Learning Theories/Knowledge Management: Change

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Knowledge that is acquired, stored, and dispensed without having any affect on the organization should, perhaps, be called ‘trivia’. For knowledge to actually be meaningful it needs to induce change. This is not to imply that all change is derived from knowledge (any person who has ever been associated with an organization knows better than that), but it is to say that knowledge, when acted upon can induce change that can have consequential impact on an organization. Perhaps, then, the real legacy of any ‘knowledge management’ program or policy is the significance of the changes these initiatives bring about.

It was Charles Darwin who said, "It's not the strongest species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the most responsive to change". Understanding this phrase forces organizations in any industry to look closely at the way change can impact their business. Any large-scale change, however, requires the organization to confront the issue of culture. This can be a daunting task. Culture is that invisible and often complex system of beliefs and practices that determines how people act in organizations is fraught with difficulty.

Timothy Galpin (1996) gave 10 cultural components to consider when implementing change:

Rules and Policies
Eliminate rules and policies that hinder the change and create new ones that reinforce the desired way of operating. Develop and document new SOP’s.
Goals and Measurement
Develop goals and measurements that reinforce the desired changes.
Customs and Norms
Replace old ways of doing things that reinforce the old ways with new customs and norms. E.g. replace written reports with face-to-face meetings.
Again replace training that reinforces the old way of doing things with new training. Develop experiential training that provides real time, hands on experiences with new processes and procedures.
Ceremonies and Events
Put in place ceremonies and events that reinforce the new ways. Recognise individual and team contributions to making the changes work.
Management Behaviours
Publicly recognise and reward managers who change by linking promotion and pay to the desired behaviours. Do not promote or pay increases to managers who do not come on board.
Rewards and Recognition
Make rewards specific to the change goals that have been set. Ensure that the performance management system recognises and rewards the desired ways of operating and does not simply reinforce the old ways. For example, a performance management system that measures only individual behaviour will undermine any attempts to inculcate a culture of teamwork.
Deliver communications in new ways to show commitment to change. Use multiple channels to deliver consistent messages at all stages during the transition, before, during and after.
Physical environment
Make sure the physical environment reflects the change. If knowledge and information sharing is your goal, get people out of offices and into open, shared areas. If you want them to talk to their customers, create ‘virtual’ offices so that your people are encouraged to work outside the office with customers.
Organizational structure
Make sure that structure reinforces the operational changes. Combine overlapping divisions; re-organize around customers as opposed to functions.

Garvin (1993) defines a learning organization as “an organization skilled at creating, acquiring, and transforming knowledge, and at modifying its behavior to reflect new knowledge and insights” (p. 80). If change is not the result of creating, gaining, and sharing knowledge then “learning” is fairly meaningless. Innovation is merely creative imagination unless it results in a transformation of reality. Yukl (2002) states, "Organizational learning involves acquiring new knowledge, either by discovering it or by imitating the best practices of others" (p. 295). Yukl (2002) goes on to add that organizational learning describes organizations that utilize acquired knowledge to become more effective. This effectiveness can be realized through the change process resulting from acquired knowledge. What is important for an organization is the ability to implement the acquired knowledge into progressive change rather than acquire knowledge and never use it. Yukl again states, "New knowledge is of little value unless it is used. Some organizations are very successful at discovering knowledge, but fail to apply it effectively" (p. 295). One of the ways that effective application can be realized is through competition. As organizations are competitively driven to reach new heights (goals), they are forced to explore, discover, and change based on the value of the knowledge acquired.

Goldsmith, et al. (2004) suggest, "Changing the way people work...is tough work that is not to be taken lightly. Research in organizational dynamics, diffusion of innovation, and change suggest that failure to pay attention to prevailing attitudes, beliefs, and practices, even when the benefits of a new way of doing things are totally obvious to all, invites disappointment if not disaster" (p. 242). Therefore, close attention needs to be on the people affected by the introduction of change which occurs when knowledge management is introduced or revised. Goldsmith, et al. (2004) contend, "If your investment in knowledge management does not include a corresponding investment in change management, you may be throwing more than your financial investment down a rat hole" (p. 251). Therefore, human capital, change, and knowledge are a three legged stool which must be used together to be successful.

