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Institutionalizing Knowledge Management Within Corporate Infrastructure & Culture

In the progressively more competitive and global marketplace, organizations are particularly eager to integrate, leverage, capitalize, and monetize employee knowledge and make it available when and where it is needed throughout the enterprise.

Over the last decade, interest in knowledge management (KM)  has surged. Although the importance of knowledge was acknowledged in the past, the knowledge-centric view of the company brought new significance to the value of corporate knowledge by identifying it as a resource with as much importance as financial capital.

There has been a long history in addressing the KM challenge with the “technology-push” approach, directing the majority of resources and effort to customize and implement a system-based solution. Even though KM has been identified by prominent industry professionals as 80% culture and 20% technology, anecdotal studies do not support the realization of these ratios in actual implantation situations.

Though, in the current environment the focus is shifting toward adoption of a pragmatic business-centric strategy with an enterprise-wide KM program that aggressively embrace an assimilation of corporate structure, governance, people, enabling technology, and core processes. The business-centric approach supports a deliberate strategy to institutionalize KM within corporate infrastructure and culture. With fewer employees being required to perform an ever-increasing work load coupled with the unrelenting demand for higher productivity and profitability, it is critical that KM Programs are designed to function effectively and efficiently within the boundaries of a corporate infrastructure and culture. Conversely, companies that tend to lack an appreciation for total enterprise immersion will undoubtedly experience less than favorable outcomes.

Institutionalizing KM requires the identification and assessment all of internal and external knowledge touch points and their impact and potential change to the organization’s core processes and business applications.

There are two distinctive models used to categorizing the KM Program namely, Codification and Personalization. Selection of one or a balanced combination of the two models provides the starting point and impetus in creating a KM Program Strategy.

The deployment of new knowledge-centric work activities typically requires changes and adjustments to the corporate culture, primarily with knowledge discovery, sharing, security, and monetization. These corporate culture elements are generally encapsulated in HR, Salary, Incentive Admin, and Sales policies.

Codification and Personalization

Codification and Personalization are often linked to the distinction between explicit and tacit knowledge that are the key pillars of a KM Program. They typically observe the below conventions:

  • Codification is a system-based model for connecting systems and people primarily to explicit knowledge.
  • Personalization focuses on a socialization framework with an approach that enables employees to share and collaborate tacit knowledge.

Companies that select Codification generally invest more heavily in a system-based KM Program while those selecting Personalization spend more moderately on the system, choosing to place priority on employee and group  interaction and collaboration.

Corporate Infrastructure, Culture and Change Management

Institutionalization is all about inclusion, balance and correlation of KM within the corporate infrastructure and culture. Throughout a KM Project resourceful new structures and activities along with changes to existing infrastructure are identified, quantified, and prioritized for implementation. In both cases – individual employee and group work efforts result in change to existing employee attitudes, manifesting in acceptance or non-acceptance of the KM Program and / or specific components. Change Management is the tool of choice for most companies to drive positive KM policy changes and provide awareness and support to the employee population and a successful KM Program.

The relationships in a KM Program implementation among Corporate Infrastructure, Culture and Change Management are as follows:

1. KM Program components approved for implementation are accepted for:

  • Inclusion, balance and correlation with corporate infrastructure
  • Positive quantitative, qualitative and risk impact on corporate infrastructure
  • Alignment and support of current corporate strategy and policies

2. KM Program is supported by Change Management to:

  • Drive appropriate changes to corporate policy and policies in situations where KM is shown to be the better choice on quantitative, and qualitative value points and risk exposures
  • Provide employee change management exercises, awareness, and incentives for supporting acceptance and successful deployment of the KM Program

Institutionalizing KM

As a general rule KM institutionalization begins with the adoption of practices that supports or aligns with the corporate strategy. KM Programs are composed of an array of diverse components that include: KM strategy (including goals, and objectives), employees, corporate culture, core business processes, and enabling technology.

In order to obtain and/or maintain KM alignment with corporate culture situations will occur where either the corporate cultures will need to be changed or augmented to meet changes occurring within and externally to the organization.

Through the course of KM institutionalization, there is an increasing legitimacy, and / or a general consensus that certain actions are desirable or appropriate within a socially constructed program.

Corporate Culture

Corporate culture is the workplace environment formulated from the interaction of all employees in the workplace universe. It is defined by all of the life experiences, strengths, weaknesses, education, upbringing, and so forth of the employee universe. While executives play a large role in defining organizational culture by their actions and leadership, all other employees contribute to the culture by their individual and group behaviors and actions. There is a predisposition by many planning a KM Program to take only a cursory look at the impact of KM on corporate culture.

A KM Program should be totally supportive of the corporate culture for promoting a positive knowledge-centric community. This includes:

  • Knowledge Harvesting
  • Knowledge Sharing
  • Continuous Learning
  • Developing & Enriching Knowledge Assets

People will often pursue a group trend and conform to the behaviors of others within the workplace. The KM Program needs to obtain a critical mass of users onto the system and others would follow.

In this regard, the company should have in place the policies and  tools to ensure that KM is correctly aligned with employee incentives so as to promote a proactive knowledge sharing culture. KM is all about cultural change and therefore should focus on behavioral changes directed towards creating a working environment where knowledge is seen as a common good and where employees are encouraged to contribute to knowledge activities as part of their role’s responsibilities. For this to succeed, employees will need to be empowered and fully participate in the implementation of the Program.

It is well-known that perhaps the greatest blockade to knowledge sharing is dysfunctional employee behavior and traditional organizational culture. Certainly KM practices depends on a high level of goodwill and trust. Knowledge sharing might be viewed as an unnatural act. If knowledge is so valuable why would anyone want to give it away?

Revisiting and updating the HR Strategy with a KM-centric focus will provide the necessary instruments to ensure positive employee behaviors in handling knowledge.  It is important to all employees to understand and appreciate what their organization is trying to do and where it is going.  After that, they are interested in personal achievements and responsibility. Employees often expect continuous learning and training. Above all, they demand respect, not so much for themselves but for their investment and use of their domain knowledge and experience.

Change Management

KM is deep-rooted in the need for a modification in an organization’s culture and a fundamental re-thinking of the way that it operates. The success of a KM generally depends on the adoption among the employee population of new attitudes and behaviors, an activity that requires commitment, dedication and, above all, patience by those charged with driving and supporting the KM project. It is no exaggeration to say that the majority of KM initiatives that fail do so because they ignore to take the change-management aspects of the discipline serious.

Change Management’s key goal is to enable improved productivity and profitability. The ability to manage that change effectively is a critical success factor to the ongoing success of a KM Program. It is a truism that companies that fail to address the change concerns and problems that underpin KM will find the implementation quickly becoming an added, unwanted activity that employees are more than happy to ignore than accept.

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