Types of Knowledge: Application to MDL
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Published: Wed, 13 Sep 2017
Nonaka and Takeuchi (1995) define explicit knowledge that can be captured and shared and tacit knowledge evolving from interaction from practice. The isolation of explicit knowledge is that information can be replicated without any interaction with the original source. However, knowledge is the continuous dialogue of both means of tacit and explicit. A practice based epistemology therefore assumes that knowledge is acquired through socially constructed practice or routines that workers participate in. It also emphasis that tacit and explicit knowledge are inseparable and are a product of a mutually constructed dimensions. The sector that MDL participates in, there is an emphasis that knowledge is not fragmented but rather specialised and specific to the organisation which will inevitably have features of both tacit and explicit knowledge.
Tacit knowledge is impossible or certainly hard to write down and, even if written down, does not express the knowledge adequately. Although engineers can articulate themselves explicitly, the knowledge expressed will always remain tacit. The knowledge of the workers, in the case of engineers, are acquired through formal education and furthermore sustained through a complex web of relationships among people, material artefacts and activities (Gherardi, 2001). The nature of knowledge within a culture is also a key factor, the small group of workers who have worked long term (30%) within the organisation have built up their knowledge over time and will only be partly able to explicitly articulate their knowledge. It is to be noted that different organisational culture has different way in which it formalises knowledge and that could determine the way information is articulated.
MDL is a knowledge intensive firm where employees form a major part of the workforce requiring a high level of creativity and problem-solving skills with a constant push for innovation in a competitive market. The pressure towards deadlines makes it hard for workers to contribute to tacit knowledge and subsequently, without workers willing to share or codify tacit knowledge there is a limited success of knowledge management incentives to work.Trusson (2014) found that from a workers perspective that significance of a time pressured environment is a determinant for what knowledge is shared. The majority of the development engineers typically work longer than their contracted thirty-seven hours the argument of work overload being a factor can hinder tacit knowledge sharing. In addition, Qureshi and Evans (2015) are of the view that time and work pressure can make it difficult for the individuals in the organisations to allocate time to engage in knowledge-sharing activities outside of their work related activities.
Therefore to understand why workers are not sharing knowledge should not be taken for granted. Consequently, there might a reduction in creativity in knowledge shared due to time pressure, as other senior engineers might view this approach as hoarding rather than intelligent contribution furthermore, lack of time can also constrain knowledge transfer (Leonard, 2014). The willingness to share knowledge plays a big role especially as MDL is operating within a competitive market. The main challenge is to motivate the workers from seeing the contribution not as “giving away” their expertise but rather facilitating them into seeing it as a mutual benefit for the organisation and a strong identification with the company. Team members may be unwilling to share knowledge and a perception that knowledge will be ”stolen” and used by potential competitors.
Since recruitment in MDL occurs annually, the concept of trust can define the degree of confidence of team members in one another this plays an important role in determining the sharing of knowledge. More specifically, trust was more closely related to sharing of tacit rather than explicit knowledge (Becerra et al. 2008). Lack of trust between individuals is likely to correlate to the willingness to share knowledge as it creates uncertainty and risk and additionally the concern that their contributed action will not be reciprocated. Furthermore, a lack of interpersonal trust can create uncertainty about knowledge sharing and can result in conflict within the organisation as study shows by Hsu & Chang (2012), who correlated that having similar vision with interpersonal trust within the organisation leading to higher level of knowledge sharing. MDL is represented as a culture that is relatively open and informal and asking for advice is not frowned upon. However, culture difference can impact the outcome of such knowledge sharing activities as no one organisational climate is similar. MDL has 90 employees in total operating in China and furthermore worldwide, Hofstede (1984) explanation on organisation’s culture state that no one culture is the same, which influences the way knowledge sharing process is conducted. In a collectivist society there is an emphasis that individual does not exist independently but in a network of relationships called “Guanxi”. Which is embedded within the culture and emphasis trust which plays an important part in knowledge sharing, as discussed earlier. Chinese organisation culture retain more hierarchy structure and traditions than western culture, therefore due to this social belief, junior are expected to follow the advice of their seniors, this unequal knowledge sharing can create an unequal distribution of power, which will be discussed below.
