Learning Theories/Knowledge Management: Processes

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According to Rumizen (2002), "knowledge management is a systematic process by which knowledge needed for an organisation to succeed is created, captured, shared and leveraged." For this reason, knowledge management involves leadership establishing processes, also defined as activities or initiatives, to help organizations adapt to an ever changing environment (National Electronic Library for Health, 2005). Successful knowledge management depends on processes that enhance individual and organizational ability, motivations, and opportunities to learn, gain knowledge, and perform in a manner that delivers positive business results. Organizational processes that focus on these three attributes will lead to an effective “management” of knowledge (Argote, McEvily, & Reagans, 2003). Rewards and other motivational incentives are keys to the knowledge management process. Argote, et al. (2003) have noted that members of an organization are unlikely to share insights and ideas within the organization if they are not rewarded for the knowledge sharing. They point to the impact of social rewards as being just as important as monetary rewards. A strong social culture within an organization can promote the transfer of knowledge. Within the midst of this strong culture there is a development of a desire for social cohesion and genuine spirit of reciprocity. Argote, et al. point to a less altruistic and a more egocentric motivation for knowledge sharing within an organization with a strong social culture. Often the employee is willing to transfer knowledge in order to protect their own social standing. Demonstrating uncooperative behavior or attitudes will damage one’s reputation and so to afford this social and professional risk, knowledge sharing increases.

In the global and technological environment, the challenge exists to move from an organizational mindset that suggests that knowledge is for the few on the top echelon to an understanding that knowledge once held by the few is available to the masses. Goldsmith, Morgan, and Ogg (2004) contend, "The old days of "continous improvement" seem as leisurely as a picnic from the past. In this chaotic and complex twenty-first century, the pace of evolution has entered warp speed, and those who can't learn, adapt, and change from moment to moment simply won't survive" (p. 54). The need to rethink the process of knowledge management even in mega-organizations is of paramount importance. Goldsmith, et al. (2004) further contend, "We're trying to manage something-knowledge-that is inherently invisible, incapable of being quantified, and borne in relationships, not statistics" (p. 56). The time to understand knowledge management from a multi-directional perspective has come. Goldsmith, et al. says, "Our most important work is to pay serious attention to what we always want to ignore: the Italic texthuman dimension" (p. 57).

According to Nonaka (1998), "Understanding knowledge creation as a process of making tacit knowledge explicit--a matter of metaphors, analogies, and models--has direct implications for how a company designs its organization and defines managerial roles and responsibilities within it" (p. 36). Nanaka states that this is accomplished within Japanese companies through redundancy, "the conscious overlapping of company information, business activities, and managerial responsibilities" (p. 36). As a process, redundancy can become a medium that assists in the management of knowledge within an organization. Though to many western managers redundancy may conjure up mental images of "unnecessary duplication and waste" (p. 36), it can assist in the area of employee expectancy, alleviating unnecessary assumptions and confusion.

Creating opportunities for individuals to create, retain, and transfer knowledge can be managed through employee development processes. For example, placing individuals in situations where they can gain new experiences, or share learning from a prior experience will enable knowledge management. Many companies have processes to intentionally move personnel across the organization (across units, regions, functions, etc.) for the purpose of transferring knowledge as well as building learning capability and agility within the individuals.

Ability, while innate, can also be increased through effective training processes and experiences. Training in analogical reasoning, for example, will increase an individual’s ability to transfer knowledge between tasks, assignments, or reporting units, thereby spreading knowledge further across the organization.

Recognition and reward processes and systems can also influence the knowledge management process. Members of an organization, who are recognized and rewarded for knowledge transfer are more likely to engage in such sharing of knowledge, especially if it is integrated into the performance management process and will influence their standing or reputation in a positive manner.

