I really do hope this research paper form Knowledge@Wharton, Different Knowledge, Different Benefits: Toward a Productivity Perspective on Knowledge Sharing in Organizations by Martine Haas (Wharton management professor) and Morten Hansen (professor of entrepreneurship at INSEAD), will cause a bit of stir in the knowledge management community - in K@W's summary of the paper the authors comment that:
"We find that using codified knowledge in the form of electronic documents saved time during the task, but did not improve work quality or signal competence to clients, whereas in contrast, sharing personal advice improved work quality and signaled competence, but did not save time," Haas says. "This is interesting because managers often believe that capturing and sharing knowledge via document databases can substitute for getting personal advice, and that sharing advice through personal networks can save time. But our findings dispute the claim that different types of knowledge are substitutes for each other. Instead, we show that appropriately matching the type of knowledge used to the requirements of the task at hand -- quality, signaling or speed -- is critical if a firm's knowledge capabilities are to translate into improved performance of its projects."
In the actual paper [PDF}, the authors also put forward the suggestion that:
"firms that primarily compete on quality can benefit most from emphasizing personal advice usage (and perhaps downplaying electronic document usage), while the opposite holds for firms relying on efficiency."
If not the paper, then read the rest of the summary for yourself as there is also a discussion of the factors the authors found were important to productivity that Knowledge Management should make a contribution to:
- work quality;
- time savings; and
- signals of competence.
They also mention factors, based on earlier research, about the factors that influence the ability of teams to get value from the external knowledge they obtain:
- slack time;
- work experience; and
- decision-making autonomy.
They make this interesting comment about slack time:
"Teams with insufficient slack time may download large quantities of documents from a database without checking their quality, skim the papers on their desk superficially -- missing important information -- or fail to solicit sufficiently diverse views by only consulting close colleagues who will return their phone calls promptly."
Does this sound familiar?
I've always maintained that in knowledge management, the combination of people, process, technology and content (information, if you like) should support goals that link to business problems or objectives, and this drives the selection of the mix - in fact part of my masterclass talks about using theories like Porter's Five Forces model to help understand what knowledge strategies an organisation might need. Its neither a case of just building document libraries or just connecting people, but getting the right balance. And the by the way, you may need a little bit of process too.
Picked up by Mike Gotta.
UPDATE: Fixed and added links to the paper.