In order for any organization to survive in the knowledge economy, it needs to have a better performance tomorrow than today and yesterday. The organization should always be on the lookout for the best ways of preventing occurrence of problems and correcting the existing ones. An organization should also seek to carry out improvements, on a continuous basis in order to achieve business sustainability. All these call for better knowledge management. According to Wei and Mohammed (2005) “knowledge management makes sense to first organize what people know as a division and then share it, which leads to a whole host of cultural issues” (Wei and Mohammed, 2005, p.1). Apart from this, “knowledge management highlights the importance of a sharing culture in order to support and foster knowledge management focus” (Alavi and Leidner, 1999, p.21). The focus of knowledge management is on how to share and store the knowledge of an individual as a way of boosting efficiency, as well as competency and profitability in general. KPMG (2000) notes that;
Application of knowledge management in organizations across the world is more inclined towards organizations with a large turnover. Possible reasons point towards the higher need for these organizations to implement knowledge management due to the greater size, and the higher turnover would mean that they possibly have the most capability and resources to do so and potentially can reap the greatest benefits from knowledge management (KPMG, 2000, p1).
The focus of this paper is to look at knowledge sharing and barriers to knowledge sharing in organizations the Apple Company will be looked at as an example of an organization where knowledge management has been embrace. A framework for effective knowledge management will be developed.
Knowledge sharing in an organization
In the course of the last ten years, the companies across the world have been investing large amounts of money in the enhancement of their business processes. According to Shelbourn, et al (2006) “new forms of innovative project management, supported by IT, appeared as a response to the ever-growing pressure from clients to deliver high quality facilities on time and on budget” (Page 58). As a result of this, there was emerging of a new activity from project management process which turned out to be a focus of interest and this is; knowledge management. However, in spite of having interest and the efforts made in regard to having effective knowledge management by a large number of big companies, this discipline is still in its early stages. A number of researchers have had acknowledgement of the limitations of the present techniques as well as approaches to knowledge management that are linked to and comes up from projects (Laudon and Laudon, 1998 and Sor, 2004). According to Shelbourn, et al (2006), experience indicates that “there are not only difficulties in capturing, storing, sharing and re-using all this knowledge in sectors but much of it is never produced, since no mechanisms exist to foster social interaction required to give any shape or form to it” (Shelbourn, et al , 2006,58).
Apple is one of the companies that has been embracing knowledge management. Being a knowledge-based and a quite innovative company, promoting knowledge sharing is quite vital for its operations. Apple Inc is a multinational technology company and among its globally recognized brands which include Macintosh computers, iPhones, iPods, and iPads have received the greatest attention by consumers, the media, and the industrial players. The company has a large number of employees; it has a workforce of about 35,000 employees spread across the world. Its sales during the period ended September 2009 amounted to US $ 42.91 billion (O'Grady, 2008). Its advertising campaigns are quite unique and mainly focus on incorporating aesthetic value on its designs.
As a result of the innovative strategy, they have curved out a unique reputation in the consumer electronic market especially in the US market (Corporate information, 2010). This has earned it an endorsement from the media industry where the Fortune magazine voted it as the most admired company in America in 2008 followed by a similar endorsement by the same magazine as the most admired in the world in 2009. As a result IPad is expected to be a major hit with the customers.
The company’s mission statement is “commitment to bringing the best personal computing experience to students, educators, creative professionals and consumers around the world through its innovative hardware, software and internet offerings” (Accessessays.com, n.d. p.7). One of the company’s goals is to continue creating and releasing the consumer electronics and computers which are “more user-friendly” (Accessessays.com, n.d., p.7). The other goal is to focus more on opening more stores even “on international locations to help increase sales” (Accessessays.com, n.d. p.7). In order to realize these goals, the company needs to improve even more in its efforts of knowledge management.
Lack of information sharing in the organizations brings in some problems. In the absence of knowledge sharing, there is lack of achievement of sustainable performance. Sustainability goals have not been attained in many companies because their activities have not been informed by new resources of knowledge and expertise. The kinds of managers that are required in the organizations are the ones who are ready to seek to attain goals of sustainable performance. This requires the managers to strengthen the organizations’ efforts and move toward a knowledge intensive mode.