Powell (2004) correctly asserts that for knowledge to induce change, it must be acted upon. Who acts on knowledge? People do, of course. This question and answer may seem silly, but the truth of the matter is that for knowledge management to be effective in bringing about change, people need to be engaged in the knowledge management process. If we accept that people are integral to the knowledge management process we must also recognize that there will be confusion and consternation about any process an organization introduces to manage knowledge. This is not because people will dislike the concept of knowledge management, rather because people will resist change in all of the various forms it takes. Rosenburg (2004) points out that introducing a knowledge management program without paying attention to the “prevailing attitudes, beliefs, and practices”, is recipe for failure, even when everyone fully appreciates the benefits of such a program. He further recommends that any organization considering implementing a knowledge management program consider first the 12 “change management factors” (Rosenberg, 2004, p. 243). These are:

  1. Leadership and role models: If the organizational leaders support the knowledge management program, it has a much greater chance of success.
  2. Success stories: By sharing success stories, buy-in can occur more easily.
  3. Consequences and incentives: in essence, this is the cost-benefit analysis all of us go through before we adopt any change. If knowledge management makes life easier and people have incentives to engage in the knowledge management processes, they are more likely to welcome the change.
  4. Value proposition: Prepare specific and defendable propositions as to how knowledge management will add lasting value to all parts of the organization. Rosenburg (2004) adds that the greater the specificity, the more likely buy-in will occur.
  5. . Level of participation: Engage those who will use the knowledge management system to be a part of the design.
  6. . Hassle: People must understand that though a knowledge management program may be a hassle, it will ultimately save them time and effort.
  7. Impossibility: Be prepared for the nay-sayers. Understand that their concerns may be legitimate and may come from previous experience where similar initiatives have failed. Engage these people to the extent possible.
  8. Priorities: A knowledge management system will be far more likely to succeed if it is perceived as being not only a high priority, but also as having a high likelihood of success.
  9. Fear of technology: Even though most people in today’s workforce are computer savvy to some degree, there are still many people who fear new technology. Deploy new technology used in the knowledge management system long before people have to start using it. Give people time to learn and adapt to the new technology.
  10. Sink-in time: Allow for some time to let the concept of knowledge management to ‘sink-in’. Avoid ‘springing’ a new knowledge management system on people. Communicate early and often and consider offering one-on-one demonstrations.
  11. Training: The most vital element of managing the change associated with implementing any knowledge management program is the training program. Focusing on the user experience and providing ample real-life scenarios will increase the effectiveness of the training.
  12. Ongoing support: Change management often begins and ends with the roll-out. Do not let this happen! Provide ongoing support so that people feel as though they have ready-resource when it comes to training, technical support, or other knowledge management related topics.

As stated above, if we accept that people are integral to the effectiveness of the knowledge any organization possesses, then we must also accept that people play an equally important role in the knowledge management process. If organizations are capable of navigating the 12 issues outlined above, they are far more likely to implement a knowledge management program that acquire, store, and dispense knowledge that can have a beneficial impact on the enterprise as a whole.

Communities of practice

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According to Julian (2005), a Community of Practice (CoP) uses "systemic efforts to plan, implement, and evaluate a broad range of interventions designed to address community problems." The term community refers to a group of people having a common interest. CoPs were first used by researchers with common interests to help negotiate and reflect on practices relating to their particular field (Brown & Duguid, 1991; Lave & Wenger, 1991). Most importantly, CoPs help members create change through collaboration, reflection, and the sharing of lessons learned.


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Powell (2004) states that organizations “still think too much in terms of changing people’s behaviors and not enough in terms of tapping into the potential people have for doing better, doing more, and getting smarter” (Goldsmith, et al., p. 232). What has been misconstrued is the fact that people willingly change and tap into their potential when the opportunity arises. This is especially true when an organization fosters engagement. One simple and very powerful but often overlooked method of fostering engagement is through storytelling. Storytelling in an organizational setting – similar to mankind’s historical storytelling reference, is comprised of “myths, legends and sagas, represent[ing] a collective and institutional memory system which informally passes on key knowledge and communicates important values, beliefs and assumptions” (Vance, 1991, p. 52). In its truest form, storytelling is the organizational culture incarnate. Thus, organizational storytelling is an excellent means to quickly enculturate new employees but is also just as effective used as a training means for other employees. Storytelling is a vicarious means of learning that allows for “relating the stories of the experiences of others…mak[ing] much of the power of experienced-based learning available to the inexperienced learner” (p. 54). Storytelling’s power comes from the fact that it utilizes both cognitive and affective means to deliver the message – a message that is “easy to remember” and capable to expand “multidimensional meaning….even in the most confusing [and complex] situation[s]” (Joensuu & Ilmola, 2005, p. 1).

