knowledge culture within an organization; freeing up employee time for thinking, learning, and training; and aligning incentives to reinforce and facilitate uptake of knowledge management practices.
Assessing the existing knowledge culture within the organization Companies whose cultures are most effective at creating new knowledge and integrating it into the organization have norms and practices that demand broad participation in knowledge gathering and distribution (DeLong and Fahey, 2000). Some organizations, however, favor individual knowledge over group or organizational knowledge. In these organizations, individual knowledge is associated with power, control, and security of one’s position in the organization. When employees believe that sharing what they know poses personal risk and decreases power, the free exchange of knowledge is impeded (Davenport et al., 1998). Before undertaking a knowledge management initiative, therefore, management should assess the culture of its organization to determine existing attitudes toward ownership of knowledge and how those attitudes would be altered by the initiative. Depending on the results of that assessment, management might also need to adopt new behaviors to communicate a shift from valuing individual over collective knowledge. It is necessary as well to make explicit what practices need to change to promote more collaborative use of knowledge (DeLong and Fahey, 2000).
In addition, organizations should examine their internal communication patterns. Communication patterns that make executives accessible and approachable and encourage open and frank dialogue are an essential element of a learning organization. Questioning fundamental beliefs and existing ways of working is difficult for organizational leadership, but is usually a key step in creating new knowledge for the organization. Intense debate on key strategic issues, drawing on extensive and intensive internal and external inputs—sometimes called “constructive confrontation” or “ferocious arguing with one another while remaining friends”—is identified as a key characteristic of cultures that are relatively effective at creating and integrating new knowledge. Learning organizations must identify norms and practices that are barriers to discussing sensitive topics, find and evaluate evidence about the extent to which senior management is perceived as accessible and approachable, and identify the norms and practices within the organization that encourage high frequency of interaction and the expectation of collaborative problem solving. Although the senior executive ultimately must make a decision not everyone will like, the process for engaging and listening to many views on an issue increases the likelihood of a better decision and broader acceptance of the decision once made (DeLong and Fahey, 2000).