Drawing upon Wheatley’s (1999) reference to a system as “a set of processes that are made visible in temporary structures” (p. 23), we might deduce that organizational learning - as a system process, is manifested or made known by the visible temporary structures of behavioral patterns, rhythms, and relationships. In other words, the organization is a “living system” –one that uniquely takes form through “fundamentally similar conditions” that other organizations encounter: "...self...shared meaning...[and] networks of relationships...[resulting in] information [that] is noticed, interpreted, [and] transformed” (Wheatley & Kellner-Rogers, 1999, p. 81) into knowledge. Thus, according to Wheatley (2004), knowledge management cannot be proficiently processed independent of “creat[ive] work that is meaningful, leaders that are trustworthy, and organizations that foster everyone’s contribution and support by giving the staff time to think and reflect together” (Goldsmith, et al., 2004, p. 63).

The shear volume of information today also presents a process problem. Wheatley describes what creates enormous possibilities for KM,“world wide web has created an environment that is transparent, volatile, sensitive to the least disturbance, and choked with rumors, misinformation, truths, and passions” (Trompenaars & Hampden-Turner, 2004, p. 53). The list includes the belief that organizations are a machine, only materials and numbers are real, you can only manage what you can measure, and technology is the best solution. The efforts are ultimately an attempt to make knowledge manageable. Something one can keep track of, keep inventory of, and procure for sale to another who wants it. To manage something you must have some kind of an understanding of it and an ability to control it to some degree. This reasoning leads to the list mentioned above by Wheatley as well as similar lists made by other KM leaders.

What facilitates KM? Wheatley’s list says that humans create knowledge, and it’s natural to create and share that knowledge, everyone is a knowledge worker, and people choose to share their knowledge. Another process issue is attaining or gathering knowledge. That knowledge exists throughout any given organization, but the ability to inventory or tap into that knowledge is difficult. Wheatley writes that “we must recognize that knowledge is everywhere in the organization, but we won’t have access to it until, and only when, we create work that is meaningful, leaders that are trustworthy, and organizations that foster everyone’s contribution and support by giving staff time to think and reflect together” (Trompenaars & Hampden-Turner, 2004, p. 63).

Effron (2004), asserts that given the definition of knowledge as “the fact or condition of knowing something with familiarity gained through experience or association”, it is “impossible to acquire “knowledge” without either experiencing something yourself or interacting with someone else who has” (p. 40). Knowledge Management is not synonymous with IT systems and processes. Rather knowledge resides in the experiences of people in different contexts. With regard to Knowledge Management, the aim of an organization is to work within business processes that create, and transfer knowledge throughout the organization. If knowledge is created and transferred via human experiences then these business processes must encompass an understanding of how people learn and transfer their knowledge; that is the business processes must emphasize person-to-person contact (Effron, 2004).

Examples of business processes that will lead to effective knowledge management are:

  • The setting of goals and objective – be realistic and recognize the limitations of data mining and information gathering. Make the increase of organizational knowledge a stated and specific goal for the all.
  • Employee retention – HR processes should focus on what it takes to retain employees who hold key knowledge. Provide opportunities that are developmental, have purpose, and have a high impact on business performance. Compensate such employees above typical market rates.
  • Employee development processes – pairing experts (what some companies call “Oak Trees”) and apprentices provide opportunities for employees with differing levels of knowledge to work together and increase the organizational knowledge. These relationships allow for a true exchange of knowledge through a human relationship and experience.
  • Organized networking and annual conferences – these provide forums for face-to-face interaction and knowledge sharing and can lead to effective organizational knowledge management.
  • Accountability – line management, not just IT or HR, should be held accountable for knowledge management. They should be held accountable for management of the human resources and organizational knowledge. They do this through the above business processes of employee development (experiences, developmental assignments, etc.).

In the process of KM there must be significant steps taken to eliminate any barriers that may get in the way of becoming or increasing the ability to be a learning organization. Cummings challenged our intentionality for to effectively help the processes of KM within an organization there must be intentional efforts to remove barriers that would inhibit ideas, talent, and money from getting to the point of best use (Trompenaars & Hampden-Turner, 2004).

