learn from the past experience. The department also learns from others, for example, the director regularly finds some information like the latest best practices in the foreign career advising industry, and then he tries to apply these practices in the department. Furthermore, the department captures tacit knowledge through interviews. It holds annual meetings with companies which have cooperated with them to organize activities, so the C&P staff can get more ideas about the selection criteria, future plan or particular requirements of those companies. Last but not least, building a knowledge asset, the department has a central system that contains all important information that the staff has to know.
On the other hand, the department uses taxonomies to capture and codify the explicit knowledge. According to Rumizen (2002), taxonomy is a classification scheme that use for easy retrieval of specific information in a system. There are five layers in the hierarchical structure of filing system. Level 1 is the location of information; level 2 is the broadest term of information, and more specific information is in the subsequent levels. More details can be referred to Appendix I.
Knowledge sharing and dissemination
C&P has regular meeting called ‘Work Coordination Meeting’ on weekly basis. In the meeting, the top management briefs upcoming activities in the coming two weeks. For example, there would be information about the venue, date and time, special arrangement of a recruitment talk. Staff is welcomed to raise any questions or topics that related to their works for further discussion. Open platform can be seen in the meetings. This kind of person-to-person interaction is a typical socialization style in an organization, which facilitates ‘Tacit-to-Tacit’ transformation of knowledge (Nonaka &Takeuchi, 1995). Formal meeting is the most frequently used method for ‘Tacit-to-Tacit’ transformation of knowledge in the department. However, it is difficult to gather all staff sometimes, so the meeting cannot be held weekly. A regular sharing practice might not be maintained since engaging all participants is necessary in knowledge sharing.
On the other hand, the department relies heavily on computer system to share knowledge among its staffs. The central system which stores all important information is the knowledge base and intranet of the department. It is accessible to staff only. Moreover, when the management gets useful information from recruitment fairs or conferences, they circulate the hard copy or send the soft copy through email to inform all staff. This practice allows as many staff engage as possible with the use of high-accessible platform.
Knowledge acquisition and application
There are two major types of knowledge application in C&P, including Knowledge repositories / Electronic Performance Support System (EPSS) and Knowledge reuse. By definition, knowledge repository is an intranet platform that includes all the tacit and explicit knowledge of an organization which is collected from the experience and practices of staff (Dalkir, 2005). C&P has set up a knowledge-based system which keeps all the knowledge like best practices in career advising, records of recruitment talks and student feedback records and analysis. It is regarded as an intranet. According to Bokhari and Poehlman (2003), Electronic Performance Support System (EPSS) is an electronic construction that uses to capture, store and disseminate the knowledge asset of individual or collective efforts. It helps the staff to work efficiently and effectively. The system assists in preserving the organizational knowledge asset, and improves the working performance and efficiency of the staff. For instance, Career Advisors can find relevant information in the system quickly and provide satisfactory answer to enquirers.
In addition, the staff can reuse the knowledge that contained in the system for different purposes. For example, reuse the PowerPoint slides for similar workshops; reuse the ideas and concepts for department planning, etc.
Organization culture sometimes is known as corporate culture, meaning the people there share the same norms, values, attitudes, beliefs and paradigm (Sathe, V., 1983). Actually, the implementation of KM is closely related to it, particularly related to the knowledge-sharing culture and collaborative climate.
Dalkir (2005) stated that the knowledge-sharing culture is one where sharing knowledge became the norm of the organization, and collaboration among people is encouraged. Knowledge is shared through different channels such as knowledge repository, emails. C&P does not have any incentive system like rewards to encourage sharing. Since the manager believes that knowledge sharing is part of the corporate culture, there is no need to promote the message of knowledge sharing through incentives. In fact, it requires staff to document all activities in daily operation and upload all relevant information to the system from time to time by following the established departmental policies for the purpose of effective knowledge dissemination and sharing among the staff.
Sveiby and Simons (2002) suggested the assessment of collaborative degree of an organization, can be treated as an indicator of effectiveness of knowledge management. Other than the core functions, individual staff is encouraged to have knowledge in other aspects. There is no formal training provided for them, however, through self-learning and communication with other colleagues, they are expected to have the knowledge in other aspects. Staff’s workloads vary in teams and periods, based on the actual needs of the department in a specific period of time that staff may be assigned to other team for extra support. For example, when Survey Team does not have much works to do, part of staff in the team will be assigned to help Workshop Team consequently. Moreover, the department has launched many collaborative projects, which involve cross-team collaboration.
Analysis of case
“In actual practice, we manage the knowledge every day according to the flow and process of KM models, but we don't have a structural KM system.” said Director of C&P. The concept of KM does exist in the department, but the implementation and formalization of KM has yet been fully actualized. To successfully carry out KM within an organization, three critical elements should be embraced that are people, process and technology, and the balance of these three issues will lead to the success of KM (Collison & Parcell, 2004). In the case of C&P, although the department does not have formal KM system, it does have enabling technologies and established policies and process for the sharing of corporate knowledge. Furthermore, people who know and those who need to know are brought together to share knowledge. However, the top-down approach of knowledge sharing adopted by C&P might not be the best style for knowledge management based on the Nonaka-Takkeuchi Model (Nonaka & Takeuchi, 1995). The down side of the top-down approach is that the extent of knowledge sharing will be limited since this typical management style often overlooks the voices of frontline staffs. Frontline staffs normally accept all the knowledge and views that top managers shared without raising objections or alternative opinions due to their weak puissance. As a result, top-down management style might become a bottleneck of knowledge sharing.
