Posts Tagged ‘Knowledge Management’

WikiJob: Knowledge Sharing in Action

February 12, 2009

WikiJob, as I discussed in my last post, is a British community-based website dedicated to helping students and graduates to secure places on graduate and internship schemes, through wiki-pages about many of the largest organisation’s graduate schemes and the varying recruitment processes they use, and the use of a forum where people can receive help on any questions they might have.

With the site’s core audience being students and recent graduates (roughly aged 19-24) it is perfectly suited. This audience, is popularly called the Net Generation or Generation Y, and have grown up with computers and the Internet, with their comfort with technology comes a willingness to share their experiences with others, whether through status updates on Facebook, tweets on Twitter, or posts and comments on blogs.

This sharing culture is enabling the users of WikiJob to perform better in recruitment processes through having more knowledge of what will happen at each stage and a more accurate view of what an organisation is truly like. On both of these fronts, in the past graduates and students would have been reliant on what the organisation says (if you believe what they say you’d conclude they are all super-green, give the best training, and are fun places to work… is this really the case?), or if they are lucky what an acquaintance who works there says about it. When trying to choose who to apply for it is very difficult to make informed decisions, which is what probably leads people to just apply to anyone and everyone in a scatter-gun approach, harming their performance in the process. WikiJob users have often been through the process, and some are now working as graduates in many of these organisations with the knowledge to help give other users the knowledge to make better choices.

Interesting Info about WikiJob

Of the users who signed up in WikiJob’s first three months, over 90% are still active on the site (info courtesy of Ed at WikiJob). Which is quite an incredible statistic from my perspective, I’m sure most forums and websites on any subject matter have relatively short active membership periods, where users sign up to get a question answered and then dissolve into the ether; indeed on the average graduate job board the user life span is typically less than 2-3 weeks (info courtesy of Ed at WikiJob).

This quote nicely sums up what the founders of WikiJob have created:

But then.. we’re not just a job board. We’re a community, and once you join in and starting communicating with people it’s a nice place to come back to again and again – we hope!

WikiJob – A Knowledge Market?

Knowledge buyers or seekers are usually trying to resolve an issue whose complexity and uncertainty precludes an easy answer… Knowledge seekers are looking for insights, judgements and understanding. (p.457, Cross and Prusak, 2003)

WikiJob has >175,000 visits each month, of this only a proportion will be registered members. Indeed just this minute on the forums guests out-numbered logged-in members 4:1. So just like most markets, there are many more buyers or seekers of knowledge than suppliers.

Knowledge sellers are people in an organization with an internal market reputation for having substantial knowledge about a process or subject… Although virtually everyone is a knowledge buyer at one time or another, not everyone is necessarily a seller. Some people are skilled but unable to articulate their tacit knowledge. Others have knowledge that is too specialized, personal, pr limited to be of much value on the knowledge market.(p.458, Cross and Prusak, 2003)

Cross and Prusak (2003) say that knowledge sellers (I will call them ‘knowledge suppliers’) assign a value to their knowledge, but as WikiJob is free to everyone, in its case knowledge suppliers are acting altruistically in providing information to others for free. Indeed by providing insights and knowledge to someone going for the same graduate scheme as you may increase the competition of competent candidates out of the seller’s favour.

What benefit is derived from providing information?

Knowledge suppliers placing knowledge that they have acquired onto wiki and forum pages for everyone else to read and learn from, must bring some benefits for it to be worth their while. I believe there are three main reasons for this knowledge sharing to take place:

  • Supply their knowledge for others to benefit in an act of altruism, “for the good of the rest of this community”;
  • Believe that by supplying knowledge to others they will increase the chance of getting a good answer to their questions when they seek knowledge;
  • For the rewarding feeling when you hear that the knowledge they supplied has helped another student of graduate get a job offer.

So, what does Richard think about this?

WikiJob is a fantastic example of knowledge sharing revolving around a community of like-minded people and also of a knowledge market in action. Its success is based around the willingness of members to contribute knowledge to the community, for whatever reasons they may have. It is like having the world’s largest network of friends ready to answer your questions around applying for graduate jobs or internships, something which would have been nearly impossible without the Internet, and quite possibly this is the first generation of people who would have the willing to share their experiences on such a large scale. Long may it continue!

Reference:

Cross, R., & Prusak, L. (2003). The Political Economy of Knowledge Markets in Organizations. In M. Easterby-Smith, & M. A. Lyles (Eds.), The Blackwell Handbook of Organizational Learning and Knowledge Management (pp. 454-472). Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.)

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Knowledge Management Part 3: The Future…

February 2, 2009

This is the final part of a series of posts looking at Knowledge Management (KM), in these posts I will seek to explore what it is, whether it is worthwhile, and look at its future.

The Future of Knowledge Management:

Knowledge Management, as a subject area, grew rapidly during the 90s and early part of this century, with a lot of interest from companies looking to improve their performance and leveraging the knowledge and experience spread around the world in increasingly global organisations.

Many companies found out the hard way in the economic downturn of the early 90s and again after the dot-com crash that when there were redundancies, significant amounts of key organisation knowledge left with them, leading to knowledge gaps and costly mistakes. In the current downturn, many companies are likely to suffer the same problems.

I believe that Knowledge Management, is one way for organisations to reduce that risk. Whether through codification of knowledge and know-how onto process maps and procedures, or by encouraging all employees to share their knowledge and experience with others, I believe that Knowledge Management can perform a valuable role in preserving and enhancing organisational performance. But it must be understood by senior management that implementing a KM initiative is not going to do anything but waste money until the employees on the ground accept the idea and there is a cultural shift in the organisation to sharing knowledge across all areas.

