(comment: As originally posted on the OUBS Blog)
This unit is about the two dimensions of the resource of knowledge workers and the management of the process for innovation. Remember that not all knowledge workers need to be innovative. But also, knowledge might be necessary but not enough to manage human resources for innovation. The efficient management of information is still under-used, managed and attached importance to. Managements role is then about facilitation, nurturing, supporting, …
Knowledge Work: A conceptual framework
For one remember that each initiative has to be seen in context, meaning that for example a command/control culture will likely not foster knowledge sharing. Is everyone a knowledge worker or only those not working on non-material things, and does this maybe just simply relabels them? Is that relabeling just a fad, even if knowledge is not? Maybe our move to service work has made knowledge more central. Actually, anything that can be automated will, and hence information and knowledge, or rather knowing, is key. Is the knowing worker, the worker of the future?
In a sense, this means that future companies might be more knowledge than capital intensive and then people need to be managed differently, as they hold your success in their heads. It is no more about access to capital but to knowledge.
What do these knowledge workers contribute? Human assets are part of the intangible asset pool of a company, but they do not belong to the company. They should be management like finances are and in this case the “resources” can actually also be found outside the company. You need to facilitate, coach, empower, foster lifelong learning, knowledge capture and sharing, motivation and commitment.
In the industrial age the focus was on division of labor and the “one best way”, rules objectivity, technology, … But this knowledge age depends on factors that are not heightened by rules or objectivity. They need the above traits like intuition and commitment. Managers were bosses giving orders, held responsible and knowing everything. Now this is harder as you can’t know everything in a knowledge economy and hence the manager has become a coach, working on moving intellectual capital from people to the organization or actually just between people, working on making them stay. The idea that you need to move knowledge to the company is actually just the easy version of all of this, not taking into account that you might not be able to in most cases.
Organizational forms are also being changed from hierarchical to more distributed and blurry, with lateral information flows, often across boundaries needed new human resource ideas. If knowledge intensiveness is true, loosening of control and autonomy will be needed.
The Problem of Managing knowledge Workers and “Managing Innovation”
Innovator companies are characterized as including visionaries, open cultures, market focussed staff and are open to prototyping. This is far from easy:
- how do you access tacit knowledge and not instruct or control people from above?
- how to you gain trust, commitment and motivation?
- how do you deal with contrary legacy messages?
- how to you contract workers and consultants from the outside?
- how to you manage the vulnerability of the organization?
- how do you manage professional workers who seem to be harder to manage the more specialized they are?
In terms of best practices there seem to be more poor than good examples for management of innovation. There are a lot of different views within one company about what innovation really is and without understanding this context, introducing aids to innovation is fruitless. The OUBS “perceptions of innovation” study revealed some barriers to innovation:
- silo mentality
- blame culture
- poor communications
- short-termism, ROI focus
HRM practices for knowledge work and innovation
A clear knowledge management focus in hr does need a different strategy than one focusses on cost. In this unit HR strategy is about structural and cultural strategy as well as HR practices. This links in directly with Gary Hamel’s resource-based view on strategy and organizational capabilities.
- Organizational structures and enabling conditions
While structures are mostly linked to a command-control system, Nonaka and Takeuchi showed that given “requisite variety” structures can also help innovation, as this diversity needs to reflect market complexity.
“To maximize variety everyone in the organization should be assured of the fastest access to the broadest variety of necessary information, going through the fewest steps.” – Nonaka and Takeuchi, 1995
- Keep multiple links between diverse teams
- change structures frequently
- promote job rotation
- “non-experts” in new product-dev to challenge “givens”
- Teams: shared context, open discussions, big pool of knowledge, big Ts
You need independent knowledge bubbles within structure with extensive links. Virtual teams are possible through ICT, allowing for dispersed COP to build.
You also need to foster collaboration instead of stars (or both) to improve better and more sustainable innovation. The team leader that becomes more of a coach, managing the discussion and collaboration, … the team development, which today is really an HR function. We all need to become HR managers in a sense.
The spider’s web organizational form is an idea to let the right teams form at the right time and place (also virtual). Mature teams, with possibility for individuality, clear goals, good sharing and the right resources seem to work best.
- Organization wide structures
Either you have an expert R&D system or more of a collaborative innovation whole. R&D needs interfaces to the business side obviously in both directions to allow market-pull and technology-push. Organization wide innovation in light of customer demands moves everything from asset management to resource leverage with wide information sharing. You should actually call the human resource manager the human asset leverager.
Joint problem solving and flexible specialization are often cited as important. Some big companies work towards this by subdividing when reaching a certain size. Even though flexibility is important you still seem to be able to use a bureaucratic system to foster flexibility. I think it’s Stevel Ballmer from Microsoft who said that speed is not about being big or small, if you don’t move, you don’t move.
