Knowledge management in organizations

Companies face a paradigm shift: from productive management to talent management.

Since the end of the 20th century to date, the main source of wealth creation is knowledge. In organizational settings, it has been considered that the main source of competitive advantages lies in what an organization knows, in how uses its knowledge, and its ability to learn new things (Barney, 1991).

On the basis of this conception of knowledge as a source of wealth, our time has been named knowledge society (Viedma, 2001). What implications does this have for the organizations?

Managing knowledge and competitiveness

To maintain their competitive edge, the organizations need to set up a strategy. The starting point to formulate this strategy is to identify and assess their available resources and skills. These resources can be: tangible (products, incomes), intangibles (culture) and human capital (knowledge, skills and capabilities).

Not all knowledge in an organization becomes a sustainable source of competitive edge; only that one that contributes to generate economic value. Here, knowledge is also understood as skills, experience, contextualized information, values, attitudes, know-how and so forth. This set has been named essential knowledge or core competencies (Viedma, 2001).

Knowledge as an individual asset

It is important to indicate that knowledge is located, primarily, in people. It is an individual asset that develops, mainly, through the learning process.

In the current context, more demanding and dynamic than any past time, organizations need to extract that knowledge, for making it into a common good, as well as, being able to control it. In the last decades, a new current has been initiated in both research and operational level, in order to achieve this purpose: knowledge management (KM).

Starting from the premise that knowledge resides in the individual, KM is understood as a transformation process of this individual asset into an organizational one. For that process occurs successfully, compromise among all members of the organization is essential, as well as proper knowledge dissemination, and the successful incorporation of needed processes and systems, in order to ensure that such knowledge is institutionalized and stays among its members.

KM is essential to the organizations adaptability, that is, for their survival and competitiveness, especially in environments where change is rapid, growing and discontinuous. In KM, people, organizational designs, processes, technology, communication and information systems are involved synergistically.

Knowledge Management as a discipline

KM is a young and promising discipline oriented to increase innovation and competitive edge, in those organizations that integrate it into their operational processes and business activities, in order to capture, document, retrieve and reuse knowledge, as well as to create, transfer and exchange it (Dayan and Evan, 2006).

KM not only affects the business organizations, it is also important in the research at the scientific level. It is a broad and complex concept, with multiple dimensions and interrelated activities (identification, creation, development, exchange, processing, retention, renewal, dissemination, implementation and so forth) that generates a valuable asset for the company: knowledge (Lloria, 2008)

Knowledge Management Research

Research about KM has been approached from different disciplines. Thus, there are studies that come from psychology, sociology, economics, engineering, and computer science, among others.

Each contribution from these areas has served to provide findings on various aspects of KM, however, so far there, a comprehensive, universal and explanatory framework has not been reached, nor for a specific domain. It follows that there is a need for interdisciplinary research, more than research activities focused on a single area of knowledge (Nonaka and Teece, 2001).

KM: What is, and what is not?

KM is a process:

  1. of continuous management, which servers to (Quintas et al., 1997): (a) know current and emerging needs, (b) identify and exploit the acquired knowledge, (c) develop new opportunities in the organization,
  2. that facilitates knowledge flows and sharing aimed to increase individual and collective productivity. (Guns y Välikangas, 1998),
  1. that dynamically converts automatic in reflexive practices, so that: (a) it makes emerge the rules that govern the practice of activities, (b) helps to shape the collective understanding and, (c) facilitates heuristic knowledge (Tsoukas and Vladimirou, 2001).

Processes and stages of KM

There are authors that distinguish three types of processes in KM (Argote et al., 2003):

  • creation or development of new knowledge,
  • retention of knowledge, and
  • transfer of knowledge.

Lehaney and colleagues (2004) define KM as: “systematic organization, (…), with objectives and appropriate feedback mechanisms, controlled by a sector (public or private) that facilitates the creation, retention, exchange, identification, acquisition, use and measure of information and new ideas, to achieve strategic objectives, (…), that are subject to financial, legal, resource, political, technical, cultural and social constraints”

KM should not be confused with information management, or with the information technology management that supports it. It is not exactly the same as talent management. Knowledge and its management require the human intervention and, in this sense, both learning and tacit knowledge are fundamental for this process. Information technology is only a medium to the whole process, but is not the ultimate goal of KM (Martin and Casadesús, 1999).


Barney, J. (1991). Firm resources and sustained competitive advantage. Journal of Management, 17(1), 99–120.

Dayan, R., & Evans, S. (2006). KM your way to CMMI. Journal of Knowledge Management, 10(1), 69-80.

Guns, W., & Välikangas, L. (1998). Rethinking knowledge work: creating value through idiosyncratic knowledge. Journal of Knowledge Management, 1(4), 287-293.

Lehaney, B., Coakes, E., & Gillian, J. (2004). Beyond Knowledge Management. London: Idea Group Publishing.

Lloria, B. (2008). A review of the main aproaches to knowledge management. Knowledge Management Research & Practice, 6, 77-89.

Martín, C. (2000). Las 7 Cibertendencias del Siglo XXI. Madrid: McGraw Hill.

Nonaka, I., & Teece, D. (2001). Research directions for knowledge management. En I. Nonaka, & D. Teece (Edits.), Managing Industrial Knowledge: Creation, Transfer and Utilization (págs. 330-335). London: Sage.

Quintas, P., Lefrere, P., & Jones, G. (1997). Knowledge management: a strategic agenda. Long Range Planning, 30(3), 385-391.

Tsoukas, H., & Vladimirou, E. (2001). What is the organizational knowledge? Journal of Management Studies, 38(7), 973-993.

Viedma, J. (2001). ICBS Intellectual capital benchmarking systems. Journal of Intellectual Capital, 2(2), 148-164.

Companies face a paradigm shift: from productive management to talent management.