Role of hr in knowledeg management final hard copy 2003
Role of HR in Knowledge Management
♣ What is Knowledge?
♣ Types of Knowledge
♣ What is Knowledge Management?
♣ The Essence of Knowledge Management
♣ Why Knowledge Management?
♣ What does leveraging "collective knowledge" involve?
♣ An overview of Knowledge Processes
♣ Benefits of Knowledge to Enterprise
♣ An illustrative example of Knowledge Management initiatives:
HUL's Packaging Network
♣ What are the barriers for implementing Knowledge Management?
♣ The role of HR in institutionalizing KM in an organization
♣ How then do HR processes and practices impact the knowledge sharing in a firm?
♣ How do we create a knowledge sharing culture?
♣ HR should be the catalyst for culture change
HR has a pivotal role in the KM movement. Key human resources (HR) processes --
corporate education, performance management and nurturing (sharing, doing and caring)
culture -- have a key role in the development of the knowledge-based enterprise.
Before we discuss the role of HR in institutionalizing KM in an organization, we will outline
briefly, what KM is all about. We will illustrate this with an example of one of our KM
initiatives in Hindustan Unilever Limited. (HUL) -- The packaging community, so that
seasoned HR professionals could come up with their own additional ideas / views on how
best to harness HR processes to successfully implement KM in an organization.
What is Knowledge?
Knowledge can be defined as a fluid mix of experience, values, contextual information and
expert insight that provides a framework for evaluating and incorporating new experiences
Knowledge is information in action. Knowledge is what people in an organization know
about their customers, products, processes, mistakes, and successes.
Unlike the conventional Material assets, which decrease as they are used, Knowledge asset
increases with use; Ideas breed new ideas, and shared knowledge stays with the giver while it
enriches the receiver.
Types of Knowledge
♣ Explicit knowledge: It is the visible knowledge available in the form of letters,
reports, memos, literatures, etc. Explicit knowledge can be embedded in objects,
rules, systems, methods etc.
♣ Tacit knowledge: It is highly invisible and confined in the mind of a person. It is
hard to formalize and therefore, difficult to communicate to others. A master
craftsman after years of experience develops a wealth of expertise ‘at his fingertips’.
But he is often unable to articulate the scientific or technical principle behind what he
knows. Transformation of knowledge from tacit to explicit form increases its usability
and visibility. Capturing the experts Tacit Knowledge that resides within him in the
form of Know-how and insights is a very difficult and challenging task.
♣ While tacit and explicit type of knowledge is only a way to dissect the field, in reality
the situation is more complicated. The above two categories are so heavily interlinked
that such a bipolar map is not easy to draw in practice. For example, to understand
completely a written document i.e. explicit knowledge, it often requires a significant
amount of experience i.e. tacit knowledge. A sophisticated recipe is meaningless to
someone who has never stood in kitchen or a diagram of machines is indecipherable
without an engineering background.
What is Knowledge Management?
Sustainable competitive advantage a firm has comes from what it "collectively knows," how
efficiently it uses what it knows and how readily it "acquires and uses new knowledge," in
short by becoming a Knowledge Driven Organization. Knowledge Management (KM)
provides an enabling framework to derive this advantage. It helps institutionalize processes to
fully leverage the "collective knowledge" in an organization.
Knowledge management refers to all systematic activities for creation and sharing of
knowledge so that knowledge can be used for the success of the organization. KM processes
provide a framework for connecting people to people and people to information, to develop
and share distilled learning’s and best practices.
Knowledge management helps the organisation to:
Improve organizational effectiveness.
Improve the returns.
Build competencies/competitive advantage.
Create greater value for core businesses.
See the opportunities and exploit them.
The Essence of Knowledge Management
Knowledge Management is a process that, continuously and systematically, transfers
knowledge from individuals and teams, who generate them, to the brain of the organisation
for the benefit of the entire organisation. It is the systematic, explicit, and deliberate building,
renewal, and application of knowledge to maximize an enterprise's knowledge-related
effectiveness and returns from its knowledge assets.
The central theme of Knowledge Management is to leverage and reuse knowledge
resources that already exist in the organization so that people will seek out best practices
rather than reinvent the wheel.
Why Knowledge Management?
In this competitive knowledge economy, our most valuable asset is the knowledge asset. It is
often said that, in this economy it is not what "we own," but " we know" that would give us
the competitive advantage. We must therefore, quickly learn the strategies and management
techniques of Knowledge Age. In short, we must adopt practice of knowledge management to
strengthen our competitive advantage. Specific business factors, includes:
Marketplaces are increasingly competitive and the rate of innovation is rising.
