The implications of organisational culture for knowledge management processes


How to cite this article: Ofoleta, K., C. (2015). The implications of organisational culture for knowledge management processes. Knowledge Management. ResearchiGate


About The Author:

Kelechi C. Ofoleta holds a Bachelor of Science (BSc), in Computer Science/Information Systems from Victoria University of Wellington (VUW), New Zealand. He is a Master’s scholar, completing a master of Information Management (MIM) under the same institution. Other works by the author are/will be published work at: , and

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The implications of organisational culture for knowledge management processes

                                 By Kelechi C Ofoleta
([email protected])


The purpose of this study is to understand the relationship between organisational culture and Knowledge Management processes. The particular objective was to identify the implications of organizational culture for Knowledge Management processes.

It was found that organisational culture is an important condition that operates in every organisation, though invisible to the members of the organization and can encourage or hinder its knowledge management operations. While there are varied opinions on precise meaning OC, almost all the researchers agreed that it is top on the list of knowledge management processes enablers. It was also found that the implications of organizational culture for the knowledge management processes are that unless cultural that permit mutual trust, collaboration, formalization, interactivity, learning, etc., exists to support the aim of knowledge management, the effort will be in vain. This implication follows from the fact that knowledge management processes which determine the outcome of the knowledge in an organization are directly dependent on the above cultural factors. Above all, it was learned that interaction, trust and collaboration among employees is significant when trying to transfer tacit knowledge between people or convert tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge, thereby transforming it from the individuals to the organizational layer. These are some of the hallmark implications of organizational culture for the Knowledge Management process because they are the only ways to infuse the knowledge base of the organization and guarantee its sustenance once the knowledge has been captured via codification.

: Organizational Culture, Knowledge Management, Information Management, Implications of Organizational Culture, Knowledge Management Processes


Managing Information to derive knowledge needed for an organisation to leverage on to compete successfully is in itself a challenge. But not compared to the challenges of effectively and efficiently managing and sustaining the knowledge once it exists in the organization. These challenges are of multi-fold, especially due to the fact that Knowledge management places great importance on many processes, such as knowledge acquisition, creative activity, storage, sharing, use and application. Each of these processes is unique and depends on the core competencies of the establishment, like ability to learn, adapt and change, which is in turn dependent on the organization’s strategies supported through its existing or modified culture.

The challenges of knowledge management meant that organizations differ systematically in the styles and processes through which they manage knowledge to remain competitively relevant. According to findings of numerous works on knowledge management, organizational culture tops the list of these challenges (see literature review), largely because it can help or hinder organizations during challenging times like knowledge management. Hence the assumption of this study is that organizational culture is in some ways connected with knowledge management processes. While literatures reflect some sort of strong connections existing between organizational culture and knowledge management (KM), little information has been given specifically to the implications of organizational culture (OC) for knowledge management processes. This study intends to research and isolate some of the implications of OC for Knowledge Management processes (KMPs), aimed at offering useful insight to organizations towards effective knowledge management schemes.

In the pursuit, we first discuss the concept of organisational culture in knowledge management and a brief overview of Knowledge, Knowledge Management and Knowledge management processes. After presenting the brief overview above, literature on the connection between organizational culture and knowledge management processes is reviewed by paying particular attention to the implications of OC for knowledge management processes. The methodology of the study is by literature review only; hence the findings/ discussion of the results will be presented next, and conclusions.

The research question that this study will address is: What are the implications of organizational culture for Knowledge Management processes? In other words, what are the potential effects of organizational culture for Knowledge Management processes?



Many studies, e.g. (Davenport, De Long, & Beers, 1998; De Long, 1997; Alavi & Leidner, 1999) assert that organizational culture is one of the most significant elements in achieving knowledge management success. While it is vital to connection KM ventures to different variables like clear reason and dialect, senior management support, etc., without linking it first to a learning agreeable culture that permits shared trust to help representatives to eagerly share, create and use knowledge, then the KM programme is bound to fail (Davenport, et al., 1998). The above arguments establish to some degree that organizational culture is required for effective KM practices to be realised.

