Knowledge Management: Critical Reflection

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How it all began?

Knowledge Management (KM) significance was unknown to the industrialized world until individual entrepreneurs and global corporations felt the bottlenecks to efficiency towards large-scale manufacturing. In many organizations, it was recognized by the higher management teams that individuals alone are unable to contribute towards the mutual productivity of the organizations; therefore task achievement gradually becomes more and more complex. The work done by individuals did not satisfy the higher management and from here developed the concept of working in groups which later took the form of management teams, research and development teams, cross-functional teams, self-managed work teams, and task assigned groups. Later they recognized the trend toward group work in organizations has generated a parallel trend toward group research among many social and organizational scientists. With the advent of workgroup performance, organizations discovered a new paradigm of using groups to improve worker productivity. Today, the available evidence suggests that organizations achieve easily their goals by workgroup performance (Thompson et al, 1999, p. 3).

As large-scale manufacturing reached its peak, urban labor became the most valuable asset to the emerging class of industrialists. Following a string of pivotal technological breakthroughs, machinery began to improve and automation reduced the industry’s dependence on such hordes of tired workers. But machinery costs money, and access to capital became all-important. Controlling flows of capital was the foremost problem for the factory owners.

With the concept of group performance, industrialists entered into the 21st Century, where further waves of technological innovation continued to affect the way people live and work. This is the time when businesses when perceiving a local or regional scale, we no longer concern about land, labor, or capital since these three factors of traditional production i.e., land, labor, and capital have become easier to handle. What concerns our businesses and industries in the management of information within these factors so that we can distinguish one company’s success from another company’s failure. Scientists say that ‘KM’ always existed but mislead us for we never knew the correct measures and techniques to apply the concept.

With abundant and accessible land, labor and capital, it is the KM that provides the opportunity to any organization to achieve its target. But still, with so many advantages our entrepreneurs and industrialists lack a comprehensive approach to managing knowledge to maximize returns. This is so because knowledge is very different in many ways from the traditional critical assets, particularly because the way it operates within a company is difficult to track and the value it adds is not readily quantifiable.

Sharing Knowledge in Groups

The main flaw of today’s doomed organizations is that they hardly take into account individual characteristics, including not only the workers’ abilities but also their demographic characteristics, opinions, and personality traits. They directly concern about those interests that are relevant to a group’s tasks and help them in increasing their efficiency.

For example, the advent of KM excited the companies to such an extent that organizations began to depend upon ‘Knowledge Management Systems (KMS). Without being clear about KM consideration revolves within people, process, technology, and content, (Robertson, March 5, 2007) today’s organizations are willing to purchase KMS, without considering the system’s true capabilities. To be honest, there is no such system as KMS, organizations that seek KMS look forward to technology solutions without being aware of their true capabilities in the IT aspect.

The main loophole that exists in the infrastructure of present organizational development is that instead of improving work groups’ performance by appropriate training, firms believe in the notion that the group’s central tendency could be improved by hiring workers with desirable characteristics or firing workers with undesirable characteristics. Firms must understand that hiring and firing is not the ultimate solution to fill in the gap of KM, instead, organizations should concern about training workers in ways that strengthen desirable characteristics or weaken undesirable characteristics, and linking the group to outsiders with desirable characteristics

(Moreland, Levine, & Wingert, 1996). A group’s performance is likely to increase by factors like mutual collaboration, understanding, and similar group tasks but such gains are often compensated by group conflicts and other losses.

Knowledge Management Systems

KMS are technologies that require learning and development before deploying for organizations. These technologies include several management systems like web content management systems, electronic processors, word documents, spreadsheets, record management systems, database management systems, websites, search engines, and various collaboration tools.

On the other hand, managers who are found working harder just to keep pace with the competition and working even harder still to push their companies ahead of the pack, are unaware of the technological revolution and hence they do not feel the need to update personal grooming and training. Such untrained managers serve as easy victims of globalization that creates increasingly large gaps between the winners and the also-rans. Such managers are used to deploying traditional techniques and are simply unaware of KM techniques.

Even if they are trained later, they remain confused either to use which KM solution and when and under what circumstances. This leads them to either seize IT solutions as a quick fix to their knowledge management problems, or they simply waste the company’s resources and are followed by blinkered approaches, misguided and costly, and at worst damaging (Kulge et al, 2001, p. 6).