Competitive pressures reduce the size of the work force that holds valuable business
Reductions in staffing create a need to replace informal knowledge with formal methods.
The amount of time available to experience and acquire knowledge has diminished.
Early retirements and increasing mobility of the work force lead to loss of knowledge.
Changes in strategic direction may result in the loss of knowledge in a specific area.
KM provides an enabling framework to leverage "collective knowledge." When KM becomes
"the way we work," it helps us deliver on strategic priorities and business goals - growth,
innovation, speed of response, quality of response, faster time to market, strengthen
organizational learning, protect functional and operational excellence in a dis-aggregated
What does leveraging "collective knowledge" involve?
♣ Working in collaborative teams, capturing and sharing knowledge and delivering
♣ Developing and sharing "best practices."
♣ Faster replication of innovations through faster movement of knowledge through the
♣ Acquisition and sharing of "new knowledge."
♣ Creating an environment that is comfortable to the idea of openness, knowledge
sharing, risk of failure as well as rewards for success.
♣ Managing organizational learning.
An overview of Knowledge Management Processes
Beckman’s has proposed an eight stage knowledge management process.
These stages include:
Identify stage: This stage includes identification of competencies necessary for organizational
Collect stage: This stage includes acquiring existing knowledge, skills, experience etc. To
possess the competencies.
Select stage: This stage deals with the assessment of value of collected knowledge against the
standard requirements for success.
Store stage: This stage takes the nuggets of knowledge, classifies them and includes them in
the organizational existing knowledge.
Share stage: This stage makes the new and existing organizational knowledge accessible for
Apply stage: This stage enables employees to apply knowledge in organizational
activities/operations, decision-making, problem-solving, exploiting opportunities etc.
Customer Acceptance: This stage involves obtaining customers’ acceptance/clients approval
for the products/services produced/developed based on the knowledge.
Create stage: This stage involves development of new knowledge through observation,
feedback, brain storming, failures in the previous events etc.
The key knowledge management processes are:
♣ Linking people to people in teams through formal / informal structures, for them to
effectively share knowledge.
A Community of Practice (CoP) is one such useful structure. In large organizations with
geographical spread, multiple business units, businesses, organizational silos are likely to
constrain effective knowledge sharing and leveraging of collective knowledge of the
enterprise. Communities of practice (knowledge communities or teams) formed around core
competencies of the company help overcome this constraint.
A CoP is a team of people who are practitioners of a well-defined knowledge domain
(Packaging, engineering, sales etc.) who come together to capture, create and share relevant
knowledge, in pursuit of business excellence. Such a team is empowered to develop best
practices, maintain the knowledge repositories, and develop and deliver relevant training
programs to build the capability in the knowledge domain.
♣ Linking people to information / knowledge repositories / best practices - Intranets
with efficient search engines provide an effective way to connect people to knowledge
repositories with the capability for easy retrieval of needed information.
Benefits of knowledge:
Companies derive the benefits from knowledge management.These benefits include:
• Unleash new Ideas and Creativity
• Improve and accelerate Learning
• Enhance Team Collaboration & Coordination
• Improve the Flow of knowledge
• Attract, and retain motivated, loyal, and committed Talent
An illustrative example of Knowledge Management initiatives:
HUL's Packaging Network
Opportunities / Challenges
Packaging in our company is very important, both for providing protection to the product in
transit and storage as well as its contribution to pack presentation / brand image. Total
packaging cost incurred by the company is very significant, across various Businesses.
Packaging professionals are divided by category structure. The challenge is to deliver
functional and operational excellence in this divisional organizational structure, without
being constrained by the organizational silos of the formal structure. How do we make sure
that the collective knowledge of the packaging professionals in the company is fully
leveraged by the packaging professionals in each business, to add value to his business,
through problem solving as well as innovations to reduce cost and or improve functionality?
We formed a knowledge community, consisting of the packaging development managers and
officers and packaging buyers of various HUL businesses. Some of the key suppliers were
also invited to be part of the extended team. This Packaging Community's charter was to
improve speed and quality of innovations, implement Packaging Technology lead cost
effectiveness and practice packaging synergy across businesses through harmonization,
learning and knowledge sharing.