In order to continue exploring what literatures have learned so far about OC, it will be reasonable at this point to define what OC means. According to the study by Alavi, Kayworth, and Leidner, (2005) organizational culture is an extensive idea and is hard to characterize. Additionally, they attest that its changeable nature has suggested an expansion of various approaches to clarify social conduct via researchers; however, it has, likewise, prompted perplexity and an absence of understanding, owing to the colossal scope of existing conceptualizations of the concept. As such there is no, by and large, acknowledged concurrence on precisely what OC is, but, there are a few accords that organizational cultures can be portrayed as far as values, norms, and practices (De Long, 1997).

Focusing on the above, we draw from Schein’s three-level organizational culture framework that delineates culture as far as essential assumptions, values, and artefacts. Hence, organizational culture is defined as “a pattern of shared basic assumptions that was learned by a group as it solved its problems of external adaptation and internal integration, that has worked well enough to be considered valid and, therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think, and feel in relation to those problems” (Schein, 2004). Preceding the work of Schein, Hofstede (1991) defines organizational culture as the aggregate programming of the mind which recognizes the members of one organization from an alternate. McDermott & O’Dell (2001) defined OC in terms of shared values, beliefs and practices of the individuals in the organization. Lastly, Chatman and Cha, (2003) allude to OC as an arrangement of shared assumptions, values, and beliefs that show people what is fitting and uncivilized behaviour.


As evidenced above, the main things the literatures concur on is that there is no unambiguous meaning of OC and yet that OC is the most important factor in establishing and sustaining successful efficient KM project. Thus the broad nature of organizational culture has an impact and serves several functions. Understanding the implications of these for knowledge management processes is crucial “to make the enterprise act as intelligently as possible to secure its viability and overall success as well as to otherwise realize the best value of its knowledge assets” (Wiig, 1997). Davenport et al. (1998) argued that it is insufficient to leverage knowledge alone as successful knowledge management strategies are constantly driven by clear connections to business objectives which are strung-out on the culture of the organization.

According to King, (2008) the connections in the middle of KM and culture, or cultural components concerning the successful KM processes are an indispensable piece of the tried and true ways of thinking about KM. Comparatively Lee & Choi (2000) suggest that OC is discovered to be critical in anticipating the knowledge management operations i.e. it determines the processes by which new knowledge is created, legitimated, and distributed in organizations (Karlsen & Gottschalk, 2004). McDermott & O’Dell (2001) declare that OC is reflected in the obvious parts of the organisation, like its mission and espoused values and also exists on a deeper level and embedded in the way people communicate and act, perceive each other and understand each other’s actions. Besides, culture is hard to articulate, invisible to organizational members and is settled in the organization’s core values and assumptions about what knowledge is worth exchanging (Karlsen & Gottschalk, 2004; McDermott & O’Dell, 2001). This is why OC elucidates what is important and coordinates members’ endeavours without the costs and inefficiencies of close supervision (Chatman & Cha, 2003).

De Long and Fahey observed that organizational culture is important for Knowledge management processes in that it aids in making the organisational context for social interaction by representing the rules that decides the environment within which people communicate and work. That is, it provides the norms and practices that define who is expected to control what knowledge, as well as who must share it, and who can hoard it. These cultural standard procedures shape how individuals collaborate and sustain a substantial effect on knowledge creation, sharing, and use (Delong & Fahey, 2000). A slightly varied but related view is that organizational culture creates the setting for social communication that decides how knowledge will be shared in particular situations when it allows for effective interaction and collaboration among employees. This is seen during efforts to transfer tacit knowledge between people or convert tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge, thereby transforming it from the mortal to the organisational level (Gold, Malhotra & Segars, 2001). This is of tremendous criticalness, in light of the fact that it includes people and cultural components that characterizes the connections between individual knowledge (tacit in nature and hard to transfer) i.e. what individuals know or know how to do, which is manifested in their skills/experience (e.g., how to interview new recruits) and organizational knowledge (codified tacit-explicit rule-based knowledge) i.e. knowledge embedded in an organizations’ systems, processes, tools, and routines (DeLong & Fahey, 2000).

Some other major function of organisational culture in KM is that it aids in distinguishing organization’s distinctive competence to external constituencies such as differentiated skills, complementary assets, and the routines they possesses to meet the basis of competitive advantage in the industry (Chatman & Cha, 2003). Ultimately, without the benefit of culture that perceives, supports, and prizes KM exercises, predictable execution of KM exercises is unlikely (Gold, et al., 2001).



