This website covers topics on knowledge management, personal effectiveness, theory of constraints, amongst other topics. Opinions expressed here are strictly those of the owner, Jack Vinson, and those of the commenters.

Impact of KM on Employees

I was catching up on some back reading and came across "The impact of knowledge repositories on power and control in the workplace" by Peter H Gray in Information Technology & People v14n4 from 2001. Unfortunately, this article is not available online without a paid subscription.

The article turns on the head of most other articles on KM: KM repositories create more power for management rather than less (from the summary):

Knowledge repositories stand to have a considerable influence on the way organizations function in the future. Conjunct with potential benefits are some serious issues surrounding employee power, managerial control and the structure of knowledge work. The degree to which researchers and managers understand the effects of knowledge repositories on the distribution of power will most certainly influence the future success of such systems.

The argument goes that with knowledge repositories, management will have more power over employees. These are consolidated into three propositions that the authors suggest need more study:

P1. Use of knowledge repositories leads to reductions in employee uniqueness, which, in turn, increase their substitutability and reduces their power.
P2. Use of knowledge repositories leads to reductions in the analytical skill required in a job, which reduces the power position of the user.
P3. Management choice of control method moderates the impact that knowledge repositories have on employee power.

This feeds directly into the belief that KM systems are designed to micromanage and "steal" the knowledge of the experienced workers. When technology runs the organization this way, there is no surprise that this is a potential result. This sounds like classic employee-as-expense thinking. Capture everything the expense knows and does, and then remove the expense. And this makes perfect sense for the type of system discussed: knowledge repositories.

The other side of this argument is that these technologies represent the smallest amount of knowledge in the heads of employees and organizations. Technology should support the way an organization wants to conduct business -- including how the organization wants to treat its employees. Skilled employees know much more than they could ever say or write (thanks David Snowden). The organization that can create environments in which the employees help one another will move faster than those that simply treat their people as expenses.

UPDATE: New address for the Cynefin Centre.

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