Knowledge management is currently being hyped as the basis for competitiveness in the world of business, whereby knowledge instead of physical; assets will be the key to competitiveness (Gold, Malhorta & Segars, 2001). Today the attitudes towards knowledge have changed, whereby organizations are starting to appreciate the need to create manage and use knowledge like any other asset. For instance, entrepreneurs are no longer viewed as those who own capital but rather as people who own the knowledge to do things for a profit (Brazelton & Gorry, 2003). Introduction of information technology in organizational activities has increased the need to effectively capture and distribute knowledge and to maximize the use of knowledge as an asset (Sher & Lee, 2004). To understand the failure of knowledge management it is important to first examine the challenges of defining knowledge management. It is also vital that one finds out the enablers of the KM and the various strategies available (Watson, 2003).
Definition and its complexities
There are definitions that focus on the lifecycle of knowledge, functions or processes. These definitions describe the KM as complex organizational function, process or task and subdivide it in to sub functions, subtask and sub processes. Shuppel (1996) states that knowledge management encompasses all possible technology and human oriented interventions and measures that are used to optimize the generation, utilization and logistic of knowledge within an organization. There are Strategy- or management oriented definitions. These definitions are focused on the management side of KM and they describe the strategic relevance of knowledge management. One of such definition is explained as follows; KM is a systematic and holistic view of knowledge which involves conceptualizing the strategic role of knowledge, connecting it to the important management decisions and organization’s processes and improving the process for generating, sharing and application of knowledge (McAdam & Reid, 2000).
Lastly, there are technology-oriented definitions. These definitions represent management information system viewpoint because they are based on concepts of data and information management. Kleinhans (1989) defines knowledge management as the management of data, information and knowledge processing systems in the organization (Shin & Holden 2000). After observing the various definitions from different scholars it is important to come up with a definition that encompasses all these approaches (Maier, 2007).
Why Knowledge management fails in organizations
Fragmented Implementation Plan
Any plan developed for the implementation of KM program should be able to integrate the pool of knowledge from various departments and show the various stages that information created should go through to be ready for use. However, some organizations develop plans that lack the appropriate policy to unify the presentation and content of record of information. For instance, different departments might have different methods of recording and storing information. This makes it difficult for the employees from the various departments to coordinate the information gathered. As a result, the information will be of little use if only the collecting department can use it (Thomas, Kellog & Erickson, 2001).
Lack of enablers for Knowledge management activities
Enablers are supposed to facilitate the KM activities, therefore, if the management fails to put enough effort in providing for them the KM plan will automatically fail. The HR plan should be able to enhance knowledge sharing. For instance, measures should be put in place to reduce over reliance on the supervisors for advice. However, the HR management should ensure that it develops plans that enable employees to interact while working and share their experiences among themselves (Nonaka, 1994). The organization is supposed to promote a culture that promotes personal and organizational learning. However, some cultures work against creation and sharing of knowledge within the organization. For instance, an organization can have a reward system that works against sharing of knowledge. When employees are only rewarded for coming up with new ideas, they will be tempted to keep that information until they are rewarded before they share it out. As a result, some of the new ideas will be outdated by the time they are shared (Natterman, 2000).
Lack of leadership and management support
Management involvement in the implementation of the KM processes is a key determinant for the success of the project. In addition, a good start for a project is not a guarantee for its continuity and successful completion. This calls for the management to be actively involved in the whole process. However, managers have a volatile involvement, whereby they make a one-stop-appearance and are always not up dated on the progress of the implementation plan (Boyatiz, 1998). As the management is absent, employees will continue working towards unspecified direction. Therefore, the members will end up working outside the intended goal-plan. In addition, lack of management commitment leaves the employees with no role model to follow. They will therefore, get disillusioned on the way and stop pursuing the goals (Gold, Malhorta & Segars, 2001).
