Knowledge Management

Challenges of Successfully Implementing a Knowledge Management Initiative

Academic Year: 2011 – 2012 Date: 3/01/2012 Name: Aleksandr Karev Student ID: A816441

Therefore. Furthermore. This report is organised as follows. This is particularly relevant for Business-Soft. Business-Soft is a geographically dispersed company with their head office located in Bristol and a smaller office in Edinburgh. 1996). which is knowledge. a company that operates in the software industry and develops highly sophisticated. 2009). organisations are increasingly faced with matters such as rapid technological changes. The complex and non-routine nature of their business makes Business-Soft a highly knowledge-intensive company. The second part of the Page 1 . The purpose of this consultancy report is to shed light on the potential difficulties that could be encountered while implementing knowledge management initiatives at Business-Soft. shortened product lifecycle and high market instability. The need for competitive advantage and sustainability has led to an acknowledgement of the efficient use of information and communication technologies as an essential element for survival and profitability in the knowledge-based economy (Ndlela. custom-designed software solutions primarily for the aerospace and high technology manufacturing sectors. In order for organisations to survive under these conditions. The first part describes the potential challenges involved in implementing a knowledge management initiative to support the work of software engineers at Business-Soft. it is argued that organisations need to take care of their most valuable asset.Introduction The current phenomenon of globalisation and the increasing use of knowledge and information services have exposed national economies to much more intense competition than ever before. they need to be able to manage highly distributed diversified knowledge (Grant.

or in some instances impossible. more informal and embedded in social and cultural values and assumptions of those who possess it (Hislop. they constitute two characteristics of knowledge. knowledgeable. It is important to mention that. typically over an extended period of time (Hislop. to some extent. with the majority Page 2 . The fact that Business-Soft is a geographically dispersed company. knowledge is inseparable from human activity (Orlikowski. and in fact are inseparable and mutually constituted (Tsoukas. The practice-based perspective suggests that instead of tacit and explicit knowledge being separate and distinct types of knowledge. in this report. Thus. a practice-based perspective is applied. The practice-based perspective assumes that for one individual to learn knowledge from another. involving the use and development of knowledge (Hislop. Alternatively. 2002). this implies that there is neither fully explicit nor fully tacit knowledge. to share it amongst individuals. knowledge is not regarded as a separate entity that can be codified and separated from provides recommendations regarding what Business-Soft should do to begin the implementation of its knowledge management initiative. From this perspective. 2005). 2005). Tacit knowledge is knowledge that is difficult to articulate in an explicit form. all activity is. Issues and Challenges of Knowledge Management Geographically dispersed locations The majority of the work that is undertaken by Business-Soft requires their employees to utilise a considerable amount of tacit knowledge. it is essential that they communicate. 2002). as all knowledge will partly consist of both. 2005). Consequently. interact and work together. Mainstream Knowledge Management authors suggest that the nature of tacit knowledge makes it very hard. highly personal and subjective.

(Jaffee. may in fact facilitate understanding ‗by removing the distraction of irrelevant stimuli‘. Although current technologies such as video conferencing. where electronically mediated working was found to be problematic and challenging for a number of reasons. due to the loss of social cues such as facial expressions. tone and gestures. Notwithstanding this viewpoint.of their employees located in Bristol and others located Edinburgh might. (DeSanctis. they have highlighted that when you cannot see the facial expressions of your opponent. project management has argued that telephone conferences limited their perception of the reactions of their competitors. 1999) argue that the loss of social cues. In particular. For instance. which significantly impedes the communication process. a number of studies have demonstrated the importance of ICT in knowledge management initiatives between geographically dispersed locations. which occurs when. he suggests that rich communications cannot be achieved through ICTs alone. and limits the extent to which knowledge can be shared via such media. have a negative impact on their knowledge management initiatives. 2005) argues that the difficulties of facilitating rich interactions via ICTs should not be underestimated. limiting a firm‘s ability to build upon non-local knowledge for further innovation. This has been illustrated further by the Pharma-co case study. 2005) suggests that on-going innovations in information and communication technologies (ICT) make it possible to cooperate in a distributed mode. 1993) argues that the acquisition of knowledge from geographically distant sources remains extremely difficult. (Kotlarsky J. therefore. e-mail and telephone enable interpersonal communication and interaction over long distances. the question remains Page 3 . communicating via most ICTs. (Hislop. For example. Moreover. it is very difficult to gauge whether they are being optimistic or pessimistic about the topic under discussion. Conversely. a phenomenon.