In terms of technology, C&P has set up a knowledge-based system which keeps all the tacit knowledge like best practices in careers advising, records of recruitment talks and students’ feedbacks on careers talks or fairs. The system does not only assist in preserving the organizational knowledge asset, but also help to improve the working performance and efficiency of the staffs. In addition, the system is regarded as an intranet that is the only channel for knowledge sharing besides email. Insufficient channel for sharing knowledge might lower the sharing atmosphere.
From the process point of view, C&P makes clear policies and procedures to ensure the knowledge management process can be executed in a smooth way. The department requires its staffs document all activities in daily operation and upload all relevant information to the system from time to time by following the established departmental policies for the purpose of effective knowledge transfer, learning and sharing among the staffs.
From the perspective of people issue, the team spirit and open organizational culture are the positive motivators for advocating knowledge sharing among the staffs. Nevertheless, the top-bottom approach of knowledge management in the Unit resulted in discouraging knowledge sharing atmosphere among the lower-level staffs. The lower-level staffs always are the receivers and listeners of the knowledge provided by the top-level staffs, but they may have lower degree of sharing about feedbacks and experiences to the top management due to the lack of sharing channels and tools. For example, the top-level staffs will circulate the best practices in careers advising in foreign countries to the lower-level staffs via email or the knowledge-based system, yet there is no sufficient channel for lower-level staffs to express their opinions in those best practices or share their personal experience in careers advising.
Additionally, the department utilizes KM strategies in managing the organization’s knowledge such as continuous improvement in intranet and the advancement in working procedures. Also, metrics and assessments to evaluate the effectiveness and efficiency of the practice of KM within the department can be practiced as well. Practice of KM in C&P can be done in a more comprehensive way on top of the existing proactive ones.
In order to advance the maturity of KM practice and culture in a careers advising department, developing KM strategies and relevant metrics will be the prior tasks to achieve better knowledge sharing. Moreover, the amelioration of knowledge sharing platform and KM style might make the department to practice KM well.
C&P is suggested to develop KM strategies, which start with identifying staff needs and issues within the department. Then, several initiatives can be considered to execute, for instance, formalize communities of practice, organize knowledge sharing lunch, implement coaching and mentoring programs, and implement team collaboration tools and processes (Robertson, 2004). Metrics can also be subsequently developed for measuring the progress of the implemented initiatives. Brown (2010) suggests that an effective metric should comprise 4 types of measures, which are awareness, behavior, outputs and outcomes (see Figure 1). An effective metric should put 60% of the weight on output or outcome measures and 40% on awareness or behavior measures. When developing a metric, the department should avoid focusing on the quantity of KM activities and practices, for instance count the number of KM meeting or CoP. On the contrary, the qualitative analysis of KM practices is the most meaningful thing of the metric. For measuring output or outcomes, the department could measure how many new ideas or recommendations on improving the quality of career services has developed, and the impacts of that new knowledge on the organizational performance such as the productivity of department as well. For measuring awareness or behavior, it could measure the engagement of the staffs in KM activities. The participation level helps to indicate the staffs’ contribution and enthusiasm on the department. Additionally, KM behavior measures should track the use of collaboration tools among the staffs (Brown, 2010).
Nonaka and Takeuchi (1995) believe that effective knowledge sharing should involve both the top- and the lower-level employees. The top-down approach of knowledge management style in C&P may not able to achieve the best sharing knowledge. As a result, the department is suggested to organize the bottom-top meetings for the lower-level staffs to raise suggestions to the top management. Apart from bottom-top meetings, forming a community of practice to gather different levels of staffs to share their experiences in careers advising can also strengthen the knowledge-sharing atmosphere within the department.
To facilitate the communication and knowledge sharing, more communication platforms and tools are advised to practice. Web 2.0 technologies with interactive features such as Wiki and discussion forums help to make better two-way knowledge transfer, learning and sharing among staffs. It is believed that these kinds of platforms can enable and motivate the lower-level staffs to voice out their opinions easily, leading to activate knowledge-sharing culture.
In conclusion, C&P in accrual practice has applied the concept in terms of the flow and process of KM models with relevant information system. However, it can be observed that they may not have formal structural KM system. Surely, as the major target of C&P is to meet their primary objectives including information keeping, activities documentation, and sharing of activity processes and knowledge for future use, the top-down approach acts as a guidance to lead the knowledge flow within the department. Such inactive sharing, however, has become one of the barriers in knowledge management. Nevertheless, the existing communication channels may not effectively facilitate the knowledge exchange among the staff in order to make the working process more efficient. In fact, the general staff of C&P, except senior staff, does not have a clear mind of KM application because of the implication of top-down approach. Since the existing knowledge management system in C&P is established, it will be an added value for the department to improve their KM application in various aspects, for instance, forming a Community of Practice, and making good use of Web 2.0 in order to encourage higher level and degree of sharing culture, which is one of the important elements in success of KM implementation.
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Comments Please post your comments here.
Kwok Pak Lun: The case study structured a lot of references to support the ideas which can be foreseen that the recommendations can mostly adopted by the department. It would be great if the writers can provided the feedback from the investigated department and state the limitation for their case study.