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Role of Leadership and the Chief Knowledge Officer (CKO)

Info: 2355 words (9 pages) Essay
Published: 7th Apr 2021 in Leadership

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The Role of Leadership and the CKO in the Knowledge Culture of a Lean Enterprise

In recent years knowledge within an organisation has become recognised as an invaluable resource, in fact the organisation itself has become to be viewed as a vessel for knowledge. The ability to access and distribute this knowledge is now the defining factor of the firm’s competitive advantage. Peter Drucker1 in his seminal book tells us that Land, Labour and Capital, the established aspects of the production process have fundamentally been replaced by knowledge. Knowledge according to Merat and Bo2 has become the most important strategic asset of the organisation. Today’s fast paced and responsive organisation demands having instant and relevant knowledge at their fingertips, this is critical to success in today’s information society. They must be able to create and evolve their knowledge assets in order to leverage the most value possible for their customers 3.

The author will examine the impact leaders and CKO’s have in developing and maintaining a culture in which knowledge can be viewed as an asset and developed within a Lean organisation.

What is Knowledge Management and how does it apply to the lean organisation.

Knowledge management is described as the selection, organisation, sharing, and use of that knowledge to continuously improve organisational processes and decision making 4. The ability to understand and extract this “potential value” from the organisations repository of knowledge is key to success and sustainable competitiveness 5.

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Knowledge contained within the organisation can be split into two categories, implicit knowledge and tacit knowledge. Implicit knowledge can be described as knowledge that is quantifiable and extractable and can be written down or recorded. Tacit knowledge on the other hand is knowledge that cannot be easily extracted and sometimes impossible to extract, in many cases the holder of this type of knowledge may not know they even possess it. An example that the author would like to use of this type of knowledge is a glass blower like what can be found at Waterford Crystal. The blower starts out their training by studying about glass composition, techniques and the various tools used and so forth, this is explicit knowledge, this form of knowledge can take the form of books, presentations and knowledge bases, if it can be documented and quantified it is explicit knowledge. It takes years of experience and training to become a master blower and develop all the nuances and skills needed to achieve such a high quality of workmanship. This type of knowledge cannot be written down or quantified, and can only be gained through experience. This valuable tacit knowledge cannot be separated from the person and as a result the resource of the knowledge based organisation is the person’s mind in which the knowledge resides 2. Another well-known example is facial recognition, any person can recognise a person by their facial features, but if asked how they do so, they are unable to explain how 6.

It is because the person in whom the knowledge resides is the key resource to the firm, it becomes clear how crucial leadership is to successfully develop and sustain a culture of knowledge sharing, creation and learning 3, and “to ensure that individual learning becomes organisational learning” 7.

In a Lean organisation the importance of effective knowledge management cannot be overstated, knowledge is essential to lean systems and culture. Knowledge is the asset that enables the Lean philosophy and its tools. As knowledge is the prerequisite for “purposeful action” 8. Lean thinking fosters a knowledge culture by changing the mind-set of the individual and thus the organisation. Lean culture can help to overcome one of the major challenges of knowledge management which is to get individuals together and share their knowledge, it overcomes the silo mentality were individuals hold on to knowledge and see it as a personal commodity 9.

10Gupta tells us that.

Knowledge generation and knowledge sharing are the most important and key issues of knowledge management.”

With the adoption of a lean mind-set, problems are viewed as precious bits of information and opportunities for improvement and thus knowledge creation. Where a traditional view would be that problems were obstacles to be worked around, covered up and forgotten 11 . Once this knowledge is created it is shared through tools such standard work and continuous improvement, enabled by employee empowerment, innovation and effective leadership.


At this point the author must stress the difference between a manager and a leader, it is evident that many use the term interchangeably. 12 Ackoff differentiates the two very well. Managers direct workers to an end by the means the manager chooses while a leader guides people to an objective through means the worker chooses. This difference is substantial in terms of developing a culture of knowledge. The manager put in place processes procedures and tools for workers to follow. Knowledge management is more of a people process 9, because of this leaders play an extremely important role of creating and sustaining an ethos of learning within the organisation 3. According to Stankosky13 in knowledge management there are four basic principles, leadership, organisation, technology and learning, of these leadership is considered to be most important. Humans by nature are emotional, and these emotions and their behaviours are connected with friendships, loyalty, group dynamics as well as overall culture of the organisation. To harness the knowledge potential is the ultimate goal of leaders. Hitt14 tells us that to achieve this leaders must

  • Empower all people in the organisation
  • Develop a shared vision
  • Providing resources
  • Delegate
  • Celebrating success
  • “Being a earning architect”

Leaders must create a culture that acknowledges the importance of creation and sharing of knowledge. They must also establish and sustain the infrastructure and support systems in order to enable and empower workers15. The goal is to get the holders of this tacit and explicit knowledge together and give them the tools and opportunity to share their skills and knowledge. Leaders guide this activity, nurture it and do it themselves. This consistent and sustained effort by leaders will pay off by creating a knowledge culture. Knowledge will no longer be considered a resource for the individual who sees it as a personal advantage but rather as an organisational resource instead. It is the quality of the leadership that will ultimately decide if the knowledge management culture will reach its full potential 9.

The Chief Knowledge Officer

The Chief Knowledge Officer needs to be the embodiment of leadership within a knowledge based organisation. The CKO is a new and relativity unmapped role within organisations that are looking to tap into their knowledge assets. Their main role is to turn the potential knowledge value within the organisation into profit by magnifying the firm’s knowledge assets 16. There are two main ways they accomplish this objective. First is the technical area where they create a sustainable knowledge infrastructure. Earl and Scott17 tell us that CKOs are “designers” of knowledge systems of all types. These systems serve as the foundation for the organisations explicit knowledge. Such systems include knowledge bases and Intranets. Also emerging is the potential benefits of developing systems that share knowledge with supplier and customers, such as extranets. They then work with their teams to design and shape these systems and then recruit the talent of the needed partners to carry out the work. This area requires the CKO to have a knowledge of the technical aspects required for these systems and also be able to communicate effectively to their partners what is needed 17.