Location of expertise

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There must be a current change or shift in how we understand or what method we use in knowledge management. All too often we try and regulate one or a few to manage knowledge bases. Or we limit our understanding of knowledge management to merely posting information in a stagnant arena without dialogue, explanation, or contextual reference for deeper understanding. There must be a change in development to perceive knowledge management as an ‘everyone’ issue. An organization should develop a think-tank within itself that holds itself accountable and polices the very knowledge that is shared. Organizations should also develop multiple platforms of interaction where knowledge is shared through technology, written materials, and interaction within cyberspace and face to face. Effron states that “knowledge cannot be stored in a database, only information can”(Goldsmith, Morgan, & Ogg, 2004,p. 42). So this identifies the process of communicating information, the missing element is the communal aspect and context of the knowledge. Adding these variables creates a forum and environment for knowledge management.

The interest in knowledge management has been growing for years. Now the field continues to change and grow as new uses are always being developed. According to an article by David Skyrme, some of these changes are focused on globalization and a firms ability to bring together the knowledge from across the globe instead of reinventing information. Knowledge is power and money. Being able to personalize the service provided to customers is money in the bank. In the area(s) of restructuring and downsizing, valuable knowledge can be lost with the ending of employment, or be expensive to replace. The sharing of best practices allows companies to take information from the success of others and develop their own best practices. Lastly, the ability to apply knowledge allows companies to develop new and better products thereby making more money.

Fuglsang and Sundbo (2005) suggest that there are three modes of innovation for organizations that cross the continuum from deterministic to free choice. The first is an entrepreneurial value-based method where change is initiated by individual’s actions and drive to create business. The second is a technology-based functional mode in which the development of technology drives innovation. The third is a strategic reflexive mode in which innovation results from interaction process of individuals and the organization’s set of common values and goals. The strategic reflexive mode of innovation is the most effective mode for change and innovation in knowledge management. This mode values the exchange of information within the organization and filters this exchange through the core values of the organization. Change in an organization is potentially destructive to the organization, so it is imperative that the changes to both the organization and to knowledge management within the organization be regulated by the process of knowledge management itself and the values of the organization itself.

Knowledge management will drive the need for new information systems. Most existing systems have been developed to serve the needs of operating personnel and management. New, knowledge management systems must be capable of making comparisons, analyzing trends and presenting both historical and current knowledge. More importantly, they must permit the users to transform data into knowledge by analyzing and understanding patterns and drawing conclusions. These systems must do more than present data, they must permit the decisions makers to understand the information. (Thierauf, 1999)

Daft (2005) provides an eight-stage model of planned organizational change developed by John P. Kotter. Careful attention must be given to each stage because a critical mistake and any stage could cause the process to fail. Stage One – establish a sense of urgency that change is really needed. Stage Two – form a powerful guiding coalition. Stage Three – develop a compelling vision and strategy. Stage Four – communicate the vision widely. Stage Five – empower the employees to act on the vision. Stage Six – generate short-term wins. Stage Seven – consolidate gains and create greater change. And Stage Eight – Institutionalize changes in the organizational culture.

Case studies & workplace examples

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Every set of case studies deserves one that fails. In failure we learn, grow, and keep believing in change. In an effort to initiate KM within two organizations we initiated change. The two organizations were a para-church organization that ministered to a college campus and a local-church college ministry. The change initiative was created to combine our ministries by creating a bridge from the para-church site to multiple local church experiences. Through this we would exercise KM by uniting our efforts and experiences with college students. The local-church moved their meeting times and changed focus to pointing students towards the mid-week experience at the campus and the local church on the weekend. The bridges were made, but over time they didn't last. What was learned through the process will enable others to adapt and learn when the next opportunity arises for change. These change efforts will stimulate new methods that enable KM to be possible.