Managers and leaders play in important role in the success of knowledge management in their organization. James Robertson (2005) introduces ten key principles to ensure that information management activities are effective and successful. These focus on the organizational and cultural changes required to drive improvements forward. Those principles are:

  • Recognise (and manage) complexity
  • Focus on adoption
  • Deliver tangible & visible benefits
  • Prioritise according to business needs
  • Take a journey of a thousand steps
  • Provide strong leadership
  • Mitigate risks
  • Communicate extensively
  • Aim to deliver a seamless user experience
  • Choose the first project very carefully

The practical value of KM is in what it is able to impact, how it impacts, and how well it impacts. The line between KM and business is through the processes of business. KM's biggest impact on business may be in its ability to improve processes and their performance (Nichols, 2000). It is suggested that the changing of processes should take into consideration the role KM plays in this process. In turn, the information that is needed to make decisions to make changes must be identified and well as determining the effects those decisions will generate.

An organization that wishes to begin to use Knowledge Management must begin by specifying specific processes. These processes must be supported by technological resources and must facilitate the sharing of information about problems and solutions, improvement suggestions and information concerning best practices practiced by other organizations. Organizations that follow this plan will develop a framework that catalogues, uses and integrates the knowledge used by individuals as organizational knowledge for driving innovation and organizational change (Hyde & Mitchell, 2000).

Hyde and Mitchell (2000) offer six strategies for developing knowledge management processes within organizations:

  1. Define a KM business case. What levels of knowledge and innovation will your agency need to stay ahead of your "environment" and be "competitive?" (Do not start until you can prove you need it.)
  2. Baseline your intellectual capital. Knowledge is an intangible asset, but human capital is not--measure current and projected workforce capabilities, your HR investments, and expected return on investment. (Get HR involved from the outset.)
  3. Make sure your senior executives "get it." Collaboration and knowledge sharing begin at the top, not at the bottom. Top management has to see how KM will affect performance and why it is critical for innovation and change. (Make sure the top dogs are eating the same food.)
  4. Build KM from the bottom up and across. What's most important about any KM program or process is its ability to facilitate knowledge exchange among those individuals closest to the work, to the customers, and to the processes. KM must be an enabling process that captures both best practices and new ideas while promoting access.
  5. Balance external and internal. The value of your KM program is multiplied by its reach--it needs to connect to other agencies, customers, and stakeholders. (Think in terms of strategic alliances.)
  6. Think technology last and "chunk" your investments. What products will you need to support your first level of KM development (allocate 75 percent of your KM IT budget). Save 25 percent for building your technology strategy to support future KM phases or new investments. (Think in terms of weeks and avoid all long-term systems projects like the plague.) (p. 57)

Andrews and Delahaye (2000) found that factors at the individual level greatly influence knowledge processes. These included a person’s perceptions of approachability, credibility and trustworthiness, which directly influenced knowledge importing and knowledge sharing. Researchers discovered that scientists in a bio-medical consortium actively filtered knowledge importing by deciding whom they would ask for information, whom they would allow to give them input, and with whom they would share their own knowledge. They made decisions based upon what they felt their co-workers would do with the sensitive information. In each case the scientists made a judgment of co-workers as to their perceived trustworthiness.

Knowledge management’s importance in organizations affects their competitiveness and the bottom line in significant ways. Ogg and Cummings suggest, “There are three important things that can be leveraged in large companies to help take advantage of being a big organization, money, talent, and ideas” (Goldsmith, et al. (2004), p. 103). Managing knowledge and intellectual capital increasingly grows as the critical of these three components that organizations need to align and use as leverage to foster improvement from within against stiffening competition. The processes necessary to align and create increased leverage against the competition. Larger organizations can struggle to overcome significant barriers to discover, organize, and utilize what Ogg and Cummings call a marketplace of ideas (cf. p. 104). Overcoming barriers and hindrances to sharing and utilizing great ideas takes discipline and cultural values in which new ideas are readily shared, honored, and implemented.