A Case Study for Technology use in Novartis Pharmaceuticals

Since the literature suggests that technology deployment in KM is one of the individual-level criteria for assessing the impact of technology within organizations, an empirical study was conducted that assessed the degree to which UK pharmaceuticals have remained successful in deploying KM solutions.

Technology assessment in Novartis health care is well responded to and performed in response to the introduction of the major shift in the demand for, new technology and no doubt Novartis has been successful in analyzing the changing requirements of its clients as well as employees. (Bozzette et al, 2001, p. 5) Technology implementation has been defined in the interest of patient’s safety and efficiency of the devices that are appropriate to be used by pharmaceuticals, thereby promoting to improve a patient’s condition or quality of life (Matuszewski, 1997). Despite a careful assessment of the technology which is required by Novartis, the firm remains unable to understand the usage of appropriate technology. This report presents a narrower focus on the obstructions that Novartis face regarding KM to support decision-making for populations enrolled in managed care.

The merger with Sandoz and Ciba-Geigy (anonymous, 2007) remained unable for Novartis to manage its biomedical research until it decided to apply appropriate KM tools and techniques. While dealing with enormous quantities of data, Novartis pharma seeks a knowledge marketplace intending to set up a framework within which to think and act for the development of a solution. The aim of applying KM solutions to the system was to provide a basis and a method for the choice of such a technology, which would enable Novartis to manage and update confidential and public data. It was also to manage a systematic way of preserving information (Buchel, 2001, p. 160).

While deploying the earlier-built network operating systems Novartis had a total elapsed time of one year between arrival and operation. The exceptionally long set-up time was caused by a lack of packaged software, which led to a widespread requirement for custom programming in application development. All the computer systems were connected internally in such a manner that they were child networks of a single parent network located at headquarter. Apart from decentralized dial-up networks to access electronic mail in some branches, external networking to branches in other cities or headquarters was not common. This lack of connectivity was attributed due to high charges by the national telecommunication infrastructure.

Knowledge Workers’ Choice of determining a mode of communication

Novartis was unable to make extensive use of new communication technology such as the internet in the beginning. Only Sandoz managed to create its website. Although Novartis had obtained a domain name, at the time of the survey, its website was awaiting construction. The use of electronic mail in these companies was low. Although every company had several modems, electronic mail was not checked regularly. Traditional ways of communication, for example, letters, telephone, and fax remained the primary means of communication.

If we consider what literature has to suggest to us, we would see that theoretical perspectives on applying KM in context with communication modes are never fulfilled. Theorists like Mintzberg (1973) showed that managers spend the majority of their time communicating; he did not provide a detailed analysis of the type of media that were used to send and receive information. Since Mintzberg’s publication, communication technologies have entered organizational life, offering new media choices to knowledge workers. (Buchel, 2001, p. 15) It is considered by many theorists that today’s corporate environment follows knowledge workers (defined as workers who have to make substantial use of information within their work context (Davis et al., 1993)).

Literature suggests that electronic mail (e-mail), voice mail, and teleconferencing, in addition to the traditional communication media such as telephone or face-to-face communication, to send and receive information has become more common. This perception is not true as far as large pharmaceuticals are concerned. The primary mode of communication is still telephones and faxes as today’s customers are more convenient to follow straightforward modes.

This concept is not limited to multinationals only. Today’s outsourcing environment which has shrunk the global business opportunities is effecting by this dilemma which is no other than a small branch of KM. Customers prefer either face-to-face communication or telephonic conversation as according to them it is a matter of trust and confidence.

That indicates that KM is unable to maintain efficiency and trust. What is the use of such technology which devoid of the firm of proving trustworthy? Given the increasing availability of new communication media and the resulting complexity associated with media choice, there is by no means a need for ‘effective communication technology’ choice but a communication choice that is ‘trustworthy’ in the eyes of customers within an organization. This is what Novartis Pharmaceutical is facing.

It is proposed that an improved understanding of the determinants of media choice enables more informed decisions about the choice of communication technology within organizations. For this purpose, both old and new communication media were investigated. It was found out that 65% of the employees of Novartis preferred to use manual applications for data management. 10% did not mind using application packages for recording data while 25% of the employees simply were not aware of the usage of electronic data management.

Do the new HRM practices have affected Knowledge Sharing within Organisations?

