Knowledge-centric capabilities : a configurational approach

Cruywagen, Marie (Stellenbosch : University of Stellenbosch, 2010-12)

Thesis (PhD (Business Management))--University of Stellenbosch, 2010.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: During the past 15 years knowledge management has emerged as a key new organisational practice with numerous organisations implementing processes aimed at facilitating knowledge creation, integration and sharing. With knowledge management positioned as a strategic imperative, numerous studies have explored its resource-base and management alternatives. These studies have played an important role in establishing knowledge management as a field of inquiry within the business sciences, but a number of weaknesses put knowledge management at risk of becoming another passing fad. Previous research tends to prescribe a tool, method or way of looking at knowledge while disregarding any differences in organisational context and displaying little attempt to differentiate organisations in a meaningful way. This assumed homogeneity constitutes a deficiency in knowledge management research. The knowledge-based view of the firm emphasises distinct knowledge as the key source of firm heterogeneity, and the role of the organisation as that of knowledge creation. This view largely ignores the personal and social nature of knowledge, and the role of the firm in providing the organisational context for creating, sharing and integrating knowledge. Knowledge management, as an embodiment of the knowledge-based view, thus also fails to explore organisational context as a possible source of competitive advantage, thereby limiting the potential of knowledge management initiatives. The central theme of the study is that the capacity to provide an institutional context for the creation, sharing and integration of knowledge, henceforth the knowledge-centric capability, rather than distinct knowledge, is the key strategic resource of the organisation. The objective of the study therefore is to understand how different knowledge-centric capabilities configure in different organisational contexts. The objective is achieved by addressing three research questions, namely what dimensions can be used to describe a knowledge-centric capability, what configurations of knowledge-centric capabilities emerge in different organisational contexts, and why do specific configurations of knowledge-centric capabilities emerge in specific organisational contexts? Considering the philosophical foundations of the study, namely knowledge as personal, social and context-specific and the organisation as an open, adaptive system, the study follows a social constructionist research philosophy. The study’s focus on identifying emerging patterns or configurations of knowledge-centric capabilities necessitates a configurational research approach. This allows the study to move beyond uncovering relationships that hold across all organisations, affording the opportunity to identify multi-dimensional constellations of conceptually distinct characteristics that commonly occur together. A sequential mixed-method research methodology is employed to address the research objective and research questions. First a conceptual framework is developed from the extant literature in order to identify the dimensions of a knowledge-centric capability. Next a theorydriven survey, based on the dimensions of the conceptual framework, is employed to obtain data from which the configurations of knowledge-centric capabilities are derived using cluster analysis. Finally, four case studies are presented to explain the emergence of the configurations within specific organisational contexts. This research is important for two main reasons. First, it addresses the identified shortcoming of existing research by providing a mechanism to explore an organisation’s knowledgecentric capability following a context-sensitive approach. Second, the research demonstrates that knowledge-centric capabilities can indeed be used to differentiate between organisations at a strategic level.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Die afgelope 15 jaar het kennisbestuur as ‘n belangrike nuwe besigheidspraktyk ontwikkel, met talle ondernemings wat prosesse implementeer wat daarop gemik is om die skepping, integrasie en deel van kennis te fasiliteer. Met die posisionering van kennisbestuur as ‘n strategiese noodsaaklikheid, het verskeie studies die hulpbron-basis en bestuurs alternatiewe ondersoek. Hierdie studies het ‘n belangrike rol gespeel om kennisbestuur as ‘n navorsingsveld te vestig in die bestuurswetenskappe, maar ‘n aantal gebreke laat kennisbestuur die gevaar loop om net ‘n verbygaande gier te word. Bestaande navorsing neig om ‘n instrument, metodiek of manier voor te skryf om na kennis te kyk. Maar terselfdetyd word enige verskille in organisasies se konteks geïgnoreer en is daar min aanduiding van ‘n poging om organisasies op ‘n sinvolle wyse te onderskei. Hierdie veronderstelde homogeniteit vorm ‘n gebrek in kennisbestuur navorsing. Die kennis-perspektief van die organisasie beklemtoon unieke kennis as die belangrikste bron van firma heterogeniteit, en die rol van die organisasie as dié van kennis skepping. Hierdie uitkyk ignoreer grotendeels die persoonlike en sosiale aard van kennis en die rol van die firma in die voorsiening van ‘n organisasie konteks vir die skep, deel en integrasie van kennis. Kennisbestuur, as ‘n vergestalting van die kennis perspektief, faal dus ook om organisasie konteks to ondersoek as ‘n moontlike bron van mededingings voordeel. Sodoende word die potensiaal van kennisbestuur inisiatiewe beperk. Die uitganspunt van die studie is dat die kapasiteit om ‘n institusionele konteks te voorsien vir die skeppping, deel en integrasie van kennis, of te wel die kennis-sentriese vermoë, eerder as unieke kennis die kern strategiese helpbron van ‘n organisasie is. Die doel van die studie is dus om te verstaan hoe verskillende kennis-sentriese vermoëns konfigureer in verskillende organisasie kontekste. Die doel word behaal deur drie navorsingsvrae te adresseer, naamlik watter dimensies kan gebruik word om ‘n kennis-sentriese vermoë te beskryf, watter konfigurasies van kennis-sentriese vermoëns tree na vore in verskillende organisasie kontekste en waarom tree spesifieke konfigurasies van kennis-sentriese vermoëns na vore in spesifieke organisasie kontekste? Met inagneming van die filosofiese grondslag van die studie, naamlik kennis as persoonlik, sosiaal en konteks-spesifiek en die organisasie as ‘n oop, aanpasbare stelsel, volg die studie ‘n sosiaal konstruksionistiese navorsingsfilosofie. Die studie se fokus op die identifisering van patrone en konfigurasies van kennis-sentriese vermoëns, noodsaak ‘n konfigurasionele-benadering tot die navorsing. Dit laat die studie toe om verder te gaan as om bloot verwantskappe te identifiseer wat vir alle organisasies geld, en stel die studie in staat om multi-dimensionele konstellasies van konseptueel-unieke eienskappe wat tipies saam voor kom te identifiseer. ‘n Sekwensieële gemengde metode navorsingsmetodologie is gebruik om die navorsingsdoel en navorsingsvrae te addresseer. Eerstens is ‘n konseptuele raamwerk uit die bestaande literatuur ontwikkel om sodoende die dimensies van ‘n kennis-sentriese vermoë te identifiseer. Volgende is ‘n teorie-gedrewe vraelys, gebaseer op die dimensies van die konseptuele raamwerk, gebruik om die data te versamel waaruit die konfigurasies van kennissentriese vermoëns met die gebruik van trosanalise. Laastens is vier gevallestudies ontwikkel om die figurering van die konfigurasies binne spesifieke organisasie kontekste te verduidelik. Hierdie navorsing is belangrik vir twee bepaalde redes. Eerstens adresseer dit die geïdentifiseerde tekortkoming van bestaande navorsing deur ‘n meganisme te voorsien waarmee ‘n organisasie se kennis-sentriese vermoë ondersoek kan word, deur ‘n kontekssensitiewe benadering te volg. Tweedens demonstreer die navorsing dat kennis-sentriese vermoëns inderdaad gebruik kan word om op ‘n strategiese vlak tussen organisasies te onderskei.

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