The knowledge needs of innovating organisations.Abstract
The sustainable management of innovation is perhaps the single most vital element of executive work in today's business Today's Business is a show on CNBC that aired in the early morning, 5 to 7AM ET timeslot, hosted by Liz Claman and Bob Sellers, and it was replaced by Wake Up Call on Feb 4, 2002. environment. This has driven knowledge management theorists to revitalise Verb 1. revitalise - give new life or vigor to
regenerate, renew - reestablish on a new, usually improved, basis or make new or like new; "We renewed our friendship after a hiatus of twenty years"; "They renewed their membership" interest in the concept of 'competency'. However, this theoretical domain continues to be fragmented by definitional debate. At a micro-level of analysis, Human Resources The fancy word for "people." The human resources department within an organization, years ago known as the "personnel department," manages the administrative aspects of the employees. Management theorists have embraced the idea of managerial competencies, resulting in the elaboration of frameworks and standards of performance for the targeted development of individual knowledge. By contrast, at the macrolevel the Strategic Management literature has focussed on developing new concepts of competition and cooperation that emphasise organisational knowledge as the driver of strategic change. In this context, competence-based competition implies that competitive advantage is bestowed by an organisation's unique combination of core competencies A core competency is something that a firm can do well and that meets the following three conditions specified by Hamel and Prahalad (1990):
This definitional debate is a major obstacle to the development of an integrated perspective on competency COMPETENCY, evidence. The legal fitness or ability of a witness to be heard on the trial of a cause. This term is also applied to written or other evidence which may be legally given on such trial, as, depositions, letters, account-books, and the like.
2. and the knowledge needs of innovating organisations. This conceptual article asserts that, since innovation involves a learning process, it is necessary to develop process-based theory rather than the static categorisations that currently dominate thinking in this area. Drawing on theories from the field of learning, the article proposes a three-dimensional framework of knowledge-based competencies that are interlinked and meaningful across levels of analysis.
Innovation has always been a defining feature of human society, never more so than today when the creation and commercialisation of new knowledge provides the vital underpinnings of the emergent emergent /emer·gent/ (e-mer´jent)
1. coming out from a cavity or other part.
2. pertaining to an emergency.
1. coming out from a cavity or other part.
2. coming on suddenly. knowledge society. But innovation, especially if it is to be sustained over time, is an extraordinarily complex, even chaotic, process that has taxed the thinking power of scholars and practitioners alike (for example, Quinn, 1992; Cheng & Van de Ven, 1996). The field of knowledge management, which is broadly concerned with the competencies, capabilities and learning processes that comprise an organisation's knowledge assets, takes a keen interest in sustainable innovation. In this context, competency is recognised as a key component of the intangible value of any knowledge-based company as well as being the means of building intellectual capital (Teece, 2000). So the reasons for gaining a greater understanding of the competencies associated with innovation are manifold manifold
In mathematics, a topological space (see topology) with a family of local coordinate systems related to each other by certain classes of coordinate transformations. Manifolds occur in algebraic geometry, differential equations, and classical dynamics. and pressing, but progress in the development of new theories and practices is disappointingly slow.
This article is a conceptual piece that endeavours to raise some issues for further consideration. It argues that the fragmented thinking that dominates contemporary theorising presents a major obstacle to grappling with the complexities of innovation. By focussing on static categories of knowledge and skill, we are missing dynamic details of the unfolding processes of innovation and learning. The discussion begins with a critical analysis of the literature on competency that demonstrates the effects of fragmentation. The literature in this area is split between the human resource management view, which is motivated by the desire to improve individual skills through training, and the strategic management view, which seeks to enhance the competitive advantages of organisations. This separation between micro- and macro-levels of analysis is not helpful in trying to understand the knowledge needs and learning behaviours of organisations because it cuts across the process of knowledge construction, eliminating th e potential for dynamism. In response to this deficiency, the article proceeds to define a dynamic model of knowing that is capable of integration across levels of analysis.
