Knowledge Management: A Literature Review

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Is technology the key critical factor, which determines the success or failure of a Knowledge Management (KM) implementation initiative? Are there other factors, which contribute to its success or failure? KM is concerned with sharing and managing information. People need to be seen as the primary key to its success, as they play a very crucial role. People hold substantial amounts of information and they need to be encouraged to share it. Technology is available to support knowledge sharing, but this does not mean that people will automatically give it up. This paper examines the human element of knowledge management


  • 2. About The Author Olivia Moran is a leading training specialist who specialises in E-Learning instructional design and is a certified Moodle expert. She has been working as a trainer and course developer for 3 years developing and delivery training courses for traditional classroom, blended learning and E-learning. Courses Olivia Moran Has Delivered: MOS ECDL Internet Marketing Social Media Google [Getting Irish Businesses Online] Web Design [FETAC Level 5] Adobe Dreamweaver Adobe Flash Moodle Specialties: Moodle [MCCC Moodle Certified Expert] E Learning Tools/ Technologies [Commercial & Open Source] Microsoft Office Specialist Web Design & Online Content Writer Adobe Dreamweaver, Flash & Photoshop__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Page: 2 2006 Olivia Moran [] The Human Element Of Knowledge Management
  • 3. A Literature Review THE HUMAN ELEMENT OF KNOWLEDGE MANAGEMENT Submitted for PGD/MSc in Computing and Information Systems Management [University of Ulster, October 2006] Abstract Is technology the key critical factor, which determines the success or failure of a Knowledge Management (KM) implementation initiative? Are there other factors, which contribute to its success or failure? KM is concerned with sharing and managing information. People need to be seen as the primary key to its success, as they play a very crucial role. People hold substantial amounts of information and they need to be encouraged to share it. Technology is available to support knowledge sharing, but this does not mean that people will automatically give it up.__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Page: 3 2006 Olivia Moran [] The Human Element Of Knowledge Management
  • 4. IntroductionAs Drucker (1995) had predicted, knowledge has become the key economic resource and thedominant source of competitive advantage for organisations today. Covin et al (1997) shares thisview by highlighting that top management in the US Fortune 500 firms view their knowledgeresource as critical for organisational success.Knowledge has always been regarded by organisations as an important contributing factor to theirsuccess. However, it is only in recent years that they have realised the importance of managing thisknowledge. Consequently, organisations have begun searching for better management practicesto achieve this. This has led to the concept of an initiative called Knowledge Management (KM).KM is defined as, any process or practice of creating, acquiring, capturing, sharing and usingknowledge, where it resides, to enhance learning and performance in organisations Scarbroughand Swan (1999).Traditionally the implementation of KM was regarded as a technical exercise. It is only in recentyears that practitioners have begun to focus their attention on the softer issues i.e. the humanelement of KM implementation. According to Scarbrough et al (1999) KM does not equaltechnology and that installing Information Technology does not equal implementing KM.It is slowly emerging among academics and researchers that while KM is concerned withInformation Technology, there are also many human elements that need to be addressed whenimplementing any change management initiative and according to Bresnahan et al (2002), KM isno exception to this.While agreement is emerging that KM may be people based and not technologically based, thereappears to be little research to date that supports this view. As a result, it has been decided thatthis review will focus on the human elements that need to be considered when implementing aKM initiative.Common key factors arising have been examined, along with their contributions to the success ofimplementation. To achieve this, various KM Models have been reviewed. The success factors andobstacles affecting the process are identified. The way in which these influence the process is alsoconsidered.Recommendations are made concerning future research and development. In order to limit thescope of this review, it will not focus on Information Technology but solely on the human aspectsof KM implementation.CultureIt has been highlighted by various researchers that the type of culture existing in an organisation isvital to the success of any KM initiative. According to Chase (1997) organisational culture must benurtured in order for knowledge management implementation success.Generally it is agreed among researchers such as Choi (2000) that the culture in an organisationmust be knowledge friendly in order for the implementation programme to be a success. For aKM initiative to be successful it must match the organisations current culture. KM can only thrivewhere organisational members feel free to openly communicate, share, experiment and learnwithout fear of criticism or punishment.__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Page: 4 2006 Olivia Moran [] The Human Element Of Knowledge Management
  • 5. From close examination of these statements it is recognised that culture, which is clearly shaped bypeople is the foundation to the successful implementation of KM. One of the critical key successfactors includes encouraging people to give up their information and to share it with others.Culture is critical to achieving this and in most cases an organisational culture shift is required. Thequestion remaining to be asked then is, how does an organisation succeed in achieving the type ofculture that they need in order to ensure the successful implementation of KM?The answer to this question is not always easy to find. Culture can be quite difficult to define andcannot be changed over night. It can be rooted and embedded so deeply in an organisation that itis often overlooked when implementing KM. This thought is backed up by Sherriton and Stern(1997) who highlight that managers often overlook culture when implementing such an initiativebecause it is so internal and embedded that it becomes automatic and unconscious.An international survey of the approaches adopted to KM by 500 companies revealed that 80% ofrespondents cited organisational culture as a major barrier to the successful implementation ofKM Skyrne & Amidon (1997). Clearly indicated from results of this research, it is of greatimportance to take culture into account when implementing KM. Clearly it is substantive to arguethat ignoring this issue is taking the first step on the road to failure.Although it is observed from the research at hand, that culture is a critical element forconsideration, the next step involves asking, how does an organisation achieve this knowledgefriendly culture and what human elements does it need to take into account in doing so?LeadershipSupport for KM must be evident at all levels in an organisation. This includes top managementright down to the bottom floor. If an initiative is supported and understood, then itsimplementation will run consequently smoother, speedier, more efficient and effective.One can hardly expect that employees will be enthusiastic about taking part in a system if topmanagement fail to show support and acknowledge its importance.In fact, poor leadership according to Choi (2000) has been identified as a threat to successfulimplementation of KM. The author is left with little doubt that management must endeavour toprovide a clear and adequate direction to all their employees if KM is going to be a success in anyorganisation.Employee InvolvementEmbarking on a KM initiative will undoubtedly lead to change. This change must be managed.People do not like uncertainty and that is exactly what implementing KM brings to the table. Evenwhen change is being made for a better future, it is often resisted. This hesitation is a naturalresponse.It is desirable that everyone expected to participate in the process has an opportunity to contributeto the formulation of KM and comprehend its importance. It has been highlighted that It is theknowledge workers themselves who tend to be the most appropriate people to decide how toinitiate, plan, organise and co-ordinate their major work tasks Newell et al (2002). However,some companies continue to purposely exclude their staff from giving input and simply force theprogram onto them and expect them to take part.__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Page: 5 2006 Olivia Moran [] The Human Element Of Knowledge Management
  • 6. Employee involvement is very important. This makes a mountain of sense as it is the employeesthemselves who hold the knowledge and in the majority of cases this knowledge is tacit e.g. gutinstance and ideas. It is often not specific. Management need to find a way of converting this intospecific knowledge and researchers regard employee involvement as a key factor to achieving this.CommunicationCommunication is another critical key to successful KM implementation. Staff will be less hostile ifthe implications of KM are clearly explained to them. Specific goals and objectives need to becommunicated. People who have been through difficult, painful and not very successful changeefforts often end up drawing angry conclusions. They become suspicious of the motives of thosepushing for transformation Kotter (1996). Taking this view, managers should be open andtruthful about the need to implement KM.Employees should also be made aware of how exactly this initiative is going to effect them, forexample, will employees have to take on new tasks and responsibilities or will they have toundergo training. Addressing the above is an essential element towards creating an open culturewithin an organisation.TrainingTraining is referred to as the planned acquisition of knowledge, skills and abilities required toperform effectively in a given role or job . . . its purpose is to improve specific skills or abilitiesthat will result in better work performances Gunningle et al (2000).Many studies have highlighted the importance of training employees with regard to KMimplementation success. Salleh & Goh (2002) back up this statement by insisting that if anorganisation wants to become a truly knowledge based organisation then it must start withquality training.Training is a very powerful tool when it comes to implementing KM. If employees are trained inthe skills and competencies needed to achieve the goals and objectives of the process, they aremore likely to be committed to it. Training is desirable for both a business and its employees.Greco (1999) claims, One of the key elements of successful KM is training to help employeesrecognise what knowledge is valuable and therefore promoting sharing of that information togain a competitive edge.ConclusionFor the successful implementation of any KM initiative, it is quite clear that managing the humanelement is one of the key factors in determining its success. Technology does appear to besecondary to the human element in implementing KM.From the various models and research viewed, the author observed that overall, no generalconsensus could be reached as to an exact and definitive list of critical key human factors, whichmust be addressed in order to ensure success. Never the less, some valuable key themes andcommon concepts do emerge.__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Page: 6 2006 Olivia Moran [] The Human Element Of Knowledge Management
  • 7. It was noted that while the relevance or inclusion of the success factors highlighted did vary quitea bit among academics, there appears to be a general theme surfacing throughout the researchconducted. It has been noted that it is necessary to take all the above mentioned factors intoaccount to progress movement towards a major shift in organisational culture. It is this culture thatappears to be the underlying theme and foundation to the successful implementation of KM. It isagreed that the ultimate success of knowledge management depends on the ability of anorganisation to create and build a supportive knowledge sharing environment to support itssystem in place.This review has strived to fulfil its objective of highlighting the importance of managing thehuman element of KM and determining the critical key factors leading to its success, however, asno definite list can be derived from the studies conducted it is quite hard to specify the exact keyingredients to achieving this culture. Although, it has to be recognised that the factor listedthroughout this review are critical in working toward the achievement of an appropriate culture tosupport the process and that managing the human element of KM is vital to ensuring its success.Future developmentFrom the authors point of view, it is hoped that additional research will take place in this area ofKM implementation.As no definite list could be produced following this review it is felt that it would be very beneficialto look more closely at each researcher and their list of critical success factors with regard to thehuman element of implementing KM. It would then be beneficial to compare all these lists wit...


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