2001) as ‗the willingness of one person or group to relate to another in the belief that the other‘s action will be beneficial rather than detrimental. 1999) suggests that rich knowledge sharing in virtual interactions will have a greater chance of success if there is a positive. trust is a foundation. Thus. Currently all of the project teams at Business-Soft are composed of software engineers from one site only. 1999) suggest that trust can be developed in totally virtual social relations. 2005). Therefore. Nevertheless. a related series of studies has suggested that trust between people can be developed and sustained by electronically-mediated communications alone (Hislop. This perspective suggests Page 4 . who found that there is a direct relationship between trust and the willingness to share knowledge. Power and Conflict In this report a dissensus-based perspective is to what extent people will be willing to share their tacit knowledge with those whom they never met before. 2007). Research carried out by (McLoughlin. The rationale behind this statement is that people are generally much more likely to share their knowledge with those whom they trust. though they found that the type of trust developed in temporary virtual teams was extremely fragile. (Jarvenpaa. preexisting social relationship between people. This is further supported by (Jonsson. it can be argued that there exists only very limited trust between the software engineers from Bristol and Edinburgh. even though this cannot be guaranteed‘. which in turn might limit the effectiveness of their ICT-mediated communication and knowledge management initiatives between the two locations. For instance. but it is also the very quality that is most challenging to build from a distance. Trust was defined by (Child.

It can thus be argued that while workers may utilise their knowledge to complete organisational goals. If. Evidence suggests that. where political behaviour motivated by the pursuit of such interests is common. they feel Page 5 . Consequently. If workers consider that the positive benefits are likely to offset the negative ones. the knowledge that workers possess can also be conceptualised as belonging to them themselves. with the emergence of the knowledge economy. However. This may in turn deter workers from sharing their knowledge. which they own and have the power to manage. and where power is unevenly distributed (Hislop. Many of their employees who had traditionally developed considerable informal power by hoarding their valuable expertise felt threatened by this system. this might lead to the existence of potential conflicts between workers and their organisations over who owns and controls their knowledge. For example. a specialised chemical company. 2005). implemented an electronic network that enabled intensive knowledge sharing in order to assist the solving of complex customer problems. then they are likely to participate in knowledge management activities and share their knowledge. this knowledge nevertheless still belongs to them and they have the right to use it as they wish. however. This may suggest that willingness of workers to participate in organisational knowledge management activities and to share knowledge with others is predicated by what they consider to be the probable positive and negative outcomes of so doing. with knowledge regarded as a critical resource. 2005). The reason for these tensions stems from the fact that many organisations regard the knowledge of their employees as their own economic asset. Buckman Labs. an increase in tensions can now be perceived between employers and employees.that societies consist of groups whose interests are often oppositional and conflicting. rather than their employers (Hislop.

The primarily cause of this problem was the rivalry that Page 6 . that the negative outcomes are likely to offset the positive ones. all engineers from Business-Soft are allocated to projects based on their knowledge. prior experience and workload. 2005). Additionally. it is common for different business units within the same organisation to have an antagonistic ‗them versus us‘ type of relationship. 2000) statement. Currently.the converse to be the case. it can be assumed that engineers with more experience are likely to obtain better financial rewards as well as more stimulating and challenging work compared to the less experienced engineers. i. they are more likely to hoard their knowledge and not participate in knowledge management activities (Hislop. This type of conflict arises as a result of perceived differences of interest between individuals or groups in knowledge management projects (Hislop. A notable example of this was demonstrated in Currie & Kerin‘s (2004) study of a UK-based pharmaceutical company.e. Another form of conflict that can resist knowledge sharing between employees is inter-personal and inter-group conflict. As illustrated by (Currie. Following (David de Long. 2005). Their study demonstrated that there was a lack of cross-functional knowledge sharing between the sales and marketing departments. engineers‘ salaries are linked to their levels of experience. a UK-based global pharmaceutical business. as they may perceive that by sharing the knowledge they will also relinquish their individual source of power and competitiveness. more experienced engineers might be reluctant to share their knowledge. Hence. where a number of middle and senior managers were unwilling to share their expertise knowledge because they were afraid to be replaced by less experienced managers. 2003) in their research of Pharmco National.

