Knowledge management practices from a culture free and culture specific perspektive

Seminar Paper 2004 22 Pages

Business economics - Business Management, Corporate Governance


Table of Contents

List of Figures

I. Introduction
1.1 The Influence of National Culture on Knowledge Management
1.2 Objectives
1.3 Scope and Limitations

II. Literature Review
2.1 Cultural Issues
2.1.1 Definition of Culture
2.1.2 Culture Free versus Culture Specific
2.2 Knowledge Management Issues
2.2.1 Definition of Knowledge
2.2.2 Knowledge Management
2.2.3 Knowledge Management Systems
2.2.4 Knowledge Management – Culture Free or Culture Specific? The Cultural Free View The Culture Specific View
2.3 National Culture: Hofstede´s Model of Spain and Germany
2.4 National Culture and Knowledge Management

III. Application: Knowledge Management at XXX
3.1 Knowledge Management at XXX Germany
3.2 Knowledge Management for the Project XY
3.3 Knowledge Management Initiatives at XXX Spain
3.4 Why did Knowledge Management fail at XXX Spain?
3.4.1 Culture Specific Reasons
3.4.2 Culture Free Reasons
3.5 Implications

IV. Conclusion and Recommendations for Further Research

V. Bibliography

List of Figures

Figure 1: The Cultural Wall

Figure 2: Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions

Figure 3: Hofstede Model – Comparison Spain and Germany

Figure 4: Barriers to Knowledge Sharing at XXX Spain

I. Introduction

The Cultural Wall

“Recently a large global company set up a sophisticated website for employees in international subsidiaries to share knowledge. It had areas for chat, document storage, and messages from the company’s leadership. Everything was clearly segmented so information could be looked up in many different ways. The designers expected people to load many documents onto the site.

But even it was interesting, easy to use, and had many features, hardly anyone visited the website. Potential users said that they liked it, but just did not have time for it. The designers felt that they hit the ‘cultural wall’.”

McDermott and O’Donell, 2001, p. 76.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Figure 1: The Cultural Wall

1.1 The Influence of National Culture on Knowledge Management

Today, most organisations are aware that managing their knowledge effectively is the only way to achieve sustainable competitive advantage (Drucker, 2001). Companies not securing systematically knowledge for later usage, risk to reinvent solutions and to incur unnecessary expense to relearn the same lessons (Tiwana, 1999).

But in an increasingly global business context, companies not only need to understand the importance of knowledge management but also the importance of (national) cultural differences which influence knowledge management processes. Recognising cultural differences is an important step to anticipating potential threats as well as opportunities.

1.2 Objectives

The purpose of this report is to answer the question to which extent national culture influence knowledge management processes and how national culture can promote or hinder company’s ability to implement organisation-wide knowledge management efforts.

Therefore, in the theoretical part the emphasis lies on cultural aspects, especially culture free and culture specific issues linked with knowledge management. Hofstede’s theory will be applied to Spanish culture to examine the influence of national culture on knowledge management practices. In the practical part a failed knowledge management project at XXX will be examined in order to determine areas of improvement and to avoid the same mistakes in further knowledge management initiatives at XXX .

1.3 Scope and Limitations

When analysing the influence of culture on knowledge management, there are important facts to consider.

First, the focus of this report is on national culture and not on organisational culture, assuming that organisational culture is similar in both XXX Spain and XXX Germany. Further, evaluating management practices in relation with national cultures should be done with caution because it operates with stereotypes. Finally, due to the length of the report, the focus is more on cultural aspects of knowledge management initiatives, so that technical facts of knowledge management programmes could not be examined in detail.

II. Literature Review

The role of culture and technology factors in knowledge management (KM) is the source of major disagreement within the KM community (Snowden, 2003). A frequent statement is that an effective KM solution focuses 90 percent on cultural factors and 10 percent on technological factors (Snowden, 2003). Contrary to this, others see KM as being mostly about technology. The first view is largely driven by the interests of wishing to privilege the role of people in organisations, the second by those arguing for KM as a concept of mostly tools and systems. To understand this debate, an overview of the main cultural and knowledge issues will be given in this section.

