A major challenge faced in developing effective knowledge management systems is a cultural issue. Knowledge enters the knowledge management system only if individuals within an organization develop the necessary habit of entering information into the system. There are two primary reasons that knowledge is often slow to enter such systems: (1) a reluctance to give up the power associated with being the keeper of some knowledge or expertise and (2) the failure to remember to enter information into the system when key problems have been resolved.
In many organizations, the key to success is to know more about the nature of the organization, its work, or its clients than anyone else. For some who were promoted based upon what they know and whom they know, sharing information freely is a relinquishment of power. Entering information into a knowledge management system is a formal extension to sharing—and far more of an individual’s peers will have access to the information. The organization must adjust its criteria for rewarding and promoting employees to reflect the change to a shared knowledge environment. This change in compensation criteria encourages individuals within their organization to participate.
The other problem is getting employees into the habit of entering information into the knowledge management system. Some organizations have moved to the practice of recording participation in the knowledge management system and making participation a part of employees’ annual personnel review. This practice provides an extrinsic reward that encourages participation, generally successfully, but also may formalize the knowledge management culture, which can actually inhibit the free flow of information among an entity’s employees.
Informal organizations are frequently the most effective at knowledge management, but creating a culture of knowledge sharing remains the difficult part of making such structures work. Perhaps the greatest factor in the failure of organizations to achieve effective knowledge management is the concurrent failure to have addressed behavioral issues surrounding implementation of knowledge management systems. The company in Technology Application 5.6 tackled this problem head on and succeeded in getting its employees to participate.
As organizations continue to struggle with knowledge management issues, one thing that is clear is that organizations cannot afford to ignore cultural issues. Knowledge management is but one of many choices faced by organizations as they attempt to implement information technologies that support their strategic mission. The challenge is in determining a logical plan for the development of intelligent technologies that provide maximum support for the strategic mission of the organization.
Technology Application 5.6
Enforcing Knowledge Management
An international consulting firm from Spain has succeeded in convincing its consultants that sharing their knowledge online is key to the company’s survival. Cluster Competitiveness of Barcelona recently instituted a policy whereby all paper left on desks each evening was collected and destroyed. The policy underscored the company’s belief that all consultants’ work should be shared through their online knowledge management system. Within four months after paper was banned from the office, the collection process was no longer needed.
Because the company can’t afford to hire highly experienced staff, or train bright new hires, it has set up this central repository of company knowledge so that even brand new hires get instant access to all of the company’s files and intellectual capital. As a result, new hires can get to work quickly and productively.
The company is very pleased with the system and offsets its use with regular meetings at which war stories are traded and client relationships are analyzed. Staff members don’t need elaborate offices, nor do they store large amounts of data on their own computers. Instead, they have access to everything they might need on the company’s intranet, which is accessible any time and any place they might be working. The company is a model of the paperless office. The strategy must be working, as the company is growing and its clients are very satisfied with their products.
Source: Gary Abramson, “Operation Brain-Trap” CIO Enterprise Magazine (Vol. 13, Issue 4, November 15, 1999), p. 78–82.