Appropriate knowledge sharing (KS) within the internal and external environment not only promotes and brings new product development concepts followed by group activity but also gave rise to a knowledge-based economy. Cooperation in organizations is a matter of communication, learning, and knowledge sharing. KS practices encompass various types of team-based organization, continuous (often internal and team-based) learning, decentralization of decision rights and incentives, systems for mobilizing employee proposals for improvements, quality circles, emphasis on internal knowledge dissemination, etc. (Mendelson and Pillai, 1999)

The approach followed by Novartis limits the organization to an extended analysis of knowledge creation within organizations performing various cooperative processes concurrently, where knowledge creation among organization members must also be considered. Despite creating a ‘knowledge marketplace’ where employees are free to share their opinions and views, Novartis has remained unable to manage the information flow from one brain to another.

While KS practices seem entirely novel, some of the broad generalizations of KS involve new HRM practices (Osterman 2000) which do not follow the hire and fire rule (Laursen and Mahnke 2001). The new HRM practice has revolutionized organizational managerial practices, especially those relating to downsizing, continuous restructuring, and outsourcing; pose a problem for KM. How can the theorists forget that it is through KM that in the case of downsizing has enormously increased the cost when job cuts cause companies to lose experienced people who know how things work? (Bounfour, 2003, p. 155)

Novartis Chemical Engineers

Novartis’s chemical engineering area upholds some of the operational manifestations of the issues being dealt with at the top. While conducting a careful qualitative and quantitative analysis I found two groups of engineers worked to develop and provide remake support to the two families of products. They had a backlog of new medicines and an even bigger backlog of new products.

Ambitious schedules for new product development and technology advances requiring frequent updates in current products were straining the capacity of this lean, young group. Uncertainty about strategic direction had contributed to some turnover of pharmaceutical chemical engineers who feared that their expertise might become unneeded or, even worse, relegated to product update work instead of the more interesting new medicinal work. In this high-pressure environment, important assignments were often given to new young engineers, who received little day-to-day guidance from managers who were ‘always in meetings’. Valuable time was lost before it was discovered whether their designs were off the track.

Another group was caught in its technology change. It was midway in a move toward advanced laboratory systems. About one-third of the engineers had a new generation of advanced workstations. Some were learning how to use them; others were anxious to receive aid from these technologies but were still using the old equipment. Even more vexing, layout specialists were quitting, understanding that the new technology rendered them unnecessary. This left unhappy design engineers who did not have the new system and did not have adequate support.

The test area, where the final check was made before products were shipped overseas to be assembled, was similarly bothered by what it saw as the lack of discipline. Test employees felt they received too much ‘junk’, with little indication that QA had a systematic means of correcting the problems. However, their biggest concern was to develop the next generation of test products and processes necessary for the new generation. They were especially concerned that, although they had to develop the ability to test the product at the same time the product was being designed, they were getting very little communication from the chemical engineers to inform their efforts. They were essentially flying blind, knowing they were moving in generally the right directions, and hoping they were not too far afield (Glinow & Mohrman, 1990, p. 9).

Competence among Employees

Competence is present within worker-oriented approaches and is seen primarily on a professional or even managerial level. The reason behind different work-oriented approaches is the contributions of employees in the form of sharing KM. Employees’ different behavior towards KM is proof that they differ in their attributes, knowledge, skills, abilities (KSA), and personal characteristics which are required for effective work performance. (Gerber & Lankshear, 2000, p. 49) Competence affects the process of sharing knowledge and therefore employees isolate due to conflicts.

Today the term ‘competencies’ is best described by analyzing and assessing employees’ attitudes towards their working environment. For instance, Boyatzis described job competency as what efforts an individual makes in context with his motive, skill, and aim towards his working environment to be identified as a self-image or a social role, in both cases, he utilizes a body of knowledge. Such environments can appear in different job activities and are said to possess generic features. Since job competencies according to Boyatzis are underlying characteristics, therefore their generic nature means they can take place in many different working conditions and situations (Gerber & Lankshear, 2000, p. 49).

Barriers to KM in Novartis Pharmaceuticals

  1. Throughout the decades, Novartis has tried its best to grasp up the changing people’s behavior but from the last 5 years, the decline in sales has revealed that it has remained unable to succumb to the abruptly changing attitudes of not only its employees but customers as well.
  2. It seems Novartis finds it difficult to define standard processes for knowledge work due to which employees are unsure regarding the sharing of knowledge.
  3. Knowledge availability is also a barrier for a pharmaceutical industry where most employees are not technology literate and are unsure to propose and understand proper solutions.
  4. Due to this technology illiteracy, Novartis higher management finds difficulty in attracting and retaining talented workers. By the time it manages to train their employees, hiring and firing starts.
  5. This also poses a complex situation for higher management to identify the right team leader for knowledge initiatives, so that the leader might be able to follow the changing trends through culture and incentives. The team leader himself or herself is unsure about embedding that knowledge into Novartis medicines and plans. The team leader as part of the KM finds it very difficult to transfer the existing knowledge to other parts of the organization due to many reasons among which the most prominent is the knowledge unawareness among other parts of the organization which includes other employees. Even higher management teams are not aloof from it.