What ultimate organizational goals would knowledge management and change affect?

Change dominates the focus of much of knowledge management, organizational behavior, and organizational learning. Producing and developing increasingly efficient and effective processes, products, or output of any kind is a driving force in the competitive marketplace of business and nonprofit. Knowledge management and change uniquely and intentionally must synchronize together for organizational improvement.

Burke (1992) proposes that the kind of change necessary to qualify as organizational development must happen at the cultural level. It is not enough to modestly change functions, or organize and communicate better. Real change in organization does not happen until the culture changes. " For change in an organization to be OD it must (1) respond to an actual and perceived need for change on the part of the client, (2) involve the client in the planning and implementation of the change, and (3) lead to change in the organization's culture" (p. 8-9). Hence, the most effective change takes place at the core value and organizational culture levels. It is the norms and values which underlie basic assumptions, beliefs, and behaviors. Changing these underlying values is the ultimate goal of knowledge management and organizational development. This goes beyond “fixing a problem or improving a procedure” … it means, “That some significant aspect of an organization’s culture will never be the same” (p. 9). “It might be a change in the organization’s management style, requiring new forms of exercising authority, which in turn would lead to different conformity patterns, since new norms would be established, especially in decision making” (p. 9).

Examples of such a cultural change can be found within the automotive industry, as manufacturers move toward a team-based culture. For real change to take place companies and unions have had to work toward a new vision of beliefs (about the motivation and skill of employees), values (where all employee input is valued), and behaviors (those that recognize contributions and accept responsibilities). It has not been enough to simply write new contracts and procedures. Rather, the leaders on both the union and management sides have had to work collaboratively to make significant changes in our underlying culture. Such changes have led to improvements in safety, quality, and productivity.

In the author’s local organization, a church, a cultural shift took place following a yearlong ReFocus process. Organization-wide input into strengths, weaknesses, and needed challenges played into significant shifts in decision-making, leadership, and responsibility taking among members. A new board was organized to create shared vision and mutual support from varied ministry leaders who took responsibility to plan, brainstorm, and collaborate on special projects. In addition, cell groups were organized to deepen relationship development, expand caregiving to more leaders and members of our church. These cell groups function with measurable autonomy from the larger group and are able to address unique needs and growth points in the members of the individual groups.

The Center for Life Calling and Leadership seeks to gain knowledge through internal and external research that will assist students in the Life Calling exploration process. As the Center continues to be on the cutting edge, the research conducted is not based on existing models, but unfolds through observation, internal and external. Once the knowledge has been articulated, changes can be made based on the knowledge gained and its effective integration into the Life Calling program and into the classroom (LDR 150, Life Calling, Work and Leadership). Acquired knowledge also assists in the validation process for the Center. When new ventures are explored, and the implementation stage has waned, a period of validation is experienced to ensure that invested resources are meeting or exceeding expectations. If the new venture fails to meet expectations, expressed or implied, change is likely to become the new organizational expectation.

David Skyrme Associates (2003) have collected a database of case studies that show examples of organizations that have achieved significant benefits through knowledge management. Some examples are:

  • BP - by introducing virtual teamworking using videconferencing have speeded up the solution of critical operation problems
  • Hoffman La Roche - through its Right First Time programme has reduced the cost and time to achieve regulatory approvals for new drugs.
  • Dow Chemical - by focusing on the active management of its patent portfolio have generated over $125 million in revenues from licensing and other ways of exploiting their intangible assets.
  • Texas Instruments - by sharing best practice between its semiconductor fabrication plants saved the equivalent of investing in a new plant.
  • Skandia Assurance - by developing new measures of intellectual capital and goaling their managers on increasing its value have grown revenues much faster than their industry average.
  • Hewlett-Packard - by sharing expertise already in the company, but not known to their development teams, now bring new products to market much faster than before.

Knowledge Management: Leadership · References

Knowledge Management: Leadership · Learning Theories · References
Introduction · References ·  This box: view  talk  edit 
Theories : Behavioralist · Constructivist · Post-Modern · Adult Learning
Organizational Learning : Contributions by Discipline · Triggers · Influencing Factors · Agents · Processes · Interorganizational · Practice
Knowldege Management : Challenges · Processes · Leadership · Change