The team is very focused on learning, sharing knowledge and effective implementation of the
team's charter. Knowledge is shared in a structured way - each team member wearing two
hats - one of business unit / category focus and another of Packaging Technology focus. The
team meets once in two months for structured knowledge sharing and monitoring progress of
implementation of the charter. This has enabled systematic implementation of innovation
projects and preparation of best practice documents. The team learns through proactive
sharing of successes as well as failures.
The basic approach and methodology adopted by the team:
Develop clarity on business expectations from the packaging team, understand of Packaging
Skills Chain, improve understanding of Consumer needs through participation in consumer
clinics, keep abreast of developments in Packaging Technology nationally and
internationally, undertake brain storming and idea generation on a regular basis.
The team identified well-defined knowledge blocks in Packaging area and appointed sub-
teams to specialize / lead in each of the knowledge blocks. The sub-teams will help the total
team to keep up-to-date with technology and strengthen the packaging skill base in the
The team from time to time organizes "knowledge workshops" with the core team and the
extended team to generate new ideas and opportunities. It focuses on capability building
through continuous skill mapping, gap analysis and need based training.
The team developed an Intranet application with collaborative working tools, to facilitate
knowledge sharing on a continuous basis, in between the face to face meetings. This Intranet
is also the repository of Best Practices and is used for replication of ideas / innovations across
The Packaging community has been consistently delivering as per their charter. It
successfully initiated a number of cross business synergy projects and delivered significant
Getting it going needed considerable attention to strengthening knowledge sharing behavior
through facilitation, training and leadership.
What are the barriers for implementing Knowledge Management?
Conceptual / mindset related issues:
We need to create a culture of sharing. Often knowledge is seen as power and in a
competitive environment there could be a tendency to hoard knowledge. Key to success of
KM is creation of knowledge sharing culture and elimination of organizational and cultural
barriers for communication. We should move from “hoarding of knowledge to gain power" to
"sharing of knowledge to gain power."
Time: The typical executive is already hard pressed for time. He has no time for an additional
initiative, if it is seen as a diversion from focus on immediate results. So, it is important to
integrate KM into existing business processes in the company and embed into workflow. KM
should not be seen as a separate initiative, but should be integrated into current workflow as a
more effective way to achieve business results.
The experience of exemplar practitioners of KM demonstrates that it succeeds only when we
are able to signal to employees, strong senior management endorsement for KM. Like all
organizational transformation processes, KM needs to be led by senior management.
The role of HR in institutionalizing KM in an organization
As can be seen from the above, knowledge management is essentially a people related
discipline, with focus on strengthening collaborative team effort to leverage collective
knowledge of the enterprise.
HR has a pivotal role to play in the KM movement. Key HR processes - Corporate Education,
Performance Management and nurturing (sharing, doing and caring) culture, have a very
significant role in the development of the knowledge-based enterprise.
Talent management, which is the domain of HR and knowledge management are closely
interrelated. While Talent Management focuses at individual level -- recruitment, training,
skill and competency development and career planning of an individual, knowledge
management focuses on people at collective level, how to leverage the collective knowledge
of the enterprise, through Mentoring and knowledge sharing and collaborative team working.
These new HRM roles are those of:
Human capital steward, Knowledge facilitator, Relationship builder, and Rapid
The human capital steward recognizes the value of intellectual
capital, must ensure that human capital is available, effective and that it will grow in
value; this means brokering the services of knowledge workers.
The knowledge Facilitator places emphasis on learning and development, the effective
management of knowledge, and creating environments conducive to knowledge creation,
sharing and dissemination
The relationship builder focuses on creating and sustaining networks and
communities of practice, of joining together people in various parts of the supply chain
in new ways.
The rapid deployment specialist faces the challenge of rapidly changing
markets where information, business processes and organizational design can be
combined in different ways to meet ever changing dynamic environments characteristic
of life in the knowledge economy. KM has the capacity to significantly broaden the role
of the HRM professional.
How then do HR processes and practices impact the knowledge sharing in a firm?
Let us briefly examine some of the HR processes and practices that should be aligned to
strengthen knowledge management.
At the stage of induction of new executives into the organization, coaching and mentoring
systems are meant to transfer knowledge; exposure during training to variety of functions,
units and geographical locations helps knowledge awareness / transfer.
Employees will benefit from "Mentorship," not only during the initial months but also for a
long time after that. The role of the mentor in the later period would be to challenge the
executive to look beyond the obvious, look for past learning and base decisions on a more
Job rotations: Well-planned job (role) rotations across geographical locations and businesses
in a firm help not only people development, but also provide an important vehicle for transfer
of knowledge and best practices, even though an organization cannot obviously depend on
this as the main source of knowledge transfer.
