4.5 Implications for Knowledge Management

4.5 Implications of Knowledge Management

          Apart from the advantages discussed in the previous section, many still consider KM as an abstract concept.  Sadly, even today, people writing on KM are not justifying with the discipline and producing material which may confuse newcomers. Particularly in the early days, this has led to many "KM" failures and these have tarnished the reputation of the subject as a whole.

          It is commonly observed that organizations are often reluctant to invest in KM because it can be expensive to implement, and it is extremely difficult to determine a specific Return of Investment (ROI). Also, the implementation of KM is usually considered a tedious task. The complex nature of knowledge and people’s attitude, perceptions and believes makes it further complex (Davenport and Prusak 1998). It is especially problematic, because the possibilities to influence people are limited and difficult, while on the other hand people's decisions heavily depend individuals’ behavior and organizations’ attitude (Kreie and Cronan,  2000). Consequently, organizations confront with a variety of knowledge management (KM) problems.

          For example, we know knowledge is part of what makes a person's personality and passing one's knowledge to others means enabling others to perform according tasks. Despite the fact that it is a positive and most desired task from organizations’ point of view, people often tend to keep their knowledge for themselves because they fear that they would not be needed anymore after passing their knowledge to others. Without motivation and a supporting environment, people therefore tend not to share their knowledge. And even if people know about the necessity to share their knowledge with colleagues, they need a certain amount of trust to do so (Davenport and Prusak, 1998).

          This especially becomes a problem when people do not know each other, which is often the case in today's large organizations. People tend to say then: "Why should I tell others what I know? Shall they go and find out for themselves, as I had to do!" (Stecking, 2000).

          The usability of knowledge further depends on the way people express it. There are differences in the ability to transfer knowledge directly between people, depending on the will, the communication skills and the vocabulary (Davenport and Prusak, 1998). For example, a manager who talks to workers in a factory in financial terms may not get the message through as the workers are usually less concern with finance.

          Another problem is that people have different viewpoints on different aspects. This leads to problems when transferring knowledge. Davenport and Prusak (1998) concludes "People do what seems rational for themselves based on their own agendas and goals, irrational as these might seem to outside observers". So even if a best practice is announced, it might not be adopted because people believe that there is no need to change anything.

           There is another psychological factor which becomes important in the assessment of knowledge, i.e. when asking people what they know. Assuming that knowledge is valued in an organization, people might give wrong or inexact answers, because they either do not know how well they know things or because they try to present themselves as good as possible (Davenport and Prusak, 1998).  At this point, the cultural environment established by the organization becomes very important once again, because it drives people to certain attitudes, which can, in the context of KM, be good or bad. Therefore, for an effective KM implementation above discussed aspects must be taken into consideration.