Ogg and Cummings further suggest that fostering an organizational culture that values new ideas necessitates that meetings become places where ideas are shared, appreciated, and implemented in timely fashion. Additionally, infrastructure must connect people in trust relationship with a context where meaningful ideas are shared. Technology and data storage are inadequate to facilitate this kind of transference of new ideas.

Case studies & workplace examples

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The process of managing knowledge is somewhat a misnomer. More often than not, what a company really desires to do is capture knowledge because managed knowledge is subject to mismanagement. One very simple process for capturing knowledge is known as “the wisdom of the crowds” - as was written about by James Surowiecki in a book by the same title. A more recent example of this is the famous television show, Who Wants to be a Millionaire?, where a contestant is given a single opportunity to ask the audience for their knowledgeable response to a particular question. Historically, this method of knowledge capture has been relegated to situations where factual resolve is sought (i.e., a single right answer). There are two important points to keep in mind when considering the use of this methodology: 1) individuals making up the crowd do not usually communicate with one another concerning their individual wisdom of the subject matter and 2) “the group's guess will not be better than that of every single person in the group each time” (http://www.randomhouse.com/features/wisdomofcrowds/excerpt.html).

Information technology provides a number of tools that facilitate the free sharing of knowledge among co-workers and team members. Web collaboration tools that allow team members to collaborate on line through the posting of relevant background information, calendars, task lists an similar documents are particularly powerful. They are particularly useful when members use them to post work in progress documents for review and use by others. The versioning feature of many of these allows all the participants to review documents, make comments and provide feedback. Chat and discussion areas also permit the free flow of knowledge and information.

Microsoft's Sharepoint Server has been particularly valuable when used with firms working on major planning projects. Participants scattered around the world are able to quickly provide and share knowledge with one another in a fashion that would be cumbersome in any other fashion.

Some years ago, Caterpillar Inc. recognized that a wealth of knowledge was contained in the minds of engineers throughout the company who knew what had been successful and what designs and practices had not been. This knowledge was frequently not available to engineers in other parts of the far flung company who would unknowingly use designs that had been less than successful elsewhere. In addition, much of the knowledge was perishable as it was lost to the company when engineers retired.

Simultaneously, Caterpillar was implementing a system which would record, categorize, analyze and report failure trends by application, type of equipment, subsystem, component and type of failure from data gleaned from all warranty claims and all dealer service orders worldwide in near real time. The original aim was to speed the recognition of required product improvements to increase customer satisfaction and reduce warranty cost. It was quickly realized that providing this type of information to engineers designing new products would permit them to understand the historical failure modes of all parts, components and systems and, therefore, to avoid repeating previous mistakes.

The Center for Life Calling and Leadership is a learning organization within the larger organization of Indiana Wesleyan University (IWU). The Center seeks to learn how to best meet the needs of IWU students, both students with pre-declared majors and leadership majors/minors. The process (Developmental Model)that has been developed through research focuses on each year of the college student's educational process. There are six stages on the Life Calling Developmental Model: (1) The Pre-Stage issue is entrance transition; (2) The first year stage is exploration; (3) The second year stage is connection; (4) The third year stage is interaction; (5) The fourth year stage is anticipation; (6) Following their exit from college, graduates now begin to implement what has been learned during the college experience in their Post-Stage life. According to Millard (2004), it was projected that students would progress developmentally throughout their educational process and increase in self-directedness. Millard states:

One of the more eye-opening findings we have made is that this is not necessarily true. We found self-directedness increasing until the end of the 3rd year and then suddenly, with the anticipation and apprehension of life after college, there was a distinct regression from self- directedness and a greater demand for supportive intervention. The 4th year stage may be just as difficult as the 1st year stage. We also suspect that as we continue to develop this model that we are going to see multiple regressions correlated to various issues that occur throughout the college experience. Instead of gradually disengaging in our life calling support at our Center, we may find it a case of multiple refocusing of emphases and efforts (p. 4).

Knowledge Management: Challenges · Knowledge Management: Leadership

Knowledge Management: Challenges · Learning Theories · Knowledge Management: Leadership
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