Organizational Communication and Knowledge Management
When and How can Organizational Communications Undermine and/or Damage Knowledge Management
Different scholars have defined knowledge and its management in their own way. According to Davenport and Prusak (2000, p.05), knowledge is a fluid which consists of experience, information, values and expert insight which supports for evaluating, estimating and integrating new experiences and information. They further explain that the knowledge actually exists in the minds of the people.
Similarly according to Malhotra (1997), knowledge exists in the minds of the members of the organization and is also the greatest resource of the organization. He further defined knowledge management as a combination of data and information processing capacity of ITs (Information Technologies) and the creative ability of the human beings (Malhotra, 1998). Therefore, knowledge management should not be considered as the process of managing the knowledge assets, in fact it includes management of interpersonal and organizational processes linked with these assets.
According to Rastogi (2000), knowledge management is a systematic and integrative process of coordinating organization activities which consists of obtaining, generating, accumulating, sharing, dispersing, developing and organization of knowledge by the individuals and groups in order to obtain the organizational goals.
Something common in all these definitions is the transfer of knowledge which is done through communication. Organizational Communication can be defined as “balancing creativity and constraint” (Eisenber, Goodall & Trethewey 2007). It focuses on how the individuals at work use communication to solve the tension between working within the boundary or constraints of the organizational structure and how they promote the change and creativity.
Organizational Communication plays a significant role in the knowledge management; in fact it is the key to knowledge management (Lehaney, 2004). It actually acts like a nervous system which carries information from one part of the organizational body to another and employees play the role of organizational brain cells which help in transfer of this information.
Effective communication is very critical because it brings knowledge into the organization and then distributes it to the employees who need it for making decisions and moving forward. Effective communication removes the “silos of knowledge” problem which damages or undermines the potential of the organization and makes it possible for the employees to make right and better decisions and take actions based on the correct knowledge.
The purpose of the organizational communication is to derive action and prompt work relationships between the individuals. Therefore, there is no doubt in saying that communication plays a very important role in the organization and can be considered as the foundation for taking actions. This is the reason that it is considered as an important and one of the most critical goals the organization which management prioritize to achieve (Spillan, Mino & Rowles, 2002).
Today organizations have started realizing the importance of knowledge management, especially the global organizations that are quickly adopting the knowledge management techniques. However, it is very unfortunate that they do not understand the role of effective organizational communication in knowledge management. Indeed many organizations invest so much on knowledge management systems without knowing the fact that knowledge management is directly linked with the communication processes.
These days, Knowledge Management Systems (KM System) which are usually based on the IT programs are designed by the IT department for managing the knowledge in organizations. Organizations spent thousands on KM systems but do not understand that these Knowledge Management Systems cannot be successful until and unless a proper communication system is designed and implemented. Ineffective communication will only waste these KM systems and will not give any benefit to the organization. Therefore it is critical that the right person receives right knowledge at the right time through the right channel; otherwise it is useless to invest thousands on the knowledge management process. When the process of organizational communication is not effective, it will undermine and damage the knowledge management.
According to Dimitris and Ulrich (2002), Information and Communication Technology can be used to support the knowledge management of the organization. There are several IT services used for communication, for instance e-mail, work flow systems, CAD/CAM tools, document management systems and decision support systems which can be used to for the proper management of knowledge. These IT applications have ability to capture, store and communicate different types of information and knowledge to the group of users who need it for making decisions. This way knowledge can be properly managed through the communication ability of these IT applications.
Cortada and Woods (2000) claimed that once the infrastructure of knowledge is ready, than the oil needed for running it is the effective communication. If the organizational communication is effective the system will run smoothly and if it’s not then system will stuck. Furthermore, it will harm and damage the knowledge management infrastructure and right knowledge will not reach to right person.
Therefore, it is very important for organizations to understand that fact that effective communication is very essential for the success of any knowledge management program (Lehaney 2004). Moreover, it is also necessary in decentralized organizational structure which is not dependent on command and control from top down for achieving the corporate objectives and goals. Communication is actually a business tool which provides continuous interaction across a horizontal structure.