Power is defined as the ability of an agent to change or control the behaviour, attitudes and values of another agent (Rahim et al. 2001).The issue of power conflict is typically neglected in KM literature, although being interrelated (Hislop,2009) with knowledge sharing behaviours. Power is usually unequally distributed within organisations, which can create tension between workers and owners and subsequently the level of knowledge shared. A worker can have access to knowledge based power by simply possessing scarce resources and ideas. Therefore the legitimacy of power can influence the extent to which knowledge is perceived and consequently, sharing of knowledge, as power cannot be automatically deemed legitimate by workers. In relation to the engineers in MDL who work in significant fields dedicated to creativity and problem-solving skills, the transferof knowledge might be seen as inadequate due to the level of expertise and the perceived legitimacy from the workers. This can subsequently amplify tension between workers and their employing organisations, although the workers are seen as a competitive advantage, there is a high (although industry standard) level of staff turnover (10-15%) in MDL. Scarborough and Carter (2000) suggested that it’s problematic to assume that organisations represent a harmonious environment where people are willing to share their knowledge and that the unequal distribution of power can have an impact on knowledge sharing within the organisations. The use of reward power is visible in MDL, as team members who complete projects on time or early are paid via financial bonuses, this Taylorism or “carrot on a stick” approach can be used for knowledge sharing behaviour in forms of direct powers.
Employees are happier with superiors who possess expert knowledge and who are recognised for personally attractive attributes (Liao, 2008) in contrary to research evidence on manager’s reference and expert power on the climate of trust. The desirability of expert power is essential as employees look to managers for direction and guidance. Employees need to believe in the managers’ ability to set direction, give guidance and coordination to achieve good results. If there is a climate of trust demonstrated by managers within the organisation there is a willingness to share knowledge with team members. An organisation where power is only orientated towards reward can actually be detrimental, MDL’s workers are a source of competitive advantage, there is no evidence of overtime pay and the bonus is relatively modest for finishing the task on time. Sharing intensive and innovative knowledge is valuable within MDL, and usually requires some levels of trust.
The nature of knowledge sharing can also be a factor in the organisation’s culture, collectivist culture such as China (Hofstede, 1984), emphasise family and work groups above personal individual needs, therefore new employees within the company might hesitate to share knowledge as they are in a disadvantageous position and fear that they might lose face by contributing to an established work culture (Huang et al, 2008). Similarly, long-term employees might not share knowledge due to the fear of losing their experts status to the new comers. These two opposites can further manifest the likelihood of knowledge sharing within organisations as experts might seal themselves off into their own professional group in order to protect their domain of knowledge.
The community of practice (CoP) is defined as a group of people informally bound by shared experience and identity (Brown & Duguid, 2001) within an organisation. The high overlapping nature of the people within groups is highly dynamic and without the consideration of the difficulties and contradictions it entails could potentially lead to adverse effects within the community. Furthermore, with the acknowledgement of interpersonal trust, the cross-site difference can be more of a hindrance than an enhancement to the organisation. A CoP assumes a familiar territory, a sense of identity, engagement and at large accountability which translates into a form of competence within the organisation.
In relation to Chinese collectivist culture, discussed previously, characterised by “Guanxi” which acts in the interest of the group and not necessarily of individuals can affect the CoP initiatives. Although a collective sense of identity and value within a member of the community can create a bond that facilitates trust, there are potential negative consequences if such bonds are too strong. As the bond can be a basis for exclusion which consequently could lead to new communities being ignored and having their knowledge not taken into importance to the existing community. Furthermore, it was also found that if employees could maintain good relationships without sharing their precious knowledge they tended not to share (Huang et al, 2008) especially in a collectivist culture.