The Concepts of 'Competency
'Competency' as a technical term was probably first introduced to the psychology literature when McClelland published an article in 1973 entitled en·ti·tle
tr.v. en·ti·tled, en·ti·tling, en·ti·tles
1. To give a name or title to.
2. To furnish with a right or claim to something: "Testing for competence rather than for intelligence". In it he argued that traditional tests of academic aptitude and knowledge content in fact predict neitherjob performance nor success in life (McClelland, 1973). Thus began the quest for Verb 1. quest for - go in search of or hunt for; "pursue a hobby"
quest after, go after, pursue
look for, search, seek - try to locate or discover, or try to establish the existence of; "The police are searching for clues"; "They are searching for the theory and tools that could reliably predict effectiveness in the workplace. It was Boyatzis (1982) who first drew together a comprehensive array of data that had been collected in the USA using the McBer and Company 'Job Competence Assessment' method. He ultimately identified 21 generic characteristics of effective managerial performance which were clustered as follows:
* Goal and Action Management Cluster efficiency orientation; proactivity; diagnostic use of concepts; concern with impact.
* Leadership Cluster self-confidence; use of oral presentations; logical thought; conceptualisation (artificial intelligence) conceptualisation - The collection of objects, concepts and other entities that are assumed to exist in some area of interest and the relationships that hold among them. .
* Human Resource Management Cluster use of socialised Adj. 1. socialised - under group or government control; "socialized ownership"; "socialized medicine"
liberal - tolerant of change; not bound by authoritarianism, orthodoxy, or tradition power; positive regard; managing group processes; accurate self-assessment.
* Directing Subordinates Cluster developing others; use of unilateral unilateral /uni·lat·er·al/ (-lat´er-al) affecting only one side.
On, having, or confined to only one side. power; spontaneity spon·ta·ne·i·ty
n. pl. spon·ta·ne·i·ties
1. The quality or condition of being spontaneous.
2. Spontaneous behavior, impulse, or movement.
Noun 1. .
* Focus on Others Cluster self-control; perceptual per·cep·tu·al
Of, based on, or involving perception. objectivity; stamina Stamina
Staying power, endurance.
Mentioned in: Tai Chi and adaptability; concern with close relationships.
* Specialised knowledge; memory.
Spencer & Spencer (1993) subsequently extended Boyatzis' work by defining generic competency models for technicians and professionals, salespeople sales·peo·ple
Persons who are employed to sell merchandise in a store or in a designated territory. , helping and human service workers, managers, and entrepreneurs. Competency modelling became widely used as an analytical tool (for example, Dalton Dalton, city (1990 pop. 21,761), seat of Whitfield co., extreme NW Ga., in the Appalachian valley; inc. 1847. It is a highly industrialized city in a farm area. , 1997; Mirabile, 1997), particularly in the UK, where mounting evidence pointed to the inadequate quality and quantity of management education (Holman & Hall, 1996). Indeed, the popularity of these models was such that, during the 1980s, no self-respecting management consultant could afford to exclude competency analysis from his or her toolbox See toolkit and toolbar. .
During the 1990s, however, enthusiasm for this approach to competency has waned somewhat, due in large part to the growing confusion about what the word actually means. Boyatzis originally defined competency as:
"an underlying characteristic of a person ... [that] may be a motive, trait trait (trat)
1. any genetically determined characteristic; also, the condition prevailing in the heterozygous state of a recessive disorder, as the sickle cell trait.
2. a distinctive behavior pattern. , skill, aspect of one's self-image or social role, or a body of knowledge which he or she uses. The existence and possession of these characteristics may or may not be known to the person." (1982: 21)
But the all-encompassing nature of this definition provides little in the way of discrimination and leaves great potential for confusion with already ambiguous concepts such as traits or skills. To further confound con·found
tr.v. con·found·ed, con·found·ing, con·founds
1. To cause to become confused or perplexed. See Synonyms at puzzle.
2. the issue, a variety of terms are used to express the same, or a very similar concept (for example, Kochanski, 1997), leading to the criticism that 'competency' is simply unnecessary jargon (for example, Randell, 1989). Little wonder then, that commentators have been scuttling Scuttling is the act of deliberately sinking a ship by allowing water to flow into the hull. This can be achieved in several ways - valves or hatches can be opened to the sea, or holes may be ripped into the hull with brute force or with explosives. for their dictionaries in order to gain further insight.