Lack of Integration: Organisation learning

Integration and understanding is the basic component for OL, as the literature suggests that those organizations that are deprived of integration have high ‘hire and fire’ rates. These conversations uphold the basic notion of KS and knowledge integration and therefore give rise to the cooperative process itself. Research indicates that Organisational learning (OL) is only possible in the integration and collaboration environment.

The OL field has the problem of trying to unify different theoretical approaches, while at the same time valuing the diversity that has evolved since its inception. The theory has nothing to do with OL as literature classifies OL run in parallel with the changing environment of behavior and state of knowledge. State of knowledge does not necessarily mean that employees attend meetings and workshops and attain all the updating and training sessions that a firm requires. Instead, it is the art of keeping friendly relations with other employees in the context of ‘learning’. It is all about sharing knowledge and information within the organizational structure (Inkpen and Crossan, 1995, p. 599).

Novartis’s merger with Sandoz and Ciba-Geigy in seek to learn and grow is not as effective as it seemed to be in the beginning. The high management team mostly comprised of experienced professionals who, though ready to hire and fire technological experts but were unable to learn new tools and techniques. Many senior management boards believed that profits could be maximized only by deploying technological solutions and by hiring IT experts. Of course in the past, Novartis had seen enormous successes therefore still the managers looked forward to updating the organization while equipping it with the latest technological trend. They consider ‘technology’ to move like a magic wand that would update and train their professionals in seconds.

The principal component of KM enables employers and employees to share practical as well as theoretical knowledge. For both employees and management, a successful cooperative process generates new KM, which must be circulated within the premises of the organization. This knowledge helps overcome the problems generated on behalf of the customer as well as employees. Novartis does not follow such an approach. Though it conducts training sessions and workshops to train its employees all work is done in isolation.

Rarely does it happen that UK Novartis conducts a training workshop for all European employees on a global spectrum and even when it happens knowledge remains unshared as both the employees prefer to share their experiences within the region, and not externally? In this manner, KM does not help them, groom. (Nonaka & Nishiguchi, 2001, p. 128) Even though various workgroups occupy different positions in the same firm, they share a space to understand each other technical problems. Employees share an entire workgroup environment which reflects sharing the knowledge created and used in it. Therefore participation in OL can only be successfully possible if being a member of a group, one must be able to share an experience, whether technical or methodological.

Organizational Training

Workplace training can be made effective by considering the concept of commonality of workforce skills and competencies. This helps the HRM to understand how learning can be transformative; appreciating the nature of shared workplaces. Understanding the importance of teamwork in workplace learning provides the HRM to value the importance of the concept of situated workplace learning, thereby understanding the concept of apprenticeship in workplace learning and adopting a cognitive approach to human action.

If the achievement of effective information and KM can be said to be dependent upon one factor above any other, it must be the value attached to increasing input through effective OL (Milner, 2000, p. 84). Perhaps the most challenging thing about training is that there are no two individuals exactly alike, and no two training programs exactly alike. Besides individual differences trainees differ from one another in looks, interests, likes and dislikes, understanding, and rate of learning. Variations in learning patterns are the result of differences in ability and motivation among trainees. Therefore, in planning learning activities that provide the optimum motivation, the HRM specialist needs to recognize that individual differences stand out as a critical factor. (Sims, 1990, p. 125)

Whether training takes place on or off the job, employees are expected to learn and apply new KM concepts to benefit both the organization and its employees. Because training is a type of learning, HRM specialists can benefit from understanding and applying certain principles of learning when designing and implementing training programs (Schneier, 1974). Conducting training programs in organizations in a manner that fosters employee development requires identification and management of those aspects of the training program that influence the learning process. Learning is an interactive process that involves both trainers and employees in the interest of the organization as it also helps in product development.

Organizations don’t require typical KM applications, all they require is a move to a culture that values and encourages innovation, openness, teamwork, and knowledge sharing. This fact is not easily understandable by most of the organizations that are unable to determine factors that lead them towards failures.


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