This inward looking community can create un-receptiveness within ideas generated outside the community (Brown & Duguid, 1998), in this circumstances there might be ignorance to the ideas and shared beliefs transmitted from the headquarters in the UK. Subsequently this could also lead to group think behaviours within geographical diverse locations leading to lower quality in creativity and innovation. In a collectivist culture, a community of practice could potentially be limited rather than extensive leading to a community that is characterised as unwilling to incorporate new and external knowledge. In contrast, an individualist country, such as the UK, the emphasis is on self rather than the interest of the group, community member may succumb to narrow-mind thinking, which can act as brakes to knowledge management initiatives and consequently the relationship of social identity within such groups. Therefore, national culture can shape knowledge sharing across sites.
The relationship between culture and knowledge reflects the value of the socialised group since, each site operates relatively autonomously with engineers never working across sites. This could lead to communication problems and furthermore the erosion of ideas across sites. People might therefore act opportunistic as the working environment does not facilitates their contribution to ideas. Therefore, the challenge identified for MDL is to increase shared identity beneficial to positive knowledge sharing and where people are not acting opportunistic or selfish. If a valuable employee leaves MDL, the new organisation will stand to gain an advantage and this will interfere with knowledge continuity within the existing organisation. Another source of conflict within cross-site is the ‘contradictory nature of collective social practice’ (Lave and Wenger, 1991). Which suggests that while members of a community work together collectively and cooperatively, they are also simultaneously, to some extent, competing with each other inside their organisations, for example for promotion opportunities.
When newcomers arrive at the company, there will be pressure to forge a new identity to participate in existing community of practice. In this case, the newcomers are not exactly progressive as they do not necessarily seek to change the practice more than established members. There is no investment for the newcomer as they are not part of a workplace history that’s already established. Therefore, to assume that old timer will facilities the new comers is and can be contradictory. The main challenge is to establish a link and connection that requires the existing members within MDL in helping to develop the knowledge of the newcomers who will, over time, take their place in the organisations. Therefore, the way in which these practices are conducted and continued depends on the characteristics and the organisational culture which is also affected by national culture.
There is an influence towards culture attributed in collectivistic societies, of not losing face or wanting to contribute to outgroups, as this process of sharing knowledge might give an impression of bragging. Therefore the old timers might not fully consider the new members as being part of the group, although in the same company, this contradiction of where modesty can cause cultural restriction and reluctance for active participation just so that there is no impression of bragging.
National forms of identity can affect the dynamics of the organisations, therefore KM initiatives need to be unique and cannot follow specific routes. Since the other sites are bound by culture distance this could reflect the amount of knowledge sharing that occurs. The emphasis should be focused on collaboration and interaction which leads to greater knowledge being shared. A culture that is open minded at the same time willing to collaborate could lead to knowledge management initiative being successful.
Competitive and goal orientated cultures, where the emphasis focuses on striving high and the focus is on winning and success shows hesitancy to share knowledge (Wiewiora, 2012). In MDL there is an emphasis on project completion with an addition monetary incentive to motivate employees. In a high context culture, such as China, it is believed that money and success are interrelated (Chiu, 2002) their uncertainty avoidance culture furthermore reflects the lack of trust between employees and managers. The differences in business practices across cultures can create tension and ambiguity as practices might be difficult to follow in a culture which reflects a different sets of values. An example would be of a culture in UK, where imagination and creativity are encouraged (Hofstede, 1984) and people continue to work in the organisations because of such concepts. This rewarding nature of work makes them feel more committed and connected to the values of the organisation. In essence, money may provide a vehicle for motivation to some extent but this incentive will ultimately fail unless the underlying cultural climate exists that rewards, celebrates, and values knowledge application.