Semantic ambiguity is not the only source of criticism levelled at the micro approach to competency. It will be obvious from the list (above) of Boyatzis' competencies that they are very much open to different interpretations depending on the style of language that is used within an organisation. For instance, in a hospital case study Holman & Hall reported that:
"All of the participants initially found the [instrument] language difficult to interpret, understand and make meaningful to themselves. In their view the language used appeared alien and words such as operations, customer and subordinate were marked out as being clearly inappropriate." (1996: 195)
An even more glaring glar·ing
1. Shining intensely and blindingly: the glaring noonday sun.
2. Tastelessly showy or bright; garish.
3. example is offered by Martin (2000), who points out that Eastern and Western management practices tend to interpret the meaning of competency quite differently. In fact, the quest for a 'universal' or generic set of individual competencies has been largely abandoned because of the perceived narrowness and inflexibility in·flex·i·ble
1. Not easily bent; stiff or rigid.
2. Incapable of being changed; unalterable.
3. Unyielding in purpose, principle, or temper; immovable. of this approach; an approach that encourages the ticking ticking
a coat color pigmentation pattern in which hairs of one color are distributed in small groups throughout the background color, e.g. Australian cattle dog. Called also speckling. of boxes in order to 'prove' competence, rather than providing a tool for self-development and learning. Hamlin & Stewart (1990:27) quote John Burgoyne and others at the Centre for the Study of Management Learning at the University of Lancaster who say that this approach is "misconceived mis·con·ceive
tr.v. mis·con·ceived, mis·con·ceiv·ing, mis·con·ceives
To interpret incorrectly; misunderstand.
mis " because the "listing of separate competences at best can only simply illuminate il·lu·mi·nate
v. il·lu·mi·nat·ed, il·lu·mi·nat·ing, il·lu·mi·nates
1. To provide or brighten with light.
2. To decorate or hang with lights.
3. different facets of what is at the end of the day a complex whole".
Perhaps the most profound criticism, however, is that the whole micro-level concept of competency is only relatively weakly weak·ly
adj. weak·li·er, weak·li·est
Delicate in constitution; frail or sickly.
1. With little physical strength or force.
2. With little strength of character. theorised. Although there is an abundance of empirical data showing correlations between competencies and effectiveness, there is a dearth of theory to predict these relationships. Furthermore, fundamental concepts such as 'effectiveness' and even 'management' are only vaguely defined and there is certainly little consensus as to their meaning. There can be little hope that this definitional miasma miasma
noxious exhalations from putrescent organic matter; the basis for an early concept of the origin of epidemics. will ever provide the necessary conditions for the development of good theory and practice.
By contrast, the macro-level perspective on competency is conceptually and theoretically rich. The theoretical foundations for this approach lie within the resource- based view of strategic management (for example, Barney, 1991, 2001), which argues that competitive advantage is a function of the resources that an organisation can marshal. Prahalad & Hamel Ham´el
v. t. 1. Same as Hamble. (1990) coined the term 'core competence' to define a critical resource that reflects the collective learning and embedded Inserted into. See embedded system. knowledge in an organisation. They suggest that, by definition, a company should be able to apply its core competences Core competence
Primary area of expertise. Narrowly defined fields or tasks at which a company or business excels. Primary areas of specialty. across a widely diverse set of markets; that core competences should contribute significantly to the benefits perceived by customers when they buy the final product (or service); and that core competences should be difficult for competitors to imitate im·i·tate
tr.v. im·i·tat·ed, im·i·tat·ing, im·i·tates
1. To use or follow as a model.
a. . The core competence concept can also be linked to other contemporary ideas in the organisational literature including the learning organisation (Senge, 1992), intelligent e nterprises (Quinn, 1992), strategic intent and stretch (Hamel & Prahalad, 1989), and the knowledge-creating organisation (Nonaka, 1991).