The concept of knowledge sharing is not a new one; it has been there for a long time. It has been established that the most important asset of any business organization is the ability of the organization to process information. There are some industries which are knowledge-based. Even those projects that can be small are operated basing on ideas as well as knowledge from a number sources. Some companies have been carrying out the management of knowledge in an informal way but the current challenges that are being encountered imply that many of these companies are supposed to employ an approach to knowledge that is better structured. According to Gillingham and Roberts (2006), projects are frequently planned in to stages having strict time limit and have dissimilar terms allocated to them.
In the current days, the social networks are being used in knowledge and information sharing across the world. Social networking makes it much easier to share tacit knowledge with much more ease. The manager can take advantage of social networks to ensure there is information sharing within the organization. The manager should be aware of the fact that social networks can play a role within the organization to boost the kind of conversations that can commence of liberating tacit knowledge. According to Kavur (2010), tacit knowledge is that intensely entrenched “experimental knowledge within people’s heads that is difficult to express out loudit is often best conveyed through conversations and that’s one thing that social media do to support quite well” (Kavur, 2010, p.1).
The manager can use the social media to promote knowledge sharing in the organization. For instance, videotaping can be used to take conversations concerning important issues that can help in the smooth running of the organization. Watching videos about important information can enable employees in the organization to hear stories and engage in interpreting them within their own knowledge and views on how they are going to carry out operations. More so, the manager can encourage formation of discussion groups as a technique to use for “conversational storytelling”.
However, using internal social networks can have some disadvantages. For instance, employees in an organization can “waste” much time using the social media and this can negatively affect their productivity. More so, in the case where the employees may share information through the internal social networks that may not be in favor of the smooth running of the organization; including negative information about bosses may have a detrimental effect on the smooth running of the organization. But the managers should take necessary measures by giving proper guidelines of how to use the internal social networks in order to overcome problems that may be associated with it.
Barriers to Knowledge Sharing According to Keyes (2008) the barriers to knowledge sharing include “lack of time, fear of lost job security, lack of social network, education, and fear of loss of ownership, among others” (Keyes, 2008, p.14). These barriers can be put in to two main classes which are organizational barriers and cultural barriers. Hutchings and Michailova (2004) pointed out that knowledge sharing was greatly influenced by the individual employees and the cultural values. Therefore, carrying out the determination of the differences as well as similarities of knowledge sharing strategies “across various ethnic and national groups was critical”(Ardichvili et al, 2006, p.99). This is certainly true in the U.S companies, where diversity is widespread.
However, diversity comes with some problems. Ojha (2005), established that the vernacular language of the employees had an impact on knowledge sharing. People coming from various parts of the country that have cultural backgrounds, “had different desires and abilities to participate in team activities and knowledge sharing” (Keyes, 2008, p.14). According to Putnam (2007), in the neighborhoods that have diversity on the ethnical basis, people of all races have a tendency to “hunker down”. It was rare to find community cooperation, trust and altruism, according to Putnam’s study. As on one hand this study was about neighborhoods and not organizations, on the other hand, the issues of diversity were similar.
According to Connelly and Kelloway (2003, there exist various predictors of the employee perceptions in regard to knowledge sharing. There is also likelihood that the differences in the types of education decrease the common experience sharing. Therefore, an individual having an educational background which is different from the other members of the team is less likely to take part in team knowledge sharing (Ojha, 2005).
For the reason that knowledge is controlled by individuals, an assumption can be made of knowledge sharing of being an ethical behavior. An analysis of the relationship between knowledge sharing intentions and ethics was carried out by Wang (2004) in which he established that there was a significant positive relationship. Wang as well drew a conclusion that employees who felt threatened by competition from their fellow employees may decrease their knowledge sharing, vitally hoarding knowledge. On the other hand, those employees who might develop guilt in case they refused to share their knowledge and did not obey the ethical codes.
According to Alavi, Kayworth and Leidner (2005), even if knowledge sharing practices were “a key component of most corporate-sponsored knowledge management programs, it was not easily accomplished” (Alavi, Kayworth and Leidner, 2005, p.191). The employees might not be ready to share knowledge or they may hoard knowledge. It was established that, in most cases, organizational culture itself served as a barrier (McDermott and O’Dell, 2001). A suggestion was given by Sveiby and Simons (2002) that the effectiveness of knowledge sharing activities can be influenced by the size of the organization. These researchers established that collaborative climate of an organization “improved with increasing organizational size, at least up to mid-size” (Sveiby and Simons, 2002, p.424).
