Knowledge management begins with an understanding of what people are doing and why they are doing it. Thus, the idea of managing knowledge presents the question of whether an organization knows what its members are doing and whether there is the collective knowledge of why they do what they do (Collison & Parcell, 2004).
Unfortunately, much of the knowledge management discourse has insisted on defining knowledge and developing a thesis based on the accepted definition. A better approach is to consider the implications of managing knowledge and not managing it, with the core idea of knowledge being the “knowing” part.
Organization of knowledge
Therefore, talking about knowledge does not mean that professions that deal with the handling of explicit knowledge as a product are the only ones that need knowledge management. All organizations need knowledge management because they rely on “knowing” to make strategic choices. Since knowledge rests in people, its management is different from the management of other factors or production. Instead of providing rules of governance, knowledge managers provide avenues to increase the collective knowledge (Liao, Chang, Hu, & Yueh, 2012).
When applied to an organization, it will imply that knowledge managers will also be subjects of their work, as much as they seek to manage other employees’ knowledge. People create new knowledge when they interact with existing knowledge. They are both consumers and creators. The best way to ensure there are more creation and consumption is to improve sharing.
The essence of knowledge management in firms is to ensure that the management makes decisions based on what works at the bottom of the organization. It aims to limit occurrences whereby the management forces subordinate staff to work on strategies and operational routines that rely on obsolete reasons (Collison & Parcell, 2004).
Organizational environments change, both internally and externally. Therefore, the knowledge pool must be used to make decisions about the organization and those affecting the organization. Thus, instead of packaging information and then distributing it as knowledge, it is important to allow the packaged information to change to reflect the discussion around it. Resultantly, those who use the packaged information are also able to contribute to it or apply it selectively (Frappaolo, 2006).
Sharing of knowledge
Where technology aids knowledge management, there is a need to be careful to ensure it does not replace the human attributes that are necessary. Members of an organization should not be put in a position where they see the introduction of technology as a way of making their work easier and to provide information about what they do in a structured form to comply with what the management needs. In such as case, knowledge collection is taking place for subsequent use in informed decision-making, although “knowing” that sharing among employees is missing. Such arrangements make the management smarter but do not make an organization smarter than it presently is.
The appropriate approach is not to insist on either knowledge or its management as isolated subjects because that approach loses the need to ensure that the organization gains from the process of the understanding. An understanding that goes on to inform the emerging practice of knowledge management is the activity theory. The theory looks beyond the affairs of one actor or user. Instead, it focuses on actions from an entire scope of systems or work. This would include an entire team, group, institution, or organization. With the broad outlook, the theory examines environments, histories, cultures, roles, motivations, and other contextual information. While looking at the context, the activity of an actor remains the basic unit of analysis (Gorelick, Milton, & April, 2011).
While looking at an activity as a basic unit of the activity theory, it is also important to note the dynamic nature of the activity and its influence on other observable parameters. The objective is to ensure constant learning (Moritz, Waibel, Koch, Ott, & Henneke, 2010). This comes with the realization that it is difficult to transfer knowledge, as defined by what someone knows, from one person to another. Some elements can move, but the entire knowledge remains unique to a person, as it depends on individual experiences and other contextual circumstances.
Therefore, in managing knowledge, the focus is on the collective “know-how.” Instead of going with the first version of knowledge management, where social interaction is the emphasis of study, together with its complexity, or going with the second version where data or information is a requirement for making good decisions, creation and sharing should be the main points of concern (Faraj, 2011).
Concluding remarks on knowledge management
Organizations first look at what they are doing in terms of work practices and operations management and then learn why they are doing it. Learning will include the organization of people to create and share what they know most effectively. This would then inform decisions about the management of what the organization is doing. Organizing could take a collective approach, where people work together but handle different parts of assignments and then share what they do. However, they will also need to share knowledge about what they do in the process. The other way is to do things collaboratively, where people help each other and decide things together so that sharing happens simultaneously. Moreover, there is no need to have a separate system to move knowledge from one actor to another.
Collison, C., & Parcell, G. (2004). Learning to fly: Practical knowledge management from leading and learning organizations. Mankato, MN: Capstone Publishing.
Faraj, S. (2011). Knowledge collaboration in online communities. Organization Science, 22(5), 1224-1239.
Frappaolo, C. (2006). Knowledge management. Minkato, MN: Capstone Publishing.
Gorelick, C., Milton, N., & April, K. (2011). Performance through learning: Knowledge management in practice. Oxford, UK: Elsevier Butterworth-Heinemann.
Liao, S.-H., Chang, W.-J., Hu, D.-C., & Yueh, Y.-L. (2012). Relationships among organizatioinal culture, knowledge acquisition, organizational learning, and organizational innovation in Taiwan’s banking and insurance industries. The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 23(1), 52-70.
Moritz, E. F., Waibel, C., Koch, M., Ott, F., & Henneke, C. (2010). SkiBaserl — Knowledge management in high performance sports. Procedia Engineering, 2(2), 2581-2586.