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Positive Attributes for Corporate Knowledge Management

Effective corporate training and knowledge sharing depend on a positive and constructive knowledge management environment. Davenport, De Long, and Beers (1998) and Davenport and Prusak (1998) identified eight common attributes that contribute to a successful knowledge management (KM) implementation based on their studies of successful KM projects. There are eight contributing factors to KM success: A knowledge-oriented culture, technical and organizational infrastructure, senior management support, link to economic performance or industry value, clear vision and language, nontrivial motivational practices, standard and flexible knowledge structure, and multiple channels for knowledge transfer.

  A knowledge-oriented culture is critical to the success of a KM implementation (Davenport & Prusak, 1998). Important components of a knowledge-oriented culture for an organization includes a positive orientation to knowledge creation and use, absence of resentment or fear of job loss in knowledge sharing, and a fit between the KM initiative and the organizational culture (Davenport, De Long, & Beers, 1998). McElroy (2003) also advocates a positive organizational learning culture that gives employees freedom to pursue their learning agendas for knowledge creation and innovation. Technical and organizational infrastructure is a contributing factor to the success of a KM implementation. Technical infrastructure includes knowledge-oriented tools and a uniform set of technologies, such as computer systems and networks, which facilitate information and knowledge communication (Davenport, De Long, & Beers, 1998). It is also important to the success of the KM initiative that adopted technologies match the business category and knowledge sharing needs of the organization (Kankanhalli, Tanudidjaja, Sutanto, & Tan, 2003). Organizational infrastructure, according to Davenport et al., refers to the established organizational structures, roles, and knowledge support staff members and their skills that can benefit the KM implementation.

Support from senior management is beneficial to the success of a KM implementation. This type of support is especially critical if the KM initiative is intended to transform or reengineer the organization in a certain way (Davenport & Prusak, 1998). The main components of senior management support include openly emphasizing the importance of the success of the KM initiative to the organization, providing funding and other resources for infrastructure, and clarifying the types of knowledge most important to the organization (Davenport, De Long, & Beers, 1998). KM initiatives can be expensive and need understanding and support of the entire organization. One way to gain support from the organization is to link the KM implementation to economic performance, industry value, or competitive advantage (Davenport, De Long, & Beers, 1998). Financial returns and improvements of process cycle time and customer satisfaction related to the KM initiative, according to Davenport et al., are all indicators of accomplishments, which will in turn win increased support for the KM initiative from the organization.

Clear vision and language is especially important to the success of a KM implementation. Since some key KM-related terms and concepts, such as knowledge, information, data, and organizational learning, are subject to varied use and interpretation, it is important to provide clear definitions of these terms and concepts and KM objectives so as to gain wide understanding and acceptance of the KM initiative (Davenport, De Long, & Beers, 1998). For example, equating knowledge with information is a common conceptual confusion that should be corrected because it is a narrow view that is blind to many important social and human elements of KM, such as trust, culture, social networks, creativity and innovation, and human competencies in learning and knowledge sharing (Holsapple, 2005). The motivation for people to create, share, and use knowledge is an intangible but critical factor to the success of any KM implementation (Davenport, De Long, & Beers, 1998). Davenport et al. emphasized that effective motivational incentives and practices should not be trivial but long-term and tied in with the performance evaluation and compensation structure. DeSouza (2003) recognized the challenge for organizations to motivate employees to share valuable tacit knowledge, and he proposed the humanistic approach to establish informal and entertaining interactions and dialogues among people for them to share and exchange their know-how with pleasure. Positive motivations will also help to remove various barriers to knowledge sharing in the corporate environment. It is necessary to have a standard and flexible knowledge structure for many KM implementations to be successful. Without standard categories and key terms in a knowledge repository system, it will be difficult for people to search and extract knowledge from the system (Davenport, De Long, & Beers, 1998). On the other hand, according to Davenport et al., the knowledge structure should be flexible and open to continuous updates since knowledge itself is constantly changing. In addition, Jerald (2009) emphasized that knowledge structure and workforce competencies should also emphasize practical knowledge application skills as well as creativity, critical thinking, problem solving, and communication skills in the fast changing workplace.

  Finally, multiple channels for knowledge transfer also contribute to the successful KM implementation. Davenport and Prusak (2008) recognized that face-to-face meetings with knowledge contributors are more preferable for certain occasions where trust establishment is of prime importance, whereas use of information technology (IT) tools and networks can transcend time and distance if efficiency is desired for knowledge communication and sharing. In addition, the effectiveness of different channels depends on different knowledge needs. For example, electronic knowledge repositories are most effective for codification and storage of explicit and structured knowledge, whereas direct personal communication or videoconferencing is best for transfer and sharing of personalized tacit knowledge (Kankanhalli, Tanudidjaja, Sutanto, & Tan, 2003).  

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