This macro approach has struck a chord with many academics and practitioners who, in the face of new and evolving industry and organisational forms, have become frustrated frus·trate
tr.v. frus·trat·ed, frus·trat·ing, frus·trates
a. To prevent from accomplishing a purpose or fulfilling a desire; thwart: by the limited explanatory power of conventional strategic management theory. The major criticisms of the macro-view of competence relate primarily to the fact that this is still a developing field of scholarship and there is only limited empirical support. While conceptually rich, a number of scholars have pointed out the underlying circular reasoning contained in the resource-based view The resource-based view (RBV) is an economic tool used to determine the strategic resources available to a firm. The fundamental principle of the RBV is that the basis for a competitive advantage of a firm lies primarily in the application of the bundle of valuable resources at the (Mosakowski and MacKelvey, 1997; Hubler, 1998; Priem and Butler, 2001), namely that successful firms flourish because they have unique resources, where resources are defined as strategic strengths. Thus a firm has strategic resources because it is successful and is successful because it has strategic resources.
These criticisms aside, Sanchez & Heene (1997) have built upon the Prahalad & Hamel concept of core competence by integrating internal organisational and external competitive dynamics. In stark contrast to the micro-level competence approach described above, these writers have put enormous effort into the development of a conceptually grounded, logically consistent vocabulary to define the relevant concepts. They define organisational competence as:
"an ability to sustain coordinated deployments of resources in ways that contribute to achieving organisational goals" (Sanchez, Heene & Thomas, 1996: 8).
This definition necessarily locates knowledge as the primary driver of organisational competence (Magalhaes, 1998). Building from this position, von Krogh & Roos (1995) suggest that the two key components of competence are knowledge of a specific nature, and a particular task to be achieved. Consequently, in their view competence can be meaningful only in a "specific knowledge-task context". Interestingly, Hamlin & Stewart (1990), although they were working from the assumptions of the micro-level of competency analysis, also found that the ma of identifiable managerial competencies are task specific rather than universal. This, then, suggests that a more holistic definition of competency might be derived from a focus on the actions associated with specific tasks.
Table 1 summarises my argument so far. The issue is that the notion of 'competency' has been appropriated and given different meanings by two quite distinct disciplinary areas, namely human resource management and strategic management. These disciplines are separated not only by the level of analysis at which each operates, but also by their distinct theoretical and methodological foundations. Each discipline offers valuable insights, but the differences between them create definitional confusion as well as barriers to the development of a truly integrated understanding of competency. However, both approaches share a common focus on process, which may provide a foundation for theoretical integration. I explore this possibility further in the following sections.
Relating Competency to Knowledge Management
Competency lies at the very heart of knowledge management, so it is hardly surprising that the definitional debates described above are still very much in evidence in the knowledge management literature. On one hand, writers working at the micro-level are concerned with individual skills and experience in the context of the human resource issues that arise in knowledge management (for example, Martin, 2000; Nadler and Shaw, 1995). On the other hand, there is a burgeoning macro-level literature, called the knowledge-based view of the firm, that locates knowledge as the primary organisational resource determining strategic advantage (for example, Conner and Prahalad, 1996; Grant, 1996; Kogut and Zander zan·der
n. pl. zander or zan·ders
A common European pikeperch (Stizostedion lucioperca) valued as a food fish.
[German, from Low German Sander , 1996). The recently emerging notion of dynamic capability (for example, Zollo & Winter, 2002; Eisenhardt & Martin, 2000) does little to alleviate this tension, grounded as it is in the macro-level, Strategic Management literature.