A culture that emphasise individuality and acting in the interest of self will lead to knowledge hoarding behaviours (Long and Fahey, 2000). In comparison to a collectivist culture where group collaboration and beingÂ part of a team will lead to members more willing to contribute (Politis, 2003), as there are more efforts toward maintaining good relationships with people around them. These cultures highly value learning, where people are willing and free to explore, and knowledge creation is encouraged, people do not feel that sharing knowledge will cost them their jobs or the potential to lose face.
Another determinant for cross-site analysis is the impact of leadership style and its implication on organisational culture. Transformational leadership behaviours engender attitudes in subordinates leading to the adoption of new practices (Judge, 2004) therefore effective leadership can facilitate knowledge sharing, however, transformational leadership may not be the prime impetus within an organisations as the leader’s active involvement could just be an activity rather than direct inspiration. Therefore the challenge lies in creating an equal playing field where leader’s emphasis on meeting goals should be aligned with the capabilities of the creative workers in MDL. With senior managers having project teams of eight to ten staffs with a focus on day to day detail there must be a style of leadership that accommodates for the diversity of intensive knowledge workers. National culture perspective could assume that transformational leadership influence is more prominent in culture with high power distance such as China, where the relationship between subordinates and seniors are polarised. In contrast to culture with low power distance where managers rely on teams for their expertise. This conflict within leadership style could hinder KM initiative within the organisation.
MDL HQ in the UK must be the starting point for which KM initiatives are implemented. It is not only concerned with creating an appropriate work climate and attitudes but also workers commitment and facilitating of workers loyalty towards knowledge sharing behaviour. A good leader, therefore, should provide their beliefs and set values as to how the groups should function. The senior leaders in MDL should promote in creating an atmosphere for where knowledge sharing activities are promoted.
The trend and the shift in the power has changed the dynamic business organisations. For KM initiative to be effective the interests of the company and workers needs to be aligned, in a knowledge intensive firm transformational leaders can develop such working environment. Leaders also develop a culture based on knowledge sharing by highlighting the importance of working together and collaborating in a way that enhances the knowledge sharing capacity within organisations. Knowledge intensive ICT firms in the UK (Analoui, 2012) who engaged in diverse business functions found the effectiveness of transformational leaders for the long-term vision of the company where its primary goals are in the interest for the good of their organisation. Likewise, the workplace in MDL must see the workers as being decision makers within the organisation, allowing the workers to be actively participating and engaging in knowledge sharing activities.
Integrating such form of leadership is geared towards motivating and developing plans to achieve organisational goals. Knowledge intensive firms in France (Bacha, 2014) who implemented transformational leadership style into existing practice changed the way employee perceived their jobs which led to enhanced job performance inductive to knowledge sharing. Furthermore, in the case of Alvan Sabet the biggest producer of textiles in the Middle East, through strengthening tolerance and being open minded to errors incurred, transformational leaders were better able to facilitate knowledge sharing within organisations (Gelard, 2014).
A leader can also influence the perception of rewards, MDL current level of bonus pay is linked financially and distributed across project teams. Although financial incentive can encourage knowledge sharing it can also lead to knowledge hoarding behaviour, or at times, the unwillingness to share because the knowledge is perceived as being more superior. It is therefore recommended that leadership should not single out a team or an individual for financial incentive as this culture can lead to hoarding of knowledge. Chen (2011) identification of group based appraisal was found to support knowledge sharing. Group trust and a supportive climate for knowledge sharing were positively related to group knowledge sharing in 86 work groups in a high tech industry (Wu, 2016), by publicly praising groups, a group leader becomes a role model for employees to follow.
Group based reward acts in the same way as individual reward which is based on performance except the target is set of group within the company. A bonus pool where performance is calculated by senior managers on each project could be reward at six-month intervals or this could be deferred for teams not reaching targets by moving the reward at the end of the year, which could improve the long term view of project in relation to innovation capabilities. Group scheme such as this can foster teamwork and a sense of community amongst workers within the organisation.
