What knowledge managers really manage
Abstract: In the literature, with the idea of knowledge as perceptive and as a commodity, which can be codified, stored, and easily transmitted (Chiva and Alegre, 2005), the goal of knowledge management is to capture, utilize, and leverage knowledge via the application of information and communication technologies for the benefit of the organization (Vera and Crossan, 2003). However, the move toward the view of knowledge as socially constructed and rooted in practice has made knowledge management objectives lean towards promoting social networks and the cultivation of trust, norms and shared values amongst employees that constitute “communities of practices” (Bresnen et. al., 2003).
It is argued that despite the emergence of the social view of knowledge, the implication for knowledge management has not been well clarified. Communities of practice are after all just one more identified resource for the knowledge managers to manage. This article studies the situated practices of the knowledge managers in a multinational. It aims at examining what they really manage and to which among the two identified view of knowledge management their practices may be associated. It relied on an investigation framework based on Dewey’s pragmatism and an interpretive phenomenological methodology. The investigation was carried out with seven knowledge managers working in two branches of a multinational. The data interpretation relied on the respondent’s own terms and category systems rather than those of the researchers. It aimed at identifying cross-case themes that represent the knowledge managers’ practices.
It is found that the knowledge managers are assigned by the organization to take care of a Portal, in which there are documents that are considered as codified knowledge to be shared between employees. They are also responsible for motivating and enabling people to use and contribute to that Portal. At the first glance, it seems that the knowledge managers are supposed to manage both knowledge (if knowledge is manageable) and people. However, a deeper look at their practices reveals that knowledge management has not gained legitimacy and acceptance in the organization. What the knowledge managers truly manage is their relationship with the organizational actors at different levels. Only when the knowledge management function has become part of the organization’s working life and accepted by these people, that the knowledge managers can accomplish their missions.
Keywords: knowledge manager, knowledge management, pragmatism, interpretive research
Mounoud Eléonore, Vo Linh chi: What do the knowledge managers really manage: knowledge or people? The case of a multionational. Le XIXème Conférence de l’Association Internationale de Management Strategique (AIMS), 01 au 04 Juin 2010, Luxembourg
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