From my reading on the subject I think KM practitioners and academics have begun to understand that rather than the technology or processes being the key to a knowledge management initiative’s success, it is the organisational culture and the willingness of its employees to share knowledge that determines its success or failure, the technology merely plays an enabling or facilitating role.

In this current economic crisis, companies should be utilising their greatest resource, their employees, for their combined knowledge and experience to keep the company going but also exploit their ideas (because you can be sure they are there somewhere) and launch truly innovative products, it is the organisations that can innovate successfully in this downturn which will perform best when the economy recovers.

One excellent example of a knowledge sharing community in action is a website for students applying for graduate jobs, www.wikijob.co.uk. It has a wiki-based section with publicly editable pages on different graduate recruiters, but the jewel in its crown is the forums where students post their experiences and help guide others through the many different recruitment processes. I will look at wikijob.co.uk further in another post in the future.

Knowledge Management Part 2: Is it worthwhile?

January 30, 2009

This is the second part of a series of posts looking at Knowledge Management (KM), in these posts I will seek to explore what it is, whether it is worthwhile, and look at its future.

Is Knowledge Management Worthwhile?

Knowledge Management remains quite a controversial subject, with some believing the main interest in Knowledge Management is from business consultants and IT providers selling their services and products (See Wilson, 2002). It may not be accepted by everyone, but academic literature has provided many illuminating case studies of successful Knowledge Management initiatives within major companies (Microsoft, Xerox, BP, Skandia and many others).

If you subscribe to Kaplan and Norton’s Balanced Scorecard viewpoint, where there is a cause and effect relationship in the drivers of performance, you could look at Knowledge Management as being part of the learning and growing organisation to leverage the creativity and knowledge of all of its employees (Balanced Scorecard Institute, 2002). Forming a basis for driving improved performance and generating greater shareholder value.

In order for knowledge management to be worthwhile, depends on full commitment from senior management in communicating, demonstrating and encouraging the organisation to embrace an organisational culture whereby knowledge and experience is shared freely with others. Whether that is through the master and apprentice approach, group discussions, face-to-face meetings, through the use of knowledge maps, or through the application of IT and the Internet. As one questionnaire respondent in my dissertation said

“[it] should be a way of life for everyone and not seen as a chore.”

So Knowledge Management does not rely on having the latest IT and communication tools, nor is it about having lots of explicit knowledge codified and stored in repositories, they help but, without a culture of sharing information, knowledge and experience across the organisation then it is very unlikely to succeed.

Knowledege Management Part 1: What is it?

January 28, 2009

This is the first part of a series of posts looking at Knowledge Management (KM), based on my research as part of my dissertation. In these posts I will seek to explore what it is, whether it is worthwhile, and look at its future.

What is Knowledge Management?:

Despite the vast amount of research into knowledge management, the academic literature and knowledge management community has failed to come up with an agreed upon definition (Perrott, 2007). In recent years, a lot of the literature on the subject has become increasingly fragmented, with practitioners going down their own distinct paths. One of the most succinct definitions that I have come accross is this from a KPMG report into KM.

“The systematic and organised attempt to use knowledge within an organisation to improve performance” KPMG (2000, p8).

Concept of KM:

Knowledge Management is “concerned with the creation, generation, codification, and transfer of information and ideas (Lehaney, Clarke, Coakes, & Jack, 2004, p. 13), hence it not only involves documenting and transferring knowledge but also encouraging the creation of new knowledge. Within the academic literature there have been many attempts to explain the concepts of KM, typically they centre around two distinct viewpoints. The western view, that the essential attribute of knowledge is ‘truthfulness’ and as such it can be expressed explicitly and shared in the form of data and manuals. The Asian (mainly Japanese) viewpoint is based around the concept of ‘Ba’, a shared context around time and space where knowledge is shared, created and utilised (Nonaka & Takeuchi, 1995).

Knowledge Management in Practice:

Knowledge Management has taken many different forms within organisations. One of the most popular forms of Knowledge Management is the creation of IT-based repositories, where practitioners try to identify, capture, process and store knowledge within an organisation. This IT approach assumes that knowledge sharing is enabled by technology and not by people or processes.

Another type of approach is to facilitate the transfer of knowledge, by helping people to locate and access the possessors of the experience or knowledge they seek. This approach has been used in many large multinationals including: Microsoft, HP and BP.

A third approach is the knowledge environment project which seeks to establish a culture/ environment that is conducive to knowledge creation and sharing. This can take the form of IT systems which provide a framework for connecting communities and their members together, for instance a network specifically for finance professionals to share their knowledge and experiences.

Why undertake KM?

Davenport and Prusak (2000, p. xix) claim that people have come to understand that “what an organization and its employees know is at the heart of how the organization functions.” In understanding this fact, companies have sought to manage and control knowledge. Often after corporate re-engineering (i.e. redundancies) knowledge workers were found to have taken some of the key organisational knowledge with them; leading to knowledge gaps and costly mistakes (Davenport & Prusak, 2000). Knowledge management can reduce that risk (Perrott, 2007).

Bibliography:

Davenport, T. H., & Prusak, L. (2000). Working Knowledge: how organisations manage what they know (Paperback ed.). Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

KPMG. (2000). Knowledge Management Research Report 2000. Retrieved February 7, 2008, from KnowledgeBoard: http://www.knowledgeboard.com/library/kmreportfinal.pdf

Lehaney, B., Clarke, S., Coakes, E., & Jack, G. (2004). Beyond Knowledge Management. London: Idea Group Publishing.

Nonaka, I., & Takeuchi, H. (1995). The Knowledge-Creating Company. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Perrott, B. E. (2007). A strategic risk approach to knowledge management [Electronic version]. Business Horizons , 50 (6), 523-533.