There is a common saying that knowledge is power. Organizations harness knowledge, skills, and attitudes to produce goods and services. Knowledge management applies to all public, private, humanitarian, international charities, small or medium enterprises, especially in this knowledge economy. This article defines the term knowledge management, discusses the importance and approaches to knowledge management and the role of human resource practitioners in knowledge management.
Definition of terms
Knowledge Management in HRM Defines knowledge as the understanding people have concerning something or principles, ideas, ways, and actions to achieve a particular thing. For Skyrme, knowledge management is the explicit and systematic management of vital knowledge and its associated process of creating, gathering, organizing, diffusing, using, and exploiting it to pursue the organization’s objectives.
Albers in Ramachandran views knowledge management as the process of knowledge construction, gaining, integration, distribution, and putting knowledge into use to advance organizational goals. On the other hand, Levinson defines knowledge management as the practice through which institutions produce value from their intellectual and knowledge-based assets. What is coming out from the definitions is that knowledge management practice is a process comprising these four connected elements: the planning, leading, organizing, and controlling process information that is systematically gathered, shared, and used for the betterment of the organization.
Importance of knowledge management
Knowledge management builds learning organizations by making learning routine (Garvin). Organizations plan better and review their successes and failures with knowledge management. Garvin adds that one must first look behind to move ahead. After the 2013 Harmonised Elections operation, the Zimbabwe Republic Police had a post-mortem of the achievements they mastered and the challenges they faced. Some of the successes include the maintenance of peace and tranquillity throughout the country. The non-availability of material resources such as travelling and subsistence allowances, and transport were some of the challenges faced. This approach is an essential tool to shape future planning and performance.
Blake in Armstrong states that knowledge management is essential. It is used to capture an organization’s collective expertise and distribute it to wherever it can achieve the biggest payoff. For an organization to be competitive, it is because of the knowledge that is embedded in the employees. Those employees continue to introduce new ideas and undertake research to generate new knowledge to ensure that the organization does not die. This enables an organization to adapt to changes within the environment because it has officers who scan or assess what the environment wants to keep abreast of those changes. When the research is done, the knowledge acquired or the knowledge within the people who have it is then disseminated to other members to be helpful to the organization.
According to Torrington, knowledge management is essential for organizations to keep ahead of the competition. Companies need new ideas and new ways of doing things to adapt to the rate of change to be innovative. As their competitors do their things, they need to know how they are doing. Knowledge workers such as lawyers, finance, directors, research, and developmental staff need to be on their toes to learn new ideas coming into play. Knowledge management software allows people to share knowledge electronically. An organization uses its intranet system to capture and distribute individual employees’ ‘soft’ commands.
Knowledge management is the fuel that drives growth and expansion. When organizations can use their proper knowledge and the right time and place, they grow and address the challenges they face. If there are efficient knowledge workers such as those from research and development, expansion of the organization is inevitable. It stimulates cultural change and innovation (www. Forbes .com). Thus, if the flow of information is encouraged amongst individuals within a company, new ideas are discussed to help it move forward. Meetings such as development seminars, focused workshops, and conferences can help change the culture within an organization. The organization’s values are made known to the new and upcoming employees by the senior officers. It also opens up dialogue when the latest knowledge is conveyed to them. Knowledge management programs can also be of great assistance to human resource managers to embrace change and encourage ideas and insight.
Knowledge management increases the effectiveness of the decision-making process. Data gathered can be supplied to human resource specialists, thus, providing them with a wealth of information and processing of the data into knowledge that is usable and has the potential for achieving significant quality decisions. It also supports innovation and the free flow of ideas through the company. When employees are recognized because of their knowledge, they feel part of the organization. Revenue inflows are increased because workers are motivated, and costs are reduced. Labour turnover is reduced as employees create organizational citizen behaviour and spend many years within the company because they are rewarded.
Knowledge management helps organizations not to make the same mistake twice. The human resource department or any other department has the potential to create an effective strategy because of proper knowledge management, or previously processed information will then be used, rather than re-inventing the wheel. Team members within a group can benefit from the mistake made before them and learn from that mistake. No wonder people say experience is the best teacher.
Approaches to knowledge management
According to Hansen et al. (1999, in Armstrong, 2006), there are two approaches to knowledge management: codification strategy and the personalization strategy. What others like Armstrong (2012) call explicit and tacit knowledge in the codification strategy is carefully codified and stored in databases. This knowledge needs to be retrieved from where a code for its access is and should be ready for use by any individual within an organization. Specific individuals write documents within a company form part of the explicit knowledge codified. When a document is saved in a computer or hard copy filed in the secretary’s office, everyone within the organization can now access it. It can continue to be used whenever it is needed within the organization.
In the personalization strategy, it is the knowledge closely tied to the person who has developed it (Hansen 1999). This is a knowledge within a person’s head which they can use on their own. The knowledge is shared among individuals through person-to-person interactions. When an individual in a company is the only one who knows how to repair office computers, they have tacit knowledge because when they are not there, the machine would not be repaired.
The personalization strategy seems to be in contrast with the codification strategy in that in personalization strategy; knowledge is within the individual, making it difficult for others to use, whereas, in the codification strategy, the inside is now accessible as it has been put on open space for distribution as in the documents, databases, journals, company intranets and manuals within the organization. Tacit knowledge holders cannot necessarily be forced to share it with others.
