Organizational Learning and Knowledge Management

Knowledge management has a great impact on the organization’s development and growth, profitability, and skills of workers. In most cases, a knowledge management system consists of technology and organizational infrastructure to support the development of new knowledge. Following James Madison, “Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives” (Lewis 2008). This quote was selected because it best reflects the nature of knowledge and management its impact on the organization, human relations, and knowledge creation process.

When an organization experiences severe competition or a rapidly changing environment, the need to change and thus deviate from existing social patterns of interaction is higher. Since reorientation contexts are characterized by the desire to ‘do things differently,’ increased communication technology use may result in substantial modifications of the organizational knowledge base. In these situations, communication technology has a greater chance of making a profound impact more quickly. Situations of reorientation essentially create a higher level of willingness to use communication technology for the purpose of learning.

Following Levinson (2008): ‘KM is the process through which organizations generate value from their intellectual and knowledge-based assets. Most often, generating value from such assets involves codifying what employees, partners, and customers know, and sharing that information among employees”. In these circumstances, knowledge workers appropriate the technology according to their needs and given organizational norms. Although top management may have a specific output in mind, the invested technology is adopted by organizational members who make the eventual decision regarding the use of the technology (KM Forum Archives 2008).

The underlying idea is that communication technology is created and changed by human action, yet it is also used by people to accomplish organizational aims. Knowledge workers may, for example, decide to use group support systems for the purpose of generating ideas, yet refuse to use these for overcoming conflicts (Choo 2008). Changes in the communication processes and structure gradually occur through learning. Continuous learning by knowledge workers leads to the questioning of established communication technology patterns of use and norms and thereby enables a change in the collective knowledge structure.

Such changes lead to a revision of knowledge use and thereby have an impact on institutionalized communication patterns and eventually on the organizational structure itself (Davenport 2008). Feedback loops exist between knowledge choice and organizational design in such a way that both influence each other, constantly changing the communication patterns and design dimensions of the organization (Wiig 1995)..

Knowledge management influences organizational learning and helps employees to share information and acquire new skills. The most obvious support for knowledge workers involves training programs designed to help them to understand their own preferences and styles and how these either help or interfere with their choices. This is important since learning preferences can influence the information that knowledge workers rely on for decision-making and may therefore have an impact on decision-making outcomes. According to Teece (2001), organizations learn when they increase their knowledge of action-outcome relationships by obtaining information that they recognize as being potentially useful.

Learning processes vary in their capacity to reduce uncertainty or ambiguity. Therefore, learning needs to be matched with the type of information-processing task in order to enable organizational learning. The proposed framework of matching learning processes to knowledge has implications for media users, top managers, and communication technology architects. Viewing knowledge management as an enabler of learning allows media users – knowledge workers – to make more informed decisions about the appropriate use for various learning tasks. Studying the type of learning task before selecting a medium ought to lead to an improvement in a knowledge worker’s performance by finding an appropriate match between medium and information task (Wiig 1995).

If top managers view knowledge as an enabler of learning, they have to develop the necessary vision to create an organizational context conducive to information-sharing through new communication technology. “Since knowledge can get stale fast, the content in a KM program should be constantly updated, amended, and deleted. What’s more, the relevance of knowledge at any given time changes, as do the skills of employees” (Levinson 2008).

Thus all parties need to contribute in order to create a learning organization. By increasing the media feature and perception awareness of knowledge workers and the user context awareness of information-system architects and link these with the vision of top management, the likelihood will increase that knowledge will be able to contribute to the various learning processes. By matching different learning processes with the media choices of knowledge workers, communication technology can be viewed as an enabler of learning. This involves discussing the circumstances of employing technology and presenting the advantages and disadvantages of learning processes.

Although learning has been found to have the potential to change organizational behavior by decreasing response time, speeding up information processing, and altering the time and place of work, there are unavoidable second-order effects that may constrain learning. These effects relate to the increased dependence on communication technology, the stimulation of unanticipated responses from competitors or customers, or the need to manage a more complex organization (Wilson 2008).

Workers have to go through a learning process before becoming proficient at using a channel for communication. A critical mass of users needs to have developed the knowledge base necessary to communicate richly before a particular channel can be used effectively within the organization. This knowledge base is likely to be a result of ‘communication training to support new users, and ongoing support as evolving technical capabilities and user knowledge bases expand the communication possibilities of existing channels’ (Wiig 1995, p. 54).

Through the ongoing exchange of information, where individuals seek support for their ideas and accept the ideas of others, cognitive perceptions are exchanged, leading to shared knowledge. Thus the perception of increased levels of mutual influence leads to increased levels of shared knowledge. The model makes specific reference to the existence of enabling and constraining forces and thereby acknowledges the existence of opposing forces. These determine the degree to which knowledge workers and the organizational context influence the outcome of learning. Enabling forces help in fulfilling the intentions of top management, while constraining forces work in the opposite direction.

In sum, knowledge management can be viewed as a development tool that is capable of capturing and making better use of both explicit and tacit knowledge. Yet, it has to be supported by the organizational infrastructure to be functional. Top managers have to develop the necessary vision to create an organizational context conducive to information-sharing through new patterns of learning. Ultimately, knowledge workers have to understand the idea of using knowledge for the purpose of learning, or the desired result cannot be accomplished. This understanding will help them to govern ignorance and become their own governors armed with the power of knowledge.

References

  1. Davenport, Thomas O. (1999). Human Capital: What It Is and Why People Invest It. San Francisco, Calif: Jossey-Bass.
  2. Lewis, J.J. Knowledge Quotes From Wisdom Quotes: Quotations to inspire and challenge. Web.
  3. Levinson, M. (2008). ABC: An Introduction to Knowledge Management (KM): The basic guide to Knowledge Management (KM). Web.
  4. KM Forum Archives — The Early Days: What is Knowledge Management (2008). Web.
  5. Teece, David J. (2001) Managing Intellectual Capital: Organizational, Strategic and Policy Dimensions. New York: Oxford University Press.
  6. Wiig, Karl M. (1995). Knowledge Management Methods: Practical Approaches to Managing Knowledge. Arlington, Tex.: Schema.
  7. Wilson, T.D. (2008). The nonsense of ‘knowledge management’. Web.