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Articles: Starting Out

A Short Course in Knowledge Management (page 3)
Author: Jerry Ash

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Understanding Knowledge
Auditing Knowledge
Restructuring for Knowledge
Changing the work culture
Building Knowledge Networks
Utilising Computer Technology
Getting Started

Restructuring for knowledge

One of the reasons our knowledge is hidden is a top-down and fragmented organizational structure. With few exceptions, associations will discover through a knowledge audit that they are poorly organized to do business in the Knowledge Age. Unless they've recently restructured with knowledge management in mind, their operations are likely patterned after the top-down hierarchies of an industrial past.

Knowledge-focused industries, such as IBM, Monsanto, Dow Chemical, and the management consultancies, have already begun a transition from the old "command and control" model to a decentralized, collaborative approach more conducive to innovation and knowledge-sharing. Associations will need to consider the same. Managing the flow of knowledge requires a much different strategy than managing the movement of parts on an assembly line.

The organizational structure of a knowledge-based association will abandon the linear organizational chart and replace it with a modular structure similar to that used by Monsanto's Life Sciences Company. Functions will replace departments in a cluster of interconnected modules that encourage interdisciplinary collaboration and the natural formation of knowledge networks. It will form an organization without walls that reaches across internal barriers and outward to embrace members, non-members, even perceived competitors.

Changing the work culture

If confusion isn't the best description of today's work culture, it will become so when knowledge workers hear that the new management strategy considers knowledge and knowledge workers as valuable assets and that knowledge management calls for everyone to break out of the old work patterns to initiate, innovate and share knowledge freely. Forgive them if they are suspicious.

For most of their professional lives, they have fit themselves comfortably into professional pigeon holes where they do their best to meet the performance standards of narrowly-defined job descriptions. They have left the "big picture" up to the "front office" and taken comfort in the fact that their jobs are secure as long as they do their assigned tasks and keep their noses out of other people's business. Further, workers have assumed that the more they know the more secure their jobs are. This culture discourages out-of-the-box thinking and abets knowledge hoarding.

Then their faith that individual knowledge would protect them was shattered during the era of business process reengineering. Cost accountants saw the most knowledgeable workers as an expense, a liability that could be eliminated through down-sizing. As a result, many organizations pushed large quantities of their intellectual assets out the door. Those who were left saw an ugly message - knowledge is a liability both to the employer and the employee. Worse, knowledge hoarding may have been replaced by a new culture of knowledge hiding!

Into this cultural confusion comes the knowledge movement. Although some associations may not quite fit this worst case profile, some of it will likely apply. History will have to be overcome.

Management consultancies have first-hand knowledge of that fact. Before they began selling knowledge management consulting, they tried to practice it. International networks of consultants were expected to communicate through newly-created computer networks by sharing their own problem-solving experiences with other consultants whose clients had similar problems. They didn't. That's when the cultural barrier became clear. Consultants, after all, are in the business of selling their own knowledge; so, why share it, even with one's own colleagues. And besides, they were far too busy working with their own clients to take time out to help other consultants help theirs.

Changing the culture will be the most difficult step in creating a knowledge-based association. It must begin by establishing (or re-establishing) an environment of trust and mutual benefit.

Building Knowledge Networks >>

Jerry Ash is Senior Counsellor, The Forbes Group and
Chief Executive, Association of Knowledgework
Article used with permission