Knowledge is competition: How to manage employee brandingBy Kian Kok Lim
Many a business leader will understand that knowledge is a critical asset of an organization and its ability to drive its business strategies. This has become increasingly so with a greater emphasis on innovation and creativity for companies to build and sustain leadership in the market as well as communities it operates in. This is not only in the services sector, but is pervasive in all business sectors including manufacturing and supply chain.
The common denominator is the institutional knowledge that each organization creates differentiation and each leverages on them to sustain their competitiveness. Thus, ability harnessing and institutionalization of this knowledge is a critical organizational competence that companies must have in order to sustain their competitive edge.
This body of knowledge has an increasingly longer time horizon. New knowledge is derived from and built on existing core knowledge and thereafter becomes an addition to that core knowledge.
An example of this is the privatization of the British Rail network where many of the “old” engineers who had long worked with and maintained the track system were allowed to leave the newly privatized companies who took over the tracks and systems. One of the key contributing factors to the accidents that arose thereafter was the loss of institutional (or core) knowledge of the complex track system that was built over time.
In the Singapore context, it may have been that SMRT increased its focus on the monetization of its assets over the critical technical and engineering aspects in its business strategies.
How can organizations harness, maintain and manage this knowledge?
There is no one key factor that will facilitate this critical process of sustaining its competence. It is the inter relationship of organizational culture, its values, business processes, technology and its employer branding that enables companies to build and maintain its knowledge base. Key elements are:
Of critical importance that will determine the success of effective management of knowledge in transition is its Culture and Values. Its culture and values will drive its ability to create, innovate and adapt to the changing environment will determine its organizational knowledge base and the value of its retention.
By the same token, the culture and values ensures that it is able to retain that knowledge and to share that knowledge. Some practices include the celebration of new ideas, recognition programs for innovative ideas that create value as well as the sharing of ideas and learning through “brown bag lunches” and the like.
Aligned to the culture of innovation and sharing and thereby propagating institutional knowledge, the company’s Policies, Procedures and Business Platforms needs to be able to translate the harnessing, accumulation and dissemination of knowledge within the enterprise. Policies, procedures and platforms form the enablers that will ensure that the enterprise knowledge is available, updated and accessible for growth and exploitation of presenting opportunities.
Technology as always, will provide the open channels for knowledge to be collected, formatted and distributed (or made accessible) on an enterprise basis. It may further support the organization’s culture by providing accessibility so that employees can leverage this body of knowledge in the interest of the organization. In doing so, it further reinforces a culture of openness and accessibility that characterises today’s thriving companies.
However, in the current context, there is at least one critical criterion that must be in place for the institutionalization of knowledge. This is, that the organization must have an employer branding that supports its culture and values that drives the institutionalization and sharing of knowledge – that it actively cares for its employees.
This caring must be pervasive through the lifetime of the employee within the company and beyond. Thus, it is about the on-boarding experience, the annual cycle of events and activities, the personal growth and development of the individual and their opportunities to further their interests where it is aligned with the company’s.
Critically, it is also about the assurance they will be taken care of when they have to exit the organization involuntarily– whether it is restructuring, mismatch of job and person, down-sizing or relocation. This is about removing fear.
In the Singapore context, it is about Social Inclusiveness. This critical element – social inclusiveness - in employee branding will enhance its capabilities in the knowledge dimension of any successful company - to create and build knowledge, institutionalize it as well as to transfer it within the company as well as to its other stakeholders.
Many companies in Singapore have strong capabilities in the management and transfer of knowledge. However, its efforts to drive it to the next level may be sub-optimized by the inability to appreciate the “softer” aspects of its human capital to harness its capabilities as well as connecting the essential platforms for a more holistic and integrated framework. Focus on hardware is an essential basic platform, but it will not create the differentiation that it so important to success in today’s business environment.