Lack of a clear KM strategy
Organizations can choose to follow technology driven KM strategy or human driven strategy. Each of these strategies has different activities that should accompany it to ensure it succeeds. For instance, technology driven strategy requires that the management invest in infrastructure and information systems (Swan & Newel, 2000). On the other hand, human driven strategy requires that a culture of care and trust be cultivated among individuals to promote the generation and sharing of information within the informal networks. However, the management can implement KM processes without defining the strategy they are inclined to. This will lead to a mix of strategy actions, whereby some activities will favor human driven strategy and some will favor technology driven strategy. The KM process will end up failing because there is lack of direction as which approach to take, considering that, both strategies cannot be supported by the same actions (Uit Beijerse, 1999).
Knowledge Management Enablers
This refers to those factors that promote effective knowledge management. They facilitate knowledge management activities, such as generating and codifying as well as sharing knowledge assets among members of the organization (Brown & Woodland, 1999). They are explained as below.
Organizational culture is important in promoting knowledge sharing norms and learning motivation among members of an organization. Knowledge management will be effective if the management is successful in integrating people, relationship and technology. The employees trust among them and on their management will determine the ability of the information and communication technology to relay knowledge across different departments in the organization. Therefore, an organization that encourages its employees generates knowledge and rewards them will be effective creating new knowledge (Hansen, Nohria & Tieney, 1999). Secondly, initiatives of the management are important in directing and evaluating knowledge management practices. The leadership ought to show commitment in promoting knowledge management practices, providing feedback avenues through which the subordinates can communicate the difficulties they find with the KM processes in place Therefore, the management can be instrumental in breaking the long-standing traditions and in encouraging employees to generate and share new thoughts for developing products and services (April, 2002).
Technology and information systems are also important in acquiring and dissemination of knowledge. Different information technology tools can be used depending on the knowledge creation processes. For instance, an organization can use e-meetings to encourage people to chat on the new ideas, which will help in identifying tacit knowledge. Secondly, the organization can make it easy for employees to access and retrieve explicit knowledge by using IT for document categorization. This shows that information and communication technology is so instrumental in promoting knowledge management in an organization (Sher & Lee, 2004).
Knowledge Management Strategies
This refers to strategic directions and its related processes. Generally, there are two main approaches of knowledge management strategies. The technology driven knowledge management strategy is characterized by the use of information systems, which include chat forums and knowledge directories. These information systems are used to maximize the codification and dissemination as well as connectivity and reusability of knowledge resources (Choi & Lee, 2001). Human driven knowledge management strategies are characterized with provision of channels, which may not be technology enabled. These channels are meant to foster people-to-people interactions, social contact networks as well as direct conversation. It is based on the assumption that knowledge is developed from social networks such as experience sharing or story telling (Bhatt, 2000).
Importance of knowledge management failure and gaps in research
Understanding knowledge management failure is very important because it provides the managers with better ideas of improving their managerial skills. It also creates immunity against some challenging situations. When challenges affect an organization and the management is able to overcome them the organization becomes stronger in the management of its activities and any future challenges are easily solved (Watson, 2003).
Many authors have focused on the internal causes of knowledge management failure and they have not been able to assess the external causes. For example, in the external environment there are many factors which affect the activities of an organization and these may cause failure and success on the strategies put in place by the management. Organizations encounter different challenges and it is not possible to generalize such challenges. Developing theories about organizational knowledge management failure is done by assessing the activities of sampled organizations and this does not help solve the problems being encountered in organizations not included in the sample. This creates biases when developing these theories (Bhatt, 2000).
It is clear that knowledge management is a very complex concept as shown by the inability to find an agreeable definition of what it entails. Different studies have come up with various definitions and approaches to support the validity of their definitions. In spite of this challenge, it is apparent that KM is a valuable function in any organization in the twenty-first century. However, most organizations have not realized the full benefits of the function, because their attempts to implement the program have failed. Some of the reasons for failure include fragmented implementation plan, lack of enablers for KM activities, Lack leadership and management support and lack of a clear strategy that the KM processes is inclined to.
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