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Reading ‘Organizations’​, as a Mix of Different Knowledge

The trick to better managing knowledge lies in our ability to read organizations as a mix of different kinds of knowledge. Organizations use knowledge (skills and capabilities) to work on knowledge (knowledge artefacts) to create knowledge (knowledge embedded in products and services).

To read an organization in terms of knowledge, the most important requirement is to understand how knowledge is present in organizations. Unlike scientists who have powerful microscopes to study organisms, we as practitioners only have theories, beliefs, experience and perceptions to understand organizations. Hence to read organizations in terms of knowledge we should first appreciate and understand knowledge in organizations.

The knowledge present in different organizational functions: As per Porter’s value chain, organizations perform primary activities (Inbound Logistics, Operations, Outbound Logistics, Marketing and Sales, and Service) and secondary activities (Procurement, Human Resource Management, Technological Development and Infrastructure). Each of these activities can also be seen as a representation of a set of knowledge that can be used to perform specific tasks. For example ‘Marketing and Sales’ team will have employees with relevant knowledge on how to market products and services, good knowledge about relevant processes for marketing, knowledge about how to use various marketing tools. A marketing team which has in-depth knowledge about these key aspects will be in a much better position to market the products and services as compared to a team which does not have these.

Forms of knowledge: Another very powerful way of viewing knowledge is in terms of forms that knowledge can take. Knowledge can be classified as declarative/procedural/reasoning knowledge (know-what, know-how and know-why). An organization which has more of procedural knowledge and very little reasoning knowledge may be able to perform its current tasks very well but will find it difficult to innovate or find reasons behind why it is performing well or badly. A ‘Marketing and Sales’ team which is good in marketing the products, but has very little reasoning knowledge on how its marketing technique works, will find it difficult to market the products/services when there is a change in the consumer behaviour. Similarly, if an organization can easily conceptualize new products and services but does not have the know-how of how to convert that into products suffers from high reasoning knowledge and low procedural knowledge. A good mix of different forms of knowledge is important.

The above two ways of viewing knowledge are very powerful and can be used to plan KM interventions. However, we should be careful in ensuring all aspects of organizational functioning are captured while planning on KM interventions. For example, soft skills play a very important role in the success of any organization. Similarly ability to define goals, mapping goals to sub-group level, setting vision and mission also need specific types of knowledge.

What should be the role of the KM team?

Role of KM team should be to understand the goals of an organization and whether it has all the relevant knowledge to achieve those goals across the different functional areas. Relevant knowledge can be in the form of know-what, know-how and know-why. KM team should also realize that in many situations (especially in complex work), an employee or a team cannot have all the knowledge required. In those situations, they need to not only ensure proper documentation but strong informal networks for employees to source relevant, know-what, know-how and know-why.

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