- Inter-organizational arrangements and networks
You need boundary spanners, that stay up to date on the latest happenings.
Encouraging an appropriate culture is said to be key to performance. Some believe that culture can be managed. In relation to innovation this means managing failure, but in general this is how management behaves in reality (doing versus saying) that forms the culture. Conformance to to procedures and short-term profit focus are things noted as barriers to innovation.
Innovation can flourish based on Pascale (91) where:
- constructive criticism is welcome
- creative tension the norm
- passion for learning
- quality enhancement
- autonomy and independence
- free flow of innovation
– few hierarchies
– big cross boundary and cross functional focus
- bureaucracy -> entrepreneurship (or intrapreneurship)
- everybody is a thinker (lean production)
- not cutting funding in crisis
- sharing knowledge (emphasized through performance evaluation and compensation)
Resourcing: Recruiting and selecting
Peters and Waterman (82) argue that those closest to the customers are those most ripe for innovation. Diversity is given emphasis to foster alternative views. Peters (89) believes you need to seperate those using procedures and those breaking them, but others (Davenport, 93) argue that this is getting harder.
Your best people will likely be found by competitors and you need to use things like profit-sharing, challenge, environment and freedom to make them stay.
Leonard (98) suggests key themes in relation to learning, knowledge and innovation:
- shared problem solving
- experimentation and prototyping
- implementing new technical procedures and tools
- importing and absorbing from the outside
- learning from the market
All this need continuous learning on fertile ground. Top management needs to be sure that they don’t kill of new ways the team is working, killing of their learning and sending a bad signal.
“Knowledge is experience. Everything else is information.” – Albert Einstein
Sometimes knowledge stores actually become information junkyards (McDermott, 99) The structure of organizational memory beased on Walsh and Ungson (91) has several stores: See Figure 4.2.
HR Managers need to enhance and exploit each of those. Stories and learning histories might be a good idea here which is where Blogs fit very well.
Training for Creativity
First you need the environment and then you need to test your people and develop them in the right direction. Competence modeling allows you to find those competences that you need and develop them (see activity 4.7)
The learning organization can proceed the knowledge company or vice versa, which depends on the viewpoint. But they are interlinked. Corporate universities show that the idea/need for both is growing, sometimes as a partnership with universities. There are different hierarchies of learning for example adapted by Quinn et. al.:
- know what
- know how
- know why
- care why
(one might argue that “know who” is another one if you can’t know everything )
Career development and management development is often linked to job rotation in successful cases, with managers being a core target group due to their industry knowledge. Courses, mentoring and coaching are other things that have been done successfully. Japan is strong in this respect and it shows in their knowledge increases.
If you focus on management as a whole you really move from manager to management development. All the moves in that direction show the importance seen in KM and high-order learning.
Involving and Empowerment
It’s regarded as an alternative to command-and-control but there is little research on how to really make it work. It’s about high-trust and high-commitment really. Wilkonson (98) has classified various types:
- information sharing
- upward problem solving (quality circles, …)
- task autonomy
- attitudinal shaping
Success is dependent on context, and needs to move beyond delegating responsibility. Without training, cost/reward and consistence it is futile.
Harnessing motivation: Performance management and rewards
People, above all, need to be willing to share their knowledge. Hence you need job security, also be “upgrading” your employees to remain employable. Pay attention to:
- what gets measured gets done
- sharing needs to be rewarded (expertise networks are an idea)
- include km in routines (e.g. knowledge gained in project management)
- ict tools need to be appealing and useful
People need to feel they get more than they give. Amabile (98) identified 6 ingredients necessary:
- work-group feature
- supervisory encouragement
- organizational support
A broader goal base seems to be needed and enjoying work important. The psychological contract need to make people investors.
HR strategies in context
You need to not work on one lever but on their balance and include a sociopolitical angle. Strategic integration is about your strategy being mutually reinforcing and Schuler and Jackson say these patterns are needed:
- high degree of creative behavior
- long-term focus
- moderate concern for quality
- moderate concern for output quantity
- risk taking
- high tolerance for ambiguity
You need to find your best fit in this and it needs to result in a competitive advantage for all this to make any sense. This comes from: innovation, low cost or superior quality. You need to find the “needed role behavior” in relation to this and the fitting HR strategy. Innovation strategy does not require to work harder or smarter but differently by the way. You need to be sure to choose and match internal and external views.
You can also choose different types of innovation and then match different HR strategies. HR needs to fit to your organizations need. Managers need to use the right methods for the context to drive innovation. All this likely need to be changing over time too.
The sociopolitical context
Davenport argued, interestingly, that if there is not politics, then there seems to be no perceived value in knowledge. In any case the value is socially constructed, and not a given. Also it seems that employees actually are becoming less happy in their work and less secure in their job, making you wonder if all this is really gaining some traction or not. Then again, maybe this is just about competition. You still need to remember all the Es.