The utilization of corporate-sponsored technology as well serves a significant part in the enhancing a positive knowledge sharing culture. There is a wide range of tools like corporate intranets and electronic whiteboards. But the literature on the value of these tools was mixed. Flanagin (2002), pointed to the artificial lessening of the complexity of knowledge so that there can be use of knowledge management. A conclusion was drawn by Lin and Lee (2002) that “Its support did not significantly affect knowledge sharing, although these ran counter to previous studies” (Lin and Lee, 2002, p.88). Another researcher, Dixon (2000), pointed out that the suitable knowledge sharing process and technology in a company is dependent on the kind of knowledge that is being shared, “the frequency of the sharing process and receiving the knowledge” (Dixon, 2000, p.35). As a result of his literature search, he came up with some solutions to the problems that are linked to the barrier to knowledge sharing. There are about four main ways to bring up the level of knowledge sharing in an organization which include; socializing, motivation, communication and feedback. Other researchers, Cross, Parker, Prusak and Borgatti (2001), proposed mapping knowledge flows across a number of boundaries in a company to give way for important insights where the management is supposed to direct its efforts in order to boost collaboration. Widen-Wulff and Suomi (2007) set up a framework for bringing about an “organization-wide knowledge sharing information culture which included sources, organizational learning and business process re-engineering”(Widen-Wulff and Suomi, 2007, p.66).
Knowledge Sharing In Apple Inc. and the Framework for Knowledge Sharing
Apple Inc. has been a very successful company in its operations. This is a big company operating in various parts of the world. It is known for its capability in innovation. It is a knowledge-based company and knowledge sharing among the employees is very important for its success. It is a company operating globally and this may bring in a number of barriers to effective knowledge and information sharing. There is information sharing within this company but employees are not allowed to leak out information to the outside community to ensure the competitors are not informed about their internal plans and activities. According to BindApple (2011), “compared to many companies, Apple prefers not to adopt open communication policiesinstead exhibiting its secrecy policy as the main purpose to preserve its products out of reach of the competitors” (BindApple, 2011, p.1).It has formed a tradition in which employees are fired in case they leak out information. It pointed out that such a move is understandable, “as long as an employee is supposed to show loyalty to the company that hired him and guaranteed him confidence” (BindApple, 2011, p.1). The threat of being sacked may cause the employees, to a particular extent, not to willingly share the information among themselves.
A number of factors affect the willingness to share information in organizations. There is need for the Apple Company employees to feel secure in their jobs. They need to be made aware that the act of knowledge sharing with their fellow employees would not reduce their job in whichever way. Possibly, of great significance, office politics has a potential to turn out to be a barrier to effective collaboration as well as knowledge and information sharing, diminishing any willingness to knowledge sharing.
Respect, comfort and trust are among the variables which as well have an effect on a tendency toward eagerness for knowledge sharing. Apple Inc. needs to ensure that there is respect and trust among the employees. Putting the diversity of modern organization in to consideration, one of the most significant factors that seem to have an effect on the willingness to share knowledge is the comfort level among the employees in dealing with others. Lack of available assets can be another factor that may affect the willingness to have knowledge sharing. The Apple Company should ensure that it has put in place the modern collaborative software like wikis, “lessons learned database” among others technologies
Other factors that need to be looked at by this company in ensuring there is effective information sharing within the organization include; use of metrics, management involvement and oversight and information technology support. The company’s top managers are supposed to actively be involved in the promotion of knowledge management within the company. In addition, as much as the company’s senior managers may support knowledge management, they have also to make the necessary efforts to ensure that they promote knowledge management or to ensure it is integrated into the performance management and measurement programs of the company. One way that can assist the company to promote an effective knowledge sharing climate in the company is to use metrics in measuring how and when it was used and how effective it has been.
Information technology is seen as also being very crucial to effectively sharing the information and knowledge. Sometimes the IT department is considered to be an obstacle, limiting effectively what knowledge and information that can be shared across teams and among team members. In other instances, the IT is criticized for not offering the modern technologies which support knowledge sharing such as the whiteboards and Wikis among others. However, it should be noted that IT fully supports the move in to these technologies. Therefore, it is very important for the Apple Company to realize that IT support is a crucial factor in having effective knowledge sharing and take the appropriate moves to ensure that this is fully implemented to the highest level possible.
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