In particular. For example. research at Shell has shown that in situations where senior managers were participating in corporate wiki discussions. and it guides individual decisions and actions at an unconscious level.existed between both departments as well as the differences in their sub-cultures. Knowledge management efforts are frequently perceived as confronting difficulties from corporate culture Page 7 . Culture It has been argued that an appropriate culture should be established within an organisation to encourage employees to create and then to share knowledge amongst themselves (Lee. It consists of its members‘ shared values. While its concept is not always easy to capture or define. powerful force in any organisation. behaviours and culture. it is crucial to underscore the fact that every project team at BusinessSoft has a senior engineer as its leader. As a result. other less senior employees were reluctant to take part in the discussion because they were afraid of being perceived as incompetent by these senior managers. based on the theory of power as a resource. 2003). Furthermore. it took more than two years and considerable resources for Shell to educate their employees about the potential benefits that can be derived from their corporate wiki system and to help their employees to overcome their fear of participating in discussions. where power is referred as a ‗scarce resource whose use allows people to shape the behaviour of others‘ (Hislop. 2005) it may be inferred that the potential tensions within the project groups arise as a result of unevenly distributed power. symbols. beliefs. Thus. Andy Boyd in his presentation on ―Knowledge Sharing and Knowledge Retention‖ outlined that one of the biggest challenges in adopting a knowledge management programme at Shell was the employees‘ fear of criticism from their peers. Dr. culture is an observable.

2000). Workers acting as knowledge providers are also focussed on assessing the benefits that might occur from participating in the knowledge transfer process. Such culture does little to encourage the sense of community that may be necessary to enable knowledge management to move beyond fixed repositories of information into the kind of dynamic system anticipated Page 8 . citing the inability to change people‘s behaviours as the greatest hindrance to managing knowledge (Watson. 2001) found that more supportive. (Gold. Furthermore. there must be a perceived mutual benefit between knowledge providers and acquirers. 1947). 1998). A. Workers in individualistic cultures are likely to ask the question ―To what extent does this benefit me?‖ rather than focus on the overall benefits of knowledge transfer to the organisation (Gargiulo. workers are likely to create significant barriers to hinder knowledge transfer efforts (Sherif. The study of two large multinational organisations carried out by (Leidner D. The most striking difference between these two organisations was the organisational culture. encouraging organisational cultures positively influence knowledge management infrastructure capability and the resultant knowledge management practice. one being individualistic and the other collectivistic. Such cultures are generally driven by selfinterest rather than by group interest. When benefits are perceived as absent. for knowledge transfer in individualistic cultures to occur. In individualistic cultures. ties between individuals are very loose.. strongly supported by senior management. Thus. having limited impact (De Long. 2000). Both organisations in this study had a very similar approach to knowledge management. An Ernst and Young study acknowledged culture as the largest barrier to knowledge transfer. as a result.perspective and. 2005) reveals the profound impact organisational culture has on knowledge management efforts.

possibly viewing such actions as indicative of their lacking the intelligence to develop their own ideas. In the second organisation studied by (Leidner D. where ideas flow freely and where knowledge management provides a catalyst for collaborative engagement. where things were always done in a collaborative. research carried out by (Lam. a much more collectivistic culture was evident. 2006). it was found that individuals were not only reluctant to share their knowledge. E. whereas in the second organisation the KM effort evolved into a highly collaborative system which facilitated knowledge sharing between employees. relatively little is known about their Indian partner. Based on Geert Hofstede‘s cross-cultural research. As a result of the differences in cultures. it can be concluded that India scores high on the collectivism dimension.. stress the importance of group goals over individual goals and the importance of cohesion within social groups. Nevertheless. employees were reluctant to share their knowledge with others and preferred to remain unnoticed. helpful spirit. 2005) found that in the first organisation. Collectivist senior management. In addition. A. 2005) demonstrates an example of individualistic culture in an Indian software development company and its profound impact on its knowledge management initiative. but were also resistant to using information posted in a knowledge repository since this action may have been perceived as a weakness by colleagues. KM attempts in the first organisation constituted little more than an information repository. (Leidner D. where an individualistic culture applied. workers were competing against Page 9 . In this company. on the other hand. Although Business Soft has an open and informal culture where all engineers feel able to ask each other for help and advice when necessary.

