This week I decided to start a little more general with my readings, trying to bring myself back to what we’re all talking about: knowledge management. With that in mind, I picked up Tsouskas to read about organizational knowledge. And I am glad I did.
Sometimes I get so bogged down in trying to understand all theories and make them fit with each other I forget they may conflict or use words differently. Tsouskas was a great reminder that, hey, sometimes when an author says knowledge what they mean and what I think in my head are not the same thing. I’ve had to do some double (or triple) readings in the past just to make sense of a word used in an unexpected way.
Tsouskas draws upon the (mostly-but-not-always-agreed-upon) distinction between data, information, and knowledge to give readers a definition of personal knowledge and then build a definition of organizational knowledge. I absolutely love that he uses a call center as his case-study; call centers are the link between an organization and customers, and if the information the call center is relaying is wrong then customers might not return. A poorly informed call center can be crippling (depending on the business). Just imagine: what if you had to call your internet service provider because your wifi just got cut and the representative you speak with has never heard of a modem, a router, MPS, or an Ethernet cable? If that were me, I’d be pretty mad. I’d probably be tempted to switch providers, or at least look around for other options.
Back to organizational knowledge, however, Tsouskas mentions the need for generalizations and rules. These are based on what the organizational community has experienced in the past (all that knowledge sharing, story telling, and knowledge transfer RHMaxson, akeller, kamrynwies, and I have talked about before). Amin and Roberts disagree, to an extent. No, this will not make my head explode with two conflicting theories. Not yet, anyways.
Amin and Roberts bring up a good point that too much generalization is unhelpful. They emphasize that details on the situation matter. Granted, Tsouskas is talking about organizational knowledge in general and Amin and Roberts are talking about knowing in communities of practice. The parallels are not exact. Yet the concepts speak to me for the same context of that call center: the call center must have generalizations and rules (so information is given quickly), but those generalizations can’t be so general that the information is not useful (i.e.: an instruction to “use X to find Y”). They also can’t be so detailed that the information is difficult to sort through quickly to find the answer which is relevant to the call. There has to be a middle ground, a happy medium, a balance between generalization and specification.
While on the subject of organizational knowledge and the level of detail it contains, I also read Connelly, Zweig, Webster, and Trougakos‘ article on knowledge hiding. I couldn’t help it; when thinking about generalizing, I had to wonder if that meant knowledge was being hidden from employees.
Connelly, Zweig, Webster, and Trougakos‘ study on knowledge hiding gives proof that it exists, and in some ways I think it is a good thing. I can understand “hiding” knowledge which is not relevant to your job. For example, it’s not necessary for you to know how to build a computer in order to use one (and taking the time to teach all that detail may be considered a “non-value added task” since you aren’t being asked to build computers). But knowledge hiding should not occur for any task-related activities. You should always be given all the information you need to do your job correctly. One thing they did not cover, however, was unintentional knowledge hiding. They state at the very beginning that they define knowledge hiding as an intentional act, but that still leaves me wondering about the unintentional acts: the assumptions, the unopened emails, the missed calls, and honest forgetting.
Amin, A., & Roberts, J. (2008). Knowing in action: Beyond communities of practice. Research Policy, 37(2), 353–369. doi:10.1016/j.respol.2007.11.003
Connelly, C. E., Zweig, D., Webster, J., & Trougakos, J. P. (2012). Knowledge hiding in organizations. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 33(1), 64–88. doi:10.1002/job.737
Tsoukas, H. (2001). What is organizational knowledge. Journal of Management Studies, 38(7), 973993. doi:10.1111/14676486.00268