Wilton (2011) has used different terms but with similar explanations; the cognitive and community view perspectives. Wilton (2011) stipulates that the codification strategy or cognitive perspective adopts the information processing view of an organization. The knowledge embedded within individuals or inputs is then identified, captured, and processed and can now be used in novel situations. The inside is then codified for it to be productive to the organization.
The community view or personalization strategy looks at the socially constructed knowledge embedded in formal and informal organization networks and structures. Through social networks within the organization, the command is reproduced and shared amongst individuals. The use of work teams, task forces, staff meetings, worker participation techniques help to tap from individuals this tacit knowledge, community, or personalization strategy knowledge. This knowledge is cascaded down to the employees within the organization, thereby allowing in advancing the organization’s objectives. All organizations that use the two approaches to knowledge management gain competitive advantage from their human capital and social capital embedded within their organizational social interactions and routines (Wilton in 2011).
The role of the Human Resource Practitioner in knowledge management
According to Armstrong, human resource practitioners have several roles in enhancing knowledge management in an organization. Culture development, promotion of a culture of commitment and trust, organization design and development, and employee resourcing are some of the critical roles human resource practitioners can play to facilitate knowledge management.
Development of culture
According to Schein, an open culture needs to be nursed for employees to contribute a sense of commitment and solidarity. There is a need to trust employees accordingly to the psychological contract. When employees are charged, they become creative in their respects, and they assist one another after finding trust from the organizational management. Those long- and well-established corporate cultures are difficult to change. The human resources practitioner should persuade management to develop organizational mission statements which aim at achieving the best competitive advantage. The culture should be for employees to be at the forefront of producing new products which hit the market before any other. They should encourage knowledge sharing to be put at the centre stage of everything they do. Creating and developing original culture is a process and not an event, so time is needed.
The organization’s purpose and values should be known by everyone within the organization (Armstrong, 2010). The shop floor cleaner should understand what the organization takes as its core values in ensuring success. Human resource practitioners should put strategies that increase involvement and ownership of the organization using effective communication systems amongst its people, through education, training, and development programs, sending employees’ children to school, among others instil commitment and trust in people and promote organizational citizen behaviour. Human resource specialists should encourage a climate of trust and team-building activities.
Organization design and development
Human resources can contribute to practical knowledge by advising on the design of process-based organizations (Armstrong, 2006). Task forces that promote networking and knowledge sharing are an essential part of the operation. Communities of practice should be identified and encouraged. These knowledge workers of shared purpose are given tasks to share experiences. Within the team, people are assigned roles, and it is within these roles that the best can be achieved.
Ways of attracting people and retaining workers are the mandate of the human resource practitioners (Mello, 2011). As the human resource practitioner is a specialist, from recruitment of employees, they know the best qualified and skilled persons who will exhibit behaviours encouraged and supported in knowledge sharing. The human resource practitioners should ensure knowledge-sharing culture is one of the critical concepts while attracting new people. It should be seen as crucial behaviour in an individual. For example, during the recruitment process, especially at the selection stage, employees should be given opportunities to present their vision of how they will go about achieving their goal associated with the position applied for. This was how the panel could detect the elements of suitable candidates with the potential to share knowledge.
Challenges in knowledge management
Workers cannot be assumed to be automatically willing to participate in knowledge management (Redman and Wilkinson, 2006). The nature of the employment relationship can hinder individual employees from participating fully in knowledge management initiatives. If the conditions of employment are not favourable to employees, they cannot share their knowledge with others when the interest of the management and employees are not compatible. This affects the importance of knowledge management on who owns the ability and how the knowledge is used in the organization.
When knowledge is yet to be or cannot be codified, it is potentially inaccessible (Wilton, 2011). Those in possession of knowledge cannot be forced to share it, so it would be difficult for management to access the inside even though they are aware that a particular individual is the only one to solve the problem bedevilling the organization. Management will have to use a win-lose solution to obtain the knowledge, thus, the biggest challenge.
Some companies do not know how to gather, nurture and share knowledge. This failure to maximize an employee’s full potential is a danger to the organization. When an employee is laid off and joins a competitor, that company can flourish and do better than their previous one.
Unwillingness to share knowledge in a post-merger environment because of fear of exploitation and contamination is another challenge (Redman and Wilkinson, 2006). Workers fear being exploited by those companies that they would have merged with. For a company to connect, there is one failing to perform, and merging would assist it in improving. Those with more knowledge than those with little knowledge fear being used. Instead of their understanding being of value when shared, employees in a merger were reluctant because they feared their ability to be devalued during the process.
The organizational climate and workers’ attitude to knowledge management initiatives is knowledge management challenges (Redman and Wilkinson, 2006). The participation of workers in knowledge management cannot be guaranteed because of the factors affecting the general climate within organizations within management control. Socio-cultural factors are some of the critical issues in shaping the attitudes of workers in knowledge management initiatives.
The diversity of human resource management practices can hinder knowledge management initiatives (Hislop, 2004). The variety of knowledge management strategies makes it impossible to develop one best way to allow a company to manage its knowledge. The range and type of practices in human resource management are required to depend on the approach to knowledge management used.
Knowledge management is the explicit and systematic management of vital knowledge and its associated process of creating, gathering, organizing, diffusing, using, and exploiting in pursuit of organizational objectives. Organizations should ensure that the employees are valued and motivated to exhibit their full potential and share their knowledge with others for the benefit of the organization. Organizations applying knowledge management principles have a competitive advantage over those that are not. Knowledge workers always want to perform to their maximum ability, but they feel isolated when they are starved of information and leave organizations. Human resource practitioners have several roles in enhancing knowledge management in an organization.