Does knowledge management produce practical outcomes?
Purpose: The paper examines ways that Knowledge Management (KM) can demonstrate practical value for organizations. It begins by reviewing the claims made about KM, i.e. the benefits KM can provide to organizations. These claims are compared with traditional firm performance metrics to derive a criterion to measure the value of KM. Seven practical outcomes of KM are then presented as methods to persuade managers to invest in KM. These practical outcomes are then evaluated against the value criterion. The paper is based on empirical evidence from a five year longitudinal study.
Design/methodology/approach: This paper is based on a longitudinal change project for a large Australian Research Council (ARC) Linkage Project grant in the period 2008-2013. The Project was a transformational change program which aimed to help make the partner organisation a learning organisation. The partner organisation was a large Australian Government Department, which faced the threat of knowledge loss caused by its ageing workforce. The sample was 118 respondents, mainly engineering and technical workers. A total of 150 respondents were invited to participate in the study which involved an annual survey and attendance at regular training workshops and related activities, with a participation rate of 79 per cent.
Findings: This paper provides a checklist from which to evaluate KM in terms of financial and non-financial measures and seven practical outcomes from which to identify the organisational problem which may be addressed by KM. Lead and lag indicators - what needs to be done and what will result - are also provided. Managers may use this framework to identify the value proposition in any KM investment.
Research limitations/implications: The research is based on a single case study in a public sector organization. While the longitudinal nature of the study and the rich data collected offsets this issue, it also presents good opportunities for researchers and practitioners to test the ideas presented in this paper in other industry contexts. The seven practical outcomes also vary in the maturity of the empirical evidence supporting KM's impact. Strategic alignment, value management, and psychological contract, in particular, are still under-developed and could be areas for specific further research testing the ideas presented here.
Practical implications: This paper argues that investment decisions regarding KM may benefit from focusing on significant and on-going organisational problems, which will connect KM with firm performance and demonstrate financial and non-financial impact. The seven practical outcomes were evaluated against measurement criteria and against KM's claims. Overall, common themes were time and cost, as well as capability growth and performance improvements. Financial impact was mainly found in cost savings. Non-financial impact was found across the seven practical outcomes. It provides management with a checklist to make investment decisions regarding KM.
Originality/value: The decision whether to invest in KM begins with methods used to evaluate any organisational project. Managers must determine first whether necessary funds are available; and then whether the project is worthwhile. The standard method for evaluating a projects worth is return on investment (ROI). However, calculating ROI for KM investment is problematic. Unless KM can be proven to directly improve performance in financial terms, managers may struggle to see its ROI. The paper begins by reviewing the claims made about KM, i.e. the benefits KM can provide to organizations. These claims are compared with traditional firm performance metrics to derive a criterion to measure the value of KM.