Networked organization: A networked organization with people playing multiple roles, being
part of multiple teams -- a vertical team (Business / category) as well a horizontal team
(function / knowledge domain), is the way forward to effectively "leverage collective
knowledge" of an enterprise. HR should play a key role in developing such a networked
organization, through sponsorship and or facilitation of knowledge communities (teams),
cutting across formal organizational silos.
Training: Learning and knowledge are inter-linked. Knowledge strategies should encompass
learning initiatives and knowledge initiatives need to converge with training initiatives. A
Company's training program needs to focus on functional and business specific skill
development programs as well as competency development focused programs.
Knowledge communities (Teams), as the owners and users of the knowledge, should play an
active role in developing suitable course material for the functional and business specific
Knowledge management cannot be practiced without a clear focus on "learning" within the
organization. An example of this is the "Bulab learning center" in Buckman Laboratories, an
oft-quoted exemplar practitioner of KM. They set up this learning center to provide
employees greater access to training and education and an ability to drive their own
development. Rather than the student going to a class, this learning center delivers the
classroom to the student - anytime / anywhere in the world. Apart from offering internal
training courses, the learning center also offers courses for credit from multiple Universities
around the world, for degree programs ranging to Ph.D. level. All the courses offered are free
to the student, if he completes it successfully.
E- Learning is online learning. It is made available through company web sites (Intranets),
and even through CD-ROMs. It allows the learner to enroll into courses or programs of their
choice and acquire knowledge at their own pace at the place of their choice. Corporate online
universities, exclusive learning space to induct managers or develop future leaders, ongoing
programs for sales personnel and induction into new products and services are some of the e-
learning offerings, some of the companies are making available to their employees to develop
themselves. E-Learning provides the benefit of convenience -- allows the learner to do the
learning at his or her pace, flexibility -- Learner does not have to sacrifice a training program
because of its clash with customer or personal visit, and ease of learning. Experience in US /
Europe seems to confirm that e-learning also saves costs. As of now Bandwidth might pose
some constraints, but with fast changing IT infrastructure, even in India, this could offer
IBM has about 2500 on-line courses on offer to meet the different employee needs. At
Buckman Laboratories, all the employees are connected to their Global IT network. They
have therefore chosen to deliver the classroom to their employees over the Intranet rather
than require them to travel to a classroom.
Even in cases where the employees are called upon to participate in training in classrooms,
they have an interesting approach to distance learning. The introductory material that would
be normally presented at the plenary class room sessions is provided through distance
learning packages via CD-ROM or Intranets. This ensures that everyone can go through it in
his or her own speed. Physical classroom meetings are used to really interact with each other,
the teacher and the material.
By delivering the class room to the student instead of sending the student to the class room,
Buck man could significantly reduce the training costs per hour per employee, through
savings in out of service cost, travel cost, cost of classroom, housing cost while taking the
course and the cost of the professor or content. The Learning Center is currently capable of
handling a wide variety of the courses -- internal training, courses for credit from some of the
Another very useful role HR could play is to capture stories of successes and failures in the
company, archive them in the company-training center for reference for future. This would
not only support learning but could prevent repeat of same mistakes.
Culture change: Leveraging collective knowledge is possible only when people value
building on each other's ideas and sharing their insights. Much of this shaped by the culture
of the organization. In some cultures, where knowledge is seen as power, knowledge sharing
may be seen to be in conflict with the individual's personal interests (individual excellence /
competitive advantage). Therefore, institutionalization of Knowledge Management requires
HR to focus on managing the culture change / mindset of the people to strengthen
collaborative team working and knowledge sharing.
How do we create a knowledge sharing culture?
Realign incentive and reward program:
"People do not do what you tell them, but what you measure them for." HR needs to institute
a system of rewards and recognition, training and performance development practices --
activities that reinforce the discipline of sharing, documenting knowledge and reuse of others'
ideas with pride to achieve business goals.
People in business most often behave in a way that increases their career opportunities, or
recognizes their achievement. Most organizations reward individual effort or task
achievement. They reward something done in a crisis, but most incentive programs do not
reward avoiding a crisis. The best KM practitioners reward employees for learning, sharing
Some of the steps HR could implement are:
Institute Team awards to recognize and reward excellent collaborative team effort, which has
strongly contributed to business results. Ensure high visibility for teams which have excelled
in knowledge capture / sharing to deliver business excellence. Many companies have found
such team awards very useful in building up the enthusiasm and commitment to collaborative
team working and knowledge sharing in the initial years, even though after a while, they
might have discontinued these once they moved beyond the need for such awards, once the
knowledge sharing is embedded into the culture.
