Knowledge Management

“Information is not knowledge” – Albert Einstein

Knowledge management is topic that seems to be gaining more and more ground in recent years as we can tell by the amount of discussion it garners on social networking sites such as LinkedIn. There also seems to be an increase in careers in this area according to the article by Southon, Todd and Seneque. However, there does seem to be a level of confusion as to what knowledge management actually is and it can be mistaken for information management. I found the definition by Mayo in the case study the most helpful, “The management of the information, knowledge and experience available to an organisation – its creation, capture, storage, availability and utilisation – in order that organisational activities build on what is already known and extend it further.”  In fact I think the term “knowledge management” may be problematic and that “knowledge sharing” might be an easier concept for people to understand. Although knowledge management involves IT and information, it is not a one-off project in IT or about building a repository. Basically it is about taking the human assets of a company, the brains, skills and experience and turning them into systems, processes, culture and documented experience and allowing for employee communication. Information is a facet of knowledge.

Having worked in a company which used an intranet for communication and knowledge sharing I can see that companies like KPMG, HP, Microsoft and Ford would benefit from this idea. Intranets and databases and communication devices for companies to share information are invaluable. As we can see from some of the literature and the case study, if knowledge resides solely in a person’s head then it is very problematic if they leave a company or retire and the knowledge is lost. This includes ways of doing things, where things are, relationships with customers/clients. A organisational culture that encourages knowledge sharing and rewards it is the way forward as it allows for discussions, more effective communication, more effective processes and more effective time management. As we saw from the case study it is important that management use the resources and encourage others to do so and that helps in the adoption of a knowledge sharing culture.

We saw from the literature about the three organisations that knowledge management occurred in different ways but was equally important to each organisation. It was about making the companies less individual-based and more team focused. Importantly, this had to start at management level as the decision making levels are what affects knowledge. I also thought it was very interesting that in the “Working with Knowledge” article there was a case made for the information and knowledge professionals to participate as knowledge partners which meant that they shared or documented their processes of finding resources also. Finally, I thought that the distinctions in this article between tacit, explicit and cultural knowledge was very helpful. Tacit knowledge is probably the hardest to manage as it lives inside people. I know from experience there were things I did in my previous job that I could not fully explain to people but would instead have to allow them to watch what I was doing and copy. There was also ways of doing things that I developed to allow me to do my job quicker. It is this type of knowledge that you may not even be aware of that is probably the most essential to keep companies going and for this reason I think the growth of knowledge management is a huge step forward for most organisations in becoming more efficient and productive.

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Culture and Power

This week we were looking at culture and power in organisations. In the Managing and Organisations textbook there was a pretty good overview of both subjects and I enjoyed how they used well known examples to help make their points. As the book is very recent there are examples such as Barings and the IMF which are both interesting and relevant.

Starting with culture within organisations, the textbook states, “It takes longer for organisational members to change their organisations than it takes the organisation to change its members.” Holt says that we need to find a balance between a director that is too involved and one that is too far removed from staff and the daily workings of the organisations. “If the director does not drive change into the details of daily work, the supposed change is little more than a well-contrived argument.” There seems to be a shift in most organisations towards engagement and communication with staff. For the most part this is a huge cultural change in most large companies that consisted of top-down management structures. As one of the employees in one of the case-studies stated, management style was “tell and do.” The management or directors told and the staff did. We can see now that this type of structure may create problems in that perhaps the management don’t quite understand how the staff operate, having never worked in similar roles to lower level staff or as we saw in Barings, staff not asking questions led to a complete breakdown. However, that is not to say that there is no need for bureaucratic regulation, there are of course different levels within companies and different levels of responsibility and accountability. Perhaps what we are looking at is more of a soft dominion where employees feel more valued and equal.

In the case studies we saw three different aspects of cultural influence. Jaguar had to deal with cultural change due to different working practices associated with the Jaguar brand that weren’t present in manufacture of Ford cars. The organisation became more dynamic and responsibility and innovation was handed over to the lower level employees. Employees were asked to take ownership and were consulted about changes in manufacturing processes to help speed them up and cut down on waste. Obviously this change was well handling by the management as we could see in the textbook that sometimes employees can resist change even if it is for their benefit if they feel separate or subordinate to new management and new procedures. As the case study points out, you cannot force a new culture on an unreceptive workforce. Motivations and workshops enabled the smooth transition for all employees.

In contrast to this study, the STAR study showed how a forced cultural change might be unsuccessful. Although managers in this study responded that STARWOW was working, after deeper conversation and observation it was seen that many might have been extolling the virtues of the programme to toe the party line. This was a difficult study as the lower level workforce in a grocery store setting may be students, part-timers etc that have no interest in climbing the ladder in the organisation. There are issues surrounding accountability and motivation. Many of these workers may want to come to work, be told what to do and go home again without having to think about it. The managers were given a difficult task in that they had to train and communicate with these staff-members who may not really care about the process. Also, there was the issue that the managers at store level were asked to enforce STARWOW but there didn’t seem to be a similar plan for higher level staff to communicate with these managers; in fact, they felt more subordinate and lacking in identity and no longer secure in their jobs. They were not given relevant resources or time. Obviously in this case, practising what you preach from the point of view of higher level management may have led to better and further reaching results.