Bridging between the micro and macro levels of analysis is clearly essential if we are to advance our thinking about knowledge management. In my view, the principal obstacle that must be overcome in order to bring about such an integration is our preference for thinking in terms of fixed categories of knowledge rather than dynamic processes of learning. So for instance, we frame competency as knowledge, skills and resources rather than knowing, skilling and resourcing. And yet we readily acknowledge that competence is an evolving phenomenon that is constantly under construction by individual players who interact within ever-changing contexts. Recognising this, an organisation's strategic positioning then becomes a matter of continuously honing Honing could refer to
A Competency Framework for Knowledge Management
To better understand knowledge management competencies it is helpful to make some distinctions between different ways of knowing. Kim (1993) draws on experiential ex·pe·ri·en·tial
Relating to or derived from experience.
ex·peri·en learning theory to suggest that learning encompasses 'knowing how', which is about skills and job related knowledge, and 'knowing why', which is knowledge of the beliefs and values that shape identity. He argues that the interaction of both forms of knowing provides the essential connection between thought and action. Kim's two-dimensional model may be further extended by drawing on the notion of socially situated learning (Brown & Duguid, 1991; Lave & Wenger, 1991). From this perspective, learning is a social activity that takes place within a participative environment. Thus the interaction between people leads us to a third knowing dimension, 'knowing whom'. Each of these three dimensions, knowing why, knowing how and knowing whom, may be seen as a competency that can be elaborated across multiple levels of analysis. Together they provide a compr ehensive framework to guide understanding and development of the learning competencies that contribute to sustainable innovation. Similar models have also been applied in other knowledge domains (for example, Defillippi and Arthur (1994) on careers; Quinn, Anderson and Finkelstein (1996) on organisational intellect).
The dimensions of this framework are concerned with distinct, but interdependent in·ter·de·pen·dent
Mutually dependent: "Today, the mission of one institution can be accomplished only by recognizing that it lives in an interdependent world with conflicts and overlapping interests" aspects of knowing. Knowing why is potentially the most complex of these three dimensions because it is concerned with the underlying values that shape individual and organisational identity. More often that not, these values are unconsciously held, and therefore difficult to surface for analytical purposes. A further complication complication /com·pli·ca·tion/ (kom?pli-ka´shun)
1. disease(s) concurrent with another disease.
2. occurrence of several diseases in the same patient.
n. is that, because of their socially constructed nature, individual values are inevitably influenced by organisational values, which in turn are a reflection of, amongst other things, the values of some, often specific, individuals (for example, leaders).
The features of the knowing why dimension include considerations of purpose, direction and vision. These value-based issues are reflected in leadership/followership styles and also the creativity of individuals. In terms of Boyatzis' (1982) characteristics, knowing why is most strongly represented by the Goal and Action Management, and Leadership Clusters. At the macro-level, knowing why is concerned with the governance processes and culture of organisations. The wider environment within which a company operates will also have an impact on the values espoused by its members. For instance government policies inevitably influence the business culture of a nation.
Knowing how is the dimension that fits most readily into the existing competency literature. For example, it is a consistent thread running through all of the characteristics identified by Boyatzis (1982). Knowing how is concerned with the knowledge, expressed as skills and experience, that is relevant to an organisation's goals, where relevance is determined by the related knowing why dimension. Skill is very much associated with the micro-level of analysis, but equally, at the macro-level this dimension is reflected in the processes and routines that have become embedded as organisational systems. Knowing how is also linked to the what, when and where of resources management. Having, or being able to access, the right material, financial, knowledge and people resources at the right time is a critical competency for effective innovation.
The final dimension, knowing whom, is closely associated with the literature on networking (for example, Nohria & Eccles, 1992) in that it is related to the inter-connections between people. These connections may be intra-firm, as represented by team dynamics
These three processes of knowing provide a potentially much richer means of exploring the competencies required for sustainable innovation. Knowing why guides us to identify the relevant knowing how, that is, the skills that we require. This in turn directs us towards the appropriate knowing whom, where communities of learning act to socialise Verb 1. socialise - take part in social activities; interact with others; "He never socializes with his colleagues"; "The old man hates to socialize"
socialize us and shape the reasons (knowing why) for our quest for knowledge. Knowing why, knowing how and knowing whom are, therefore, interdependent and together they create a balanced model of the learning competencies needed by innovating organisations (see Figure 1). If organisational analysis identifies a deficiency in one or more of these knowing dimensions, this then points to the need for further learning.