Illustrated below is an example:
Xerox: By including knowledge sharing as a dimension for its prestigious president's award,
leadership at Xerox has demonstrated those senior management values and rewards
knowledge-sharing behaviour. Also, at Xerox, the worldwide Customer Services organization
created a “Eureka Hall of Fame" for technicians who author solutions that resolve the greatest
number of problems. It also created a " Validator's Hall of Fame" for the second level
engineers who test the solutions submitted by the technicians for validity. Hall of Fame
members receive cash awards and recognition.
Hewlett Packard Consulting: Senior management made explicit the desired behaviour of
employees, in their "vision" statement: "Our consultants feel and act as if they have the
knowledge of the entire organization at their fingertips when they consult with customers. We
will recognize those consultants that share and those that leverage other's knowledge and
experience as most valuable members of the HP team."
HR should be the catalyst for culture change
Buckman Laboratories is an example which best illustrates this. Bob Buckman, former CEO
of Buckman who led the culture change initiatives in the company emphasizes “our Code of
Ethics is the glue that holds the company together and provides the basis for respect and trust
that are necessary in a knowledge sharing environment. These fundamental beliefs are
essential to being able to communicate across the many barriers to communication that exist
in our company. A common set of shared values is critical to guide the relationship with in an
organization that wants proactive knowledge sharing. Ours is embedded in our Code of
Ethics." This Code of Ethics was developed by the organization through debate and
discussions in which a wide cross-section of employees in the company participated. "This
Code of Ethics is an integral part of the effort to achieve and maintain knowledge sharing in
In our own company, we are in the process of launching few key initiatives for culture
change, to firmly establish the "the enterprise culture," on the bedrock of our "values" --
Truth, Courage, Action and Caring. HR has been a key enabler in the process so far in
helping articulate the behaviors and big-ticket action plans.
HR will also be a key facilitator in implementing a companywide communication of value
behaviors. Team excellence workshops and process improvement (speed, simplicity and
excellence) workouts are among the key initiatives that will soon be launched by HR to
support the culture change. These culture change initiatives will strongly support our efforts
to become a stronger knowledge driven company, committed to business excellence.
Develop "Knowledge Pull" -- a grassroots desire among employees to tap into their
company's intellectual resources. HR can impact this through -- training and practices that
reinforce this desire.
Some of the steps that HR could take for cultural change :
♣ Performance Development Planning (PDP). In HUL, our PDP incorporates
"knowledge - Development & Sharing” as one of the key competencies to be
monitored and developed. Some of the key competencies linked to knowledge
development and sharing are:
1. Learning from experience (actively searching for others ideas, willingness to discuss
failures and openness to feedback)
2. Developing others (commitment to share insights, help others shine, focus on future)
3. Team commitment (promoting cooperation and trust, open and active participation in team
projects, task forces, communities of practice / Networks, upholding team's ideas and
♣ Develop a mechanism to communicate effectively what knowledge-related behaviour
is expected from the employees. Identify knowledge as a key competence and
recognize and rewards those who develop and excel in this competence. For example,
this could be one of the key competencies for identifying managers of high potential.
There are examples of companies who included sharing of as a criterion to get the
highest rating in performance evaluation. There are other examples - where people
who do not share are ignored or fail to be promoted or are "siloed."
♣ Share with all employees, success stories of collaborative effort and knowledge
sharing, through House Magazine, workshops etc.
♣ Make KM part of the Company training modules.
♣ Hold visible knowledge sharing events like " Knowledge Fairs." Such events will
energize the whole organization -- where high visibility is provided for excellent
contributions to knowledge capture creation and sharing.
Transformation into knowledge driven organization is essentially a people related issue. HR
has a key role to play in nurturing and strengthening knowledge management through
"learning initiatives" and "culture change initiatives." HR is best placed to play the role of an
effective facilitator, and give positive reinforcements for Knowledge Management through
organizing visible knowledge sharing events and strengthening skill and competency
development of employees. HR should put in place specific processes and structures for KM
and the necessary monitoring systems. The primary focus of any organisation should be on
establishing a culture that respects tacit knowledge, reinforces its sharing, retains its experts,
and builds employees’ loyalty to the organisation. Knowledge management has already been
embraced as a source of solutions to the problems of today’s business.