Moreover. (Snyder. 2001) suggest that ‗organisations which attempt to shape the culture to fit with their knowledge management initiative. and that it is very hard to shape organisational cultures. 1999) argue that developing an appropriate organisational culture is a complex. (Pan. organisations should strive to create a culture where failures are seen as opportunities for learning rather than demonstrating incompetency. rather than vice versa. For example. (McDermott. Furthermore. cultural differences may have a negative impact on organisational learning and collaboration between employees both internally and externally. organisations should invest in developing a learning culture that encourages collaboration and support among employees. daunting and time-consuming process. 2003) suggest that in order for successful knowledge creation to occur. Therefore. it is recommended for Business-Soft to begin by supporting and developing Page 10 . the mainstream management literature suggests that cultures are much more resilient than any knowledge management initiative. This consequently made the workers unwilling to codify their knowledge for fear that they would lose their source of power. Nevertheless. For example. this implies that challenges in implementing knowledge management initiative may arise as a result of cultural difference between Business Soft and their Indian partner. which in turn have an effect on the overall performance of an another for promotion in order to achieve the status of a knowledgeable expert and to work on projects with prestigious clients. Recommendations Communities of practice In order to increase the likelihood of a successful knowledge management initiative. (Lee. are likely to find their knowledge management initiatives fail‘. 1996) argues that organisational learning is a crucial factor in improving knowledge creation activities.

communities of practice. a sense of community identity. Information and Communication technologies As outlined above. thereby granting a tremendous power in an online environment to conversational knowledge creation. it should also help Business-Soft to overcome the potential inter-personal and inter-group conflicts mentioned in Section one. one of the greatest challenges in implementing a knowledge management initiative at Business-Soft is the physical distance between their offices and their Indian partner. The existence of these communities is also likely to produce and sustain trust-based relations. In order to overcome the physical distance. and as a consequence have some common knowledge. Taking into consideration Information Richness Theory (IRT). and some element of overlapping values’ (Hislop. Business-Soft could implement information and communication technologies. Wiki pages mirror physical communities of socialisation and information communication. it is also highly recommended for Business Soft to utilise several different communication media. creating an atmosphere that is beneficial to knowledge sharing. such as video conferencing. as well as the sharing of embodied tacit knowledge within the community. and increase synergies between workers throughout the organisation. Page 11 . Hence. such as enterprise wiki software and blogs (including video tutorials). Supporting and developing communities of practice at Business-Soft could potentially facilitate individual and group learning. Community of practice is defined as ‘a group of people who have a particular activity in common. 2005). The integration of Wiki pages between both Business-Soft locations and their Indian partner should facilitate the communication and knowledge sharing between all of their employees. Enterprise Wiki software is collaborative software that allows users to create and collaboratively edit web pages via a web browser.

They could begin by implementing recruitment and selection procedures to attempt to identify staff members that would be willing to share their knowledge. thus inhibiting knowledge sharing when such rewards are absent. HRM Practices It is argued that Human Resource Management practices should be aligned with organisational culture and goals. with the intention of building up trust among participants as well as facilitating inter-personal knowledge sharing. 2007) argue that directly linking individual financial rewards to knowledge sharing may mean that individuals will participate in knowledge processes only when they derive some form of financial reward for doing so. Business-Soft should develop an appropriate reward and performance appraisal system that would encourage knowledge sharing. direct financial rewards may undermine people‘s sense of team Page 12 . This will allow their employees to choose between communication media. as well as fostering a sense of belonging and identification within the organisation. For example. (Fahey. This should improve the social relationships and the level of trust amongst their employees. a mentoring system could be employed where senior engineers from Business-Soft would be allocated a number of mentees. There are a number of HRM mechanisms that Business-Soft could utilise in order to facilitate organisation-wide knowledge sharing. an engineer from Bristol would travel to the office in Edinburgh and participate in a project. Moreover.telephone and e-mail. for example. Although financial incentives may be seen as an appropriate reward for sharing knowledge. In addition. In addition. financial rewards to knowledge behaviours. it is highly recommended for Business-Soft to introduce an employee rotation scheme where. depending on their requirements. Lastly. a number of authors suggest that there may be negative consequences to directly linking individual.

Bibliography Page 13 . rather than individual financial rewards.or community spirit. Therefore. BusinessSoft should develop and utilise a reward system that would focus on the teams and encourage communication and knowledge sharing within the teams.

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