Discussion and Implications for Knowledge Management
The knowing why, knowing how, knowing whom framework has several advantages for the analysis and development of innovation competencies. Firstly, it effectively accommodates both the micro-and macro-levels of analysis as they are reflected respectively in the human resource management and strategic management literatures. The theme that integrates these levels is learning, which on one hand is resident within the minds of individuals, but on the other hand is embedded in organisational routines and systems. Thus knowledge can be seen to exist at personal, inter-personal, group, organisational and societal levels, so any theoretical perspective that explicitly eliminates any of these levels of analysis will inevitably be limited.
The second advantage of the framework is that the three dimensions are interdependent, and together they provide a much more holistic view of competency than the current fragmented literature. Quinn et al (1996) note with alarm that the primary focus of most occupational training expenditures is in the area of facts (know-what), whereas it is the skill in applying these facts (know-how) that is all important for a sustainable future. The same predicament Predicament
Dancy, Captain Ronald
must persecute friend to save own skin. [Br. Lit.: Loyalties, Magill I, 533–534]
knot inextricable difficulty; Alexander cut the original. [Gk. Hist. is equally evident in knowledge management. Unless knowledge management systems can move towards providing an appropriately balanced view of all three knowing dimensions, then the result will be nothing more than a predictable mediocrity me·di·oc·ri·ty
n. pl. me·di·oc·ri·ties
1. The state or quality of being mediocre.
2. Mediocre ability, achievement, or performance.
3. One that displays mediocre qualities. that fails to address the real needs of innovation and knowledge management.
Finally, the framework has simplicity and elegance in its favour. The concepts of knowing why, knowing how and knowing whom are already in common use, and as such, have immediate application in practical situations. However, it would be fallacious to assume that the framework is trivial. By weaving weaving, the art of forming a fabric by interlacing at right angles two or more sets of yarn or other material. It is one of the most ancient fundamental arts, as indicated by archaeological evidence. the three threads together, a comprehensive tool is defined for the exploration and analysis of innovation competencies.
In conclusion, this triptych of learning competencies offers a new perspective that has the potential to overcome the dysfunctional dys·func·tion also dis·func·tion
Abnormal or impaired functioning, especially of a bodily system or social group.
dys·func divisions that currently fragment the knowledge management field. It reframes competency as a dynamic process, of learning rather than a static stock of knowledge. As such, it presents a radical challenge to the models that currently dominate the theorising of knowledge management.
Table 1 Summary Comparison of Two Views on Competency Human Resource Strategic Management Management Level of Analysis Micro Macro Location of Knowledge The Individual The Organisation Type of Knowledge Skills & Experience Intellectual Capital Theoretical Objective Workplace Effectiveness Competitive Advantage Development Focus Management Education Strategic Positioning
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New York, Middle Atlantic state of the United States. It is bordered by Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and the Atlantic Ocean (E), New Jersey and Pennsylvania (S), Lakes Erie and Ontario and the Canadian province of .
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Barbara Simpson Barbara Simpson is an American radio talk show host. She is most notable as the host of Coast to Coast AM on Saturday nights from about 2000 until about 2003, alternating with George Noory, but has also been a long-time host of her own show on KSFO (AM).
Barbara Simpson is a senior lecturer senior lecturer
n. Chiefly British
A university teacher, especially one ranking next below a reader. at Business School of the University of Auckland Not to be confused with Auckland University of Technology.
The University of Auckland (Māori: Te Whare Wānanga o Tāmaki Makaurau) is New Zealand's largest university. . She graduated from the University of Auckland with BSc and MSc(Hons) degrees in Physics, which lead to her first career as a geothermal ge·o·ther·mal also ge·o·ther·mic
Of or relating to the internal heat of the earth.
ge and groundwater scientist. She completed her PhD in transformational change in science organisations at the University of Auckland. Her current research interests are broadly defined by the field of Organisational Learning. Within this, she draws on theoretical concepts of sensemaking, organisational transformation, technological innovation, and organisational change.