The second area that Chief Knowledge Officers is to create an organisation that has its foundation built on learning and knowledge 18. This area is the softer side of the equation and why CKO’s must be effective leaders. They must be able to create and sustain the exchange of knowledge between different groups and break down the barriers of silo thinking, they do this by bringing together these different individuals and teams in formal and non-formal events. By facilitating dialog between them. This dialog breaks down the knowledge barriers. Kerfoot18 tells us that a CKO must be able to bring about situations that enable people to learn as fast as possible then to turn that knowledge into competitive advantage for the firm.

Above all the CKO must be a “visionary”, they need see knowledge through a strategic lens 17, 18, while at the same time they are able to develop relationships. These relationships according to Lang19 are essential for the creation, sharing and applications of knowledge. They inspire consistent knowledge contributions and participation through positive relationships, recognition of the individual and providing opportunities for them to grow both personally and professionally. This continual support is a key to make sure that knowledge management is forefront in the minds of all and that backward slippage does not occur 20.

Much like the lean journey many organisations undertake, knowledge management should not be viewed as a destination but rather be viewed as a journey 21. Knowledge management shares many similarities with lean thinking, in fact the author feels that the creation of new knowledge, sharing of that knowledge is integral part of the philosophy of lean and its tools.

Leader’s not just managers are instrumental in the creation of a culture that allows lean and knowledge based organisations flourish and grow. These 22 “learning organisations” is where new ways of thinking are embraced and were people are constantly furthering their knowledge and developed, this enable the firm to leverage the individual’s tacit knowledge, for the good of the whole organisation.


1.P. Drucker, Post-capitalist Society. (HarperBusiness. , New York., 1993).

2.A. Merat and D. Bo “Strategic analysis of knowledge firms: the links between knowledge management and leadership”, Journal of Knowledge Management, Vol. 17, No. 1 (2013), pp. 3-15.

3.C. B. Crawford “Effects of transformational leadership and organizational position on knowledge management”, Journal of Knowledge Management, Vol. 9, No. 6 (2005), pp. 6-16.

4.A. Satyadas, U. Harigopal and N. P. Cassaigne “Knowledge management tutorial: an editorial overview”, Systems, Man, and Cybernetics, Part C: Applications and Reviews, IEEE Transactions on, Vol. 31, No. 4 (2001), pp. 429-437.

5.D. Zhang and J. L. Zhao “Knowledge Management in Organizations”, Journal of Database Management, Vol. 17, No. 1 (2006), pp. 8-I,II,III,IV,V,VI,VII,.

6.A. Lam “Tacit Knowledge, Organizational Learning and Societal Institutions: An Integrated Framework”, Organization Studies (Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co. KG.), Vol. 21, No. 3 (2000), pp. 487.

7.G. H. Stonehouse and J. D. Pemberton “Learning and knowledge management in the intelligent organisation”, Participation and Empowerment: An International Journal, Vol. 7, No. 5 (1999), pp. 131-144.

8.U. Dombrowski, T. Mielke and C. Engel “Knowledge Management in Lean Production Systems”, Procedia CIRP, Vol. 3 (2012), pp. 436-441.

9.Anamika and S. Verma “Role of Leadership in Knowledge Management”, Review of Knowledge Management, Vol. 1, No. 2 (2011), pp. 35-44.

10.K. S. Gupta, in Indian Society for Training and Development (2005).

11.D. Mann “The Missing Link: Lean Leadership”, Frontiers of Health Services Management, Vol. 26, No. 1 (2009), pp. 15-26.

12.R. L. Ackoff “What constitutes leadership and why it can’t be taught”, Handbook of Business Strategy, Vol. 6, No. 1 (2005), pp. 193-196.

13.M. A. Stankosky, in Creating the Discipline of Knowledge Management, edited by M. Stankosky (Butterworth-Heinemann, Boston, 2005), pp. 1-14.   

14.W. D. Hitt “The learning organization: some reflections on organizational renewal”, Employee Counselling Today, Vol. 8, No. 7 (1996), pp. 16-16+.

15.A. S. Bollinger and R. D. Smith “Managing organizational knowledge as a strategic asset”, Journal of Knowledge Management, Vol. 5, No. 1 (2001), pp. 8-18.

16.B. Guns “The Chief Knowledge Officer’s Role: Challenges and Competencies”, Journal of Knowledge Management, Vol. 1, No. 4 (1997), pp. 315-319.

17.M. J. Earl and I. A. Scott “Opinion: What is a Chief Knowledge Officer?”, Sloan Management Review, Vol. 40, No. 2 (1999), pp. 29-38.

18.K. Kerfoot “The Leader as Chief Knowledge Officer”, Urologic Nursing, Vol. 23, No. 5 (2003), pp. 382.

19.L. Josephine Chinying “Managerial concerns in knowledge management”, Journal of Knowledge Management, Vol. 5, No. 1 (2001), pp. 43-57.

20.S. K. Singh “Role of leadership in knowledge management: a study”, Journal of Knowledge Management, Vol. 12, No. 4 (2008), pp. 3-15.

21.C. Karlson and P. Ahlstrom “Assessing changes towards lean production”, International International Journal of Operations & Production Management, , Vol. 16 (1996), pp. 2-11.

22.P. M. Senge “The Leader’s New Work: Building Learning Organizations”, Sloan Management Review, Vol. 32, No. 1 (1990), pp. 7.


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