Many managers prefer not to share knowledge, goals and targets with their team members; this culture results in lack of communication which results in poor knowledge management. The management of such organizations should look at the successful companies, which are highly knowledge intensive. Employees working in these companies are always motivated to share their knowledge. For instance, at Intel, employees have a very strong need to coordinate the knowledge sharing. Therefore around two twenty four business groups have started to work on the knowledge management projects.
The chief architect for Knowledge Management at Intel, confirmed that the practice of sharing knowledge is very quickly spreading in all areas of the company as employees are realizing the fact that their work cannot be separated from day-to-day knowledge sharing. He further claimed that ninety nine percent of what Intel do is based on knowledge. Therefore knowledge has to be persuasive in Intel (Cortada & Woods, 2000).
Looking at the successful companies, many other companies have also realized that sharing knowledge through organizational communication is not widespread. They have faced the disappointing fact of their organization that experiences and important insights developed in one part of the organization does not reaches to the other part due to lack of communication. Complex and expensive information systems have also not helped in solving this problem, not even the “knowledge management systems” because of the lack of communication. Knowledge which is the interpretation and experience of people is preferred to be shared with the team instead of feeding in the database. Organizations therefore have started to introduce incentive schemes for employees in order to communicate in all possible ways and share knowledge.
Effective manager is the one who allocates and spends extensive time of his work schedule on motivating, reinforcing and guiding his team members about the activities to be performed (Luthans, Welsh and Tailor, 1988). In other words, he is the one who transfers the knowledge to his team members through effective communication because he knows that if he did not guide them properly by providing the right facts and knowledge, they will not bring the expected results.
Due to the increasing value of knowledge management, the term “Knowledge manager” is designation which has gained popularity during last few years. The role of the knowledge manager is to create and maintain the knowledge repositories and influence the culture of organization by improving the knowledge sharing, its reuse, learning and innovation. His duty to create such an environment that right knowledge reaches the right person through proper organizational communication and is not damaged or wasted. A knowledge manager should have different backgrounds; for instance Information Technology, Marketing, Management etc. An effective knowledge manager is the one who is an all rounder and knows well about organizational behaviour, marketing, culture, technology etc.
Looking at all above discussion, it can be concluded that organizations must train their employees and make them learn the techniques of communicating effectively. Organizations that want to succeed make sure that they allocate sufficient time and effort for training their employees on effective knowledge management through proper communication and consider this activity as one of the core activities in the organization’s time and performance management systems. Organization should make its employees understand that effective communication and learning, which are significant areas of knowledge management (Lehaney, 2004) and always results in proper transfer of knowledge, are not only beneficial for the organization but also benefit employees in the form of increase in salary, career development and getting bonuses.
Cortada, J,. & Woods, J,. ( 2000), The knowledge management yearbook 2000-2001, Butterworth — Heinemann.
Davenport, T.H. & Laurence, P. (2000). Working Knowledge: How Organizations Manage What They Know.
Boston, Massachusetts: Harvard Business School Press.
Eisenberg, M., Goodall, L., & Trethewey, A. (2007). Organizational communication: Balancing creativity and constraint, 5th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s.
Karagiannis, D., Reimer, U.,(2002), Practical aspects of knowledge management, 4 rth International Conference,
Lehaney, B., Clarke, S., Coakes, E., & Jack, G .(2004), Beyond Knowledge Management, Idea group Publishing,
Luthans, F., Welsh, DH B., & Taylor, L.A. (1988). A descriptive model of management effectiveness. Group & Organization Studies, 13(2).
Malhotra, Y. (1997). “Knowledge Management in Inquiring Organizations.” Proceedings of 3rd Americas
Conference on Information Systems (Philosophy of Information Systems Mini-track).
Rastogi, P.N. (2000). Knowledge Management and Intellectual Capital – The New Virtuous Reality of Competitiveness. Human Systems Management, 19(1), 39-49.
Spillan, J.E., Mino, M., & Rowles, M.S. (2002). Sharing organizational messages through effective lateral communication. Communication Quarterly, 50(2).
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