2.1 Cultural Issues

The term culture can refer to professional culture, organisational culture, and national culture. Although KM literature thus so far has focused on organisational culture, national culture is the primary focus of this report.

2.1.1 Definition of Culture

According to Hofstede (1980) national culture is defined as “the collective programming of the mind which distinguishes the members of one human group from another” (ibid, p. 25).

Prior to Hofstede’s analysis, many businesses considered organizational culture to be independent of national culture. However, Hofstede (1980) argued that they cannot assume that organisational cultures exist independently of national cultures because organisation’s culture is nested within a national culture. Therefore, national culture influences human resource practices and organisational behaviour.

Geertz (1993) developed a definition of culture based on knowledge: “Culture is the means by which people communicate, perpetuate, and develop their knowledge about and attitudes toward life” (ibid, p. 89). This is the only definition of culture founded in the literature review, which reveals a linkage between knowledge and culture.

2.1.2 Culture Free versus Culture Specific

Two main views have evolved which can be defined as the culture free and the culture specific theories.

Proponents of the culture free theory argue that organisational behaviour is less a result of the country’s cultural contingencies, but rather dependent on size, technology and industry environment of the organisation. Kerr et al. (1962) claimed that technology and other homogenising forces resulting from industrialisation would generate convergence in industrial relations systems.

Scholars who defend the culture specific hypothesis argue that organisations match their structures to fit their societal environment. Taking an historical perspective, theories about how to best organise, e.g. the German Max Weber’s bureaucracy or the North-American Taylor’s scientific management; both reflect societal concerns as well as the cultural background of the individuals (Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner, 2002). Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner (2002) also focus on the culture free and culture specific debate: “No one is denying the existence of universally applicable scientific laws with objective consequences. These are indeed, culture-free. But the belief that human cultures in the workplace should resemble the laws of physics and engineering is a cultural, not a scientific belief.” (ibid, p. 4).

One of the most important and cited studies which attempted to establish the impact of culture differences on management was conducted by Geert Hofsteede (1960 and later).

Hofstede (1980) aimed to identify the main dimensions of national culture that would highlight the differences between societies (see more chapter 2.3).

His work has been subject to severe criticism, mainly because of a lack of well defined cultural dimensions and the choice of methodology (Ford et al., 2003). Furthermore, despite the ongoing research in this field and the changes that have occurred within countries, e.g. countries’ scores on the dimension Individualism have increased over the years (Hofstede, 2001), the scores reported are not current. For instance, Gooderham and Nordhaug (2002), indicate a significant convergence of (management) values across Europe. Regardless Hofstede’s criticism, there exists recent evidence of the persistence cultural differences in Europe (European Commission, 2002) that might still affect management practices.

2.2 Knowledge Management Issues

The review of the literature highlights important knowledge management issues. This discussion will give rise to a number of research questions.

2.2.1 Definition of Knowledge

According to Davenport and Prusak (1998) knowledge is a mix of framed experience, values, and contextual information that provides a framework for evaluating and incorporating new experiences and information. In organisations, it often becomes imbedded not only in documents but also in organisational routines, processes, practices, and norms (Davenport and Prusak, 1998).

An individual or an organization can possess different types of knowledge: tacit and explicit. Explicit knowledge is easily articulated, coded and transferred (Nonaka, 1994). Tacit knowledge, on the other hand, is more difficult to articulate and is derived from individual experiences. It is essentially related to human action and unlike information, it is about beliefs and commitment (Nonaka and Takeuchi, 1995).

Nonaka (1994) describes a second classification of knowledge: individual and organisational. Organisational knowledge is developed and created within groups of individuals (Alavi and Leidner, 2001). This is described ironically in the statement ‘if organisations only knew what they knew’ (Pfeffer and Sutton, 2000).

An organisation which aims to gain the advantage of strategic KM, should focus on capitalising individual knowledge and turn as much of it into organisational knowledge (Drucker, 2001).

For the purpose of this report the definition given by Davenport and Prusak (1998) will be adopted due to its general acceptance and applicability to organisational knowledge.



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Knowledge Culture



Title: Knowledge management practices from a culture free and culture specific perspektive