Another difficulty identified was the lack of social identity and trust within MDL, a lack of identity can create difficulty in knowledge management initiatives. Employees who identify strongly within the organisation are more likely to share the knowledge as the interest and benefit retained are mutual. A good community of practice requires strong commitment from leaders to follow through the initiative and foster an organisational culture that see everyone as equal. MDL engineers are a pool of highly qualified professionals whose interest might be in protecting and sealing the domain of their knowledge. Mangers have the responsibility to cultivate groups of people, the emphasis of community of practice should be around giving independence while also managing through organisational support. Study on AlphaChemicals in Germany (Borzillo, 2011), found the effectiveness of having a “step in” and “step out” phase for cultivating such pratices. Rather than having a constant evlaution on projects, in MDL, the use of step in (every three months) where managers within sites define specific goals and employees discuss innovative startegies. Whereas with the step out phase, the independece of the group allows for radical innovation for development of smartphones.
Hemre (2005), identified groups at Ericsson appointing a community leader to meet on regular basis, focusing on non- work related aspect which created a strong sense of community. In MDL, the senior manager managing the project team could facilitates such events. These events can create a sense of community between different sites, not just for the sense of working but finding a common ground for which team can enhance the level of trust and openness to business practices. Newell (2007), identified that the use of social interaction between Indian firms and US firms through building personal relationships where an environment for effective knowledge transfer was established. This suggest that just because practices are in place does not mean that the level of trust increases, it’s about finding the mutual ground where community see themselves and innovative enables.
In line with this, is the implication of ICT, although information systems might be useful for younger generations, it also needs to facilitate older generations who might not be familiar with such systems. Therefore, mentoring can work both ways, for personal learning and providing encouragement to less experienced workers. Bryant (2005) found that the impact of mentoring in software firms, helped workers learn transferable skills. Furthermore, case study in Lebanese and Iranian bank (Karkoulian, 2008; Bidmeshgipour, 2012) showed that the use of informal mentoring was more effective. In MDL, informal mentoring with good mentors should be a way to bridge the gap in organisational learning and increasing social identities within diverse workgroups. Using informal means of mentoring can furthermore provide informal guidance within organisations such as explanation of unwritten rule within organisation which can also help build up group trust.
MDL is geographically diverse, therefore, the use of boundary spanner with ICT can create a synergy to develop a link between sites to foster a virtual community. A strong communication within team members can correlate to creativity and innovation. Olaisen (2016) study on Scandinavian banks found that teams consisting of diverse multicultural professions using ICT online interaction worked very well. In MDL, internet-based channels, such as video conferencing (Skype), could be used to create a global virtual community. An affordable alternative to face to face, this would create a sense of social identity within MDL furthermore facilitating knowledge sharing and foster a culture of cooperation.
In MDL the use of a broker (responsibility is taken by senior manager) can connect disconnected ideas by using job rotation across sites, therefore bridging the gap and crafting a common knowledge for mutual understanding. Through shared practices implementing job rotation can facilitate knowledge transfer and movement throughout the organisation, this is especially applicable when organisations possess technical skills. Food links in the field of sustainable food production and consumption, uses brokers as a means to shape group learning process and synthesise existing knowledge (Karner, 2011). Employees, therefore, engage throughout the company and engage in a broader content specific knowledge tasks. Enabling staff to work in different areas of the organisation through cross-functional job rotation can contribute to increased knowledge sharing and the likelihood of expert knowledge being shared throughout the organisation. MDL senior manager across the different geographical sites can act as a broker to sites in-between the face to face meeting conducted every six month with the aim to identify common themes, targets and future goals of similar interests across geographical sights.
In contrast to the resource-based approach, Foucault’s understanding of power is fundamentally relational (Foucault, 1972, 1977, 1978, 1980). Foucault, a historian, recognised that a key feature of the development of the modern state was a fundamental shift in the nature of power relations. Foucault suggests that in contemporary society power is no longer primarily “a privilege that one might possess” but rather operates within “a network of relations, constantly in tension, in activity” (Foucault, 1977, pp. 26-27).
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