Google on the other hand was a very interesting study as it was dealing with managing change, in this case growth, with keeping the culture of the smaller organisation intact. In Google there is a huge surge towards innovation and empowerment with many incentives and bonuses. However, with growth comes the need for more employees in other countries; decision making and double-jobbing can be problems. Google has implemented programmes and processes to allow for these changes without damaging the culture.

There is clearly a very fine line that management are walking in all of these situations. From my own experience in retail I can relate to the False Promises/STAR case study. I think that employee empowerment and innovation works for companies like Google because of the nature of their workforce but realistically in lower level jobs where people might not see themselves as having a “career” as such, this may not work. Obviously this is a huge generalisation but I think these case studies kind of illustrate that this may be the case. In regard to Jaguar I think that the reason employees reacted positively is that the management allowed them to help in the decision-making processes that affected them.

Just on a side note, I found the chapter on Power in the textbook very interesting. I studied psychology as an undergrad and I am fascinated by the concept of obedience. This book gives very good examples of obedience acting in a very negative way. We all believe that resistance to authority is in some way wrong but absolute obedience can be even worse as in the case of Nazi Germany and the experiments with electric shocks. As we can see from this chapter the trend towards employee participation is a positive one as polyphony prevents a 1984 scenario but as in everything context is always a huge and ever present factor.    

Strategy!

This week the focus is on Strategic Planning which I believe is of huge relevance at this particular time. During this time of austerity with more and more budgetary constraints how do we reconcile the Library’s goals and vision in regard to user experience and the high levels of new technology and innovation with the fact that there is going to be less money. In regard to even building a strategic plan, are we wasting time and resources to create a document that will not be relevant for more than a couple of years? Is a strategic plan necessary?

I believe that a strategic plan is necessary and is important to set out the goals and visions of the library. I agree with Dr. Steve Matthews thoughts on his blog the 21st Century Library Blog that if done correctly the plan will prevent a waste of resources. However, time is also a resource and spending arduous amounts of time compiling a plan that will sit on a shelf to gather dust or in the case of the article by Mott Linn, spending time to take part in a process that did not even result in a strategic plan is extremely wasteful. Stephan cites Brown and Gonzalez as saying, “if libraries and other organisations create realistic plans in a realistic amount of time, plans can be very relevant.” I would wholeheartedly agree with this statement. I believe that although there are significant changes that need to be addressed over time we can look at the Brown University Strategic Plan Update as a good model of building on previous plans and making changes when necessary. Dr. Steve Matthews provides us with a model of a strategic plan and I find that this would be very helpful, whether the plan is intended to be general or more complex.

Other issues that occur in relation to strategic planning are implementation and reacting to change. Obviously, there is no point to having a plan unless it is meant to be implemented. However, as Linn mentions, “there is need for balance between the need for having a strategy and being hamstrung by a detailed strategic plan.” There has to be room for movement and this is where I believe strategic management and strategic thinking become critical. As Dr. Matthews points out, sometimes library boards and directors can be so far removed from change and so focused on original missions that they do not realise that these missions no longer suit the market and the context. There has to a level of strategic thinking that fills the gaps that strategic planning may not have envisaged. There are inevitably going to be changes in human behaviour and interest and also changes in technology that must be allowed consideration. As we see in Fairholm’s article strategic planning is specific where thinking is broad. He shows that thinking involves “understanding of human motivations, formal and informal organizational values, culture, and inter- and intra-organisational relationships……..It focuses on relationships, leverage points and outcome measures of success rather than concrete milestones, step by step procedures and statistical reports.” Thinking takes into account the values and purpose people need to feel and not just the set goals. He claims, “strategic planning works on the skin and bones: strategic thinking works on the organisational soul.”

Strategic thinking sees and understands that things change. This is absolutely necessary for a company, or library, or any other organisation to move forward. Dr. Matthews uses the metaphor that a strategic plan is like a road map to your vision of where you want your library to be. I would argue that without strategic thinking this road map is like an old, out of date sat-nav that doesn’t recognise there is a new motorway to your destination. Plans are excellent tools when used correctly and in context depending on the need of your library. However, there has to be scope to change, plans cannot be too focused and rigid, they must be subject to experimentation and change to allow a library to be successful.

Focus Study?

So I think I would like my focus study to look at user experience/customer service management in an academic setting. I think academic libraries have to be very aware of their patrons needs but they also need to teach people how to look for the information themselves. I think this study would incorporate papers about user experience, about management of academic libraries and about the need for having teams involved with actively teaching students, inductions, seminars etc and how these extra focuses affect the running of the library.

Pensieve?

Unfortunately, as I am new to the class I have only started my reflective writing and therefore have no writing to reflect upon. However, I think the idea is a great one and it allows for thoughts and opinions to flow and also for healthy discussion. Encouraging us to interact about our subject matter in this way creates deeper understanding and exposes us to different opinions and ideas and helps with our own critical thinking. It can also help us focus our own thoughts about certain theories or ideas or allow us to put things into context by thinking about them in relation to our own lives. I find it strange to be using phrases such as “I think” or “I feel” in what is essentially a college assignment as we are taught to write essays in a very different way, based on facts and research. However, I think it is good to discuss how you feel about an article or a book; you will remember it better and you will understand it better if it creates thought. In the Exeter Reflective Writing Guide for Students they use a passage from Harry Potter where Dumbledore puts his thoughts in the Pensieve to clear his mind. I’m slightly biased due to my love of Harry Potter but, in fact, this is a very good explanation for the way I feel about writing things down. By reflection and writing we can organise our thoughts and open our minds for more information and new ideas.

I am looking forward to writing more and developing both my writing and my critical thinking. I also look forward to reading other blogs and seeing if people have expressed differing opinions and how these opinions will affect me and my understanding of different aspects of the subject.

Group Work and Teams.

I have just finished the reading for group and team work which included the Moon article, the Vandeveer article and the Katzenbach and Douglas Smith article. I enjoyed this reading as I felt it was relevant to the amount of group work we are required to do for the various modules on the course. I felt that the Katzenbach and Douglas Smith article “Discipline of Teams” resonated with me due to my previous work experience as a retail sales assistant. I think that distinguishing between a group and a team is an important point to make. The word “team” is thrown around a lot in the area of retail sales with managers referring to the entire staff as a “team.” However, it is my experience, that there is a huge disconnect between management and staff and it would be far more productive for management to emphasize the difference between different teams, i.e. the customer service team, the product team, the management team etc.  Trying to create a team dynamic when these different groups of people do not have the same roles and goals is counter-productive as without the same goals there is no feeling of “teamwork” and people become disillusioned. Staff in my previous company were given roles in different areas but management did not separate the teams and set out goals for giving each team purpose. Generalised goals, e.g. good customer service were spoken about; however, in such a large group of people there was no specific targets for people in similar roles and lower level staff were not made aware of progress or lack thereof which led to lack of productivity and lack of accountability. I also found that I agreed with the article in that I believe groups are created and teams develop over time as common commitment and mutual accountability is something which has to grow within a group.

As Vandeveer points out, “A simple and irrefutable fact is that all of us working together can do more than any one of us working alone.” Working as part of a group at some point in our lives is probably inevitable. I found the stages set out by the Vandeveer article to be very helpful, in that I feel it is important that groups do go through each stage. Sometimes when it comes to group-work there are time constraints and natural leaders take over the group and stages such as “storming” do not happen. I appreciate every stage outlined has a place in group work and project development. If, for example, the “storming” does not happen, it could be that only one or two of the group put ideas forward and this can have a negative effect whereby good ideas by other group members may not be heard and members of the group become alienated and there is no cohesion, trust or mutual accountability. I think this is where the Moon article about assertiveness plays a role. I propose that this article or even a short seminar on this area should be made available to students starting their undergraduate degrees. Unfortunately, in Ireland, we have a tendency to refrain from speaking our minds if we feel it is not polite to do so and this can lead to us being overshadowed in a group situation or in conversation with someone we think is an authority over us. I think it is important for students to realise that they have the right to have their voice heard and that there are ways they can work on being assertive without being aggressive. In my own situation, I came from a very small school with a class of only 20 in Leaving Certificate and started as an undergraduate in Cork where there was 800 people in my English class. This situation was very intimidating and I wish someone had encouraged me to be more open with my opinions and to ask for help if I needed it. I have learned to be more assertive over time but some people become more shy and reluctant to express themselves and this is a pity as they may have something very interesting to say.

Finally, as regards having to work as part of a group this year, of course I have reservations and worries. I find it difficult that we do not choose our own groups and that they are assigned to us and I, like most of you, worry that I will find myself in a group where people will not pull their weight or someone will try to take control. However, from reading these pieces, I have realised that there are things that I need to work on to make myself a better team-player. Sometimes when someone in a group doesn’t understand something we might tend towards telling them not to worry about that section, when really we should try to help them and give them the time to understand because they are part of the group. Doing the VARK test made me realise that people learn in different ways. To learn that I am multimodal makes sense to me but I now know that other people learn in very different ways and there is no right or wrong way to learn and because of this I believe tolerance for different ways of doing and understanding things is something I can work on in my dealings with my various groups. I also hope to encourage quieter members of the group to speak as I know from experience how hard it can be to feel intimidated and unable to express yourself.