Knowledge is not information or data, however, it is identified with both, and the contrasts between these terms are regularly a matter of degree. However essential it may sound, then, it is still imperative to underscore that information, data, and knowledge are not exchangeable ideas (Davenport and Prusak, 2000). Hence knowledge is defined as “a fluid mix of framed experience, values, contextual information, and expert insight that provides a framework for evaluating and incorporating new experiences and information. It originates and is applied in the minds of knowers. In organizations it often becomes embedded not only in documents but also in organizational routines, processes, practices, and norms” (Davenport and Prusak, 2000). There are differing meanings of Knowledge; however, this is the extent that the study can characterize it given that the above is the most broadly acknowledged definition. Anyway, worth to note is that, Knowledge is currently viewed as the most essential property in the organizations (Akhavan, 2009).


According to Davenport and Prusak, (2000) KM is generally concerned with the exploitation and the advancement of the knowledge resources of an organization with the perspective of fostering the organization’s targets. This includes both explicit, (documented knowledge) and tacit, (subjective knowledge of the organisation). Following similar thinking, Akhavan, (2009) defined KM as a control to identify, collect, separate out, store, share and use knowledge. Wiig (1997) suggests that KM is the deliberate and express administration of knowledge-related procedures, patterns, projects and strategies within an organisation. Additionally, King (2009) posited that KM involves arranging, sorting out, spurring, and controlling of individuals, processes and systems in the organization to insure that it’s learning related resources are enhanced and viably utilized. Overall, KM helps organisation to gather insights and foster understanding from its own experience (Davenport & Prusak, 2000; Wiig, 1997).


The term knowledge management processes are in the literature referred to as knowledge management practices. Hence, in this study both mean the same thing, and will be used interchangeably. While it is true that there is entanglement between these terms in the literature it is necessary to be careful as not all practices can be seen as organisational processes. According to Rasoulinezhad, (2011) KM processes are defined as observable organizational activities that are related to knowledge management. It is an interconnected set of diverse business operations developed in an organization to create, store, transfer, use and protect knowledge of the system in order to improve its business performance (Alavi and Leidner, 2001). They further assert that storage and transfer processes are based on the organization, structuring and dissemination of organizational knowledge in order to effectively exploit it. Although these processes can be independently developed, they can also complement one another, especially when the documentation of information technologies (IT) is provided (Alavi and Leidner, 2001; Davenport et al., 1998). Sveiby, (1997) suggests that KMPs can assist the organisations in acquiring, storing and utilising knowledge processes for problem solving, active learning, strategic planning and decision-making. Lastly, KMPs helps protect intellectual assets from decay (Davenport et al, 1998).


The philosophical theory of knowledge suggests that it is being socially constructed as people interrelate about shared tasks or problems often intended to endorse or facilitate such processes (Moradi, Saba, Azimi, & Emami, 2012). This concept has been connected to implicit aspects, sometimes of an abstract nature, such as ideologies, beliefs, basic assumptions of behaviour, or shared values which are factors of organisational culture. That said, there other observable and explicit elements such as patterns and organisational patterns, symbols, linguistic communication, rituals, myths, and ceremonies included as being related to culture (Alavi, Kayworth & Leidner, 2005). Knowledge management processes are embedded in social settings which heavily influence these processes (Alavi, et al., 2005). Lopez, Peon, Ordas, (2004), considers that an organizational culture that is supportive and or adaptive can enable the successful execution of knowledge management technologies and practices.

It will be inconceivable to link organizational culture to KMPs in isolation to cultural factors. There were variations of cultural factors in the literature, but they all had significant links to KMPs. According to Alavi et al, (2005) expertise, formalization, innovativeness, collaboration and autonomy are cultural factor/ values that lead to effective knowledge management. Other common cultural factors through which literatures linked OC to KMPs, in particular knowledge creation are learning, collaboration, trust and formalization (Gan, Ryan & Gururajan, 2006; Saeed, Tayyab, Anis-Ul-Haque, Ahmad, & Chaudhry, 2010). Additionally, Gan et al, (2006) suggests Leadership, Incentives/rewards, and Kiasu-ism among cultural factors that impact KMPs.

To conclude linking culture with KMPS the article reviewed the four frameworks linking Culture and Knowledge by De Long & Fahey, (2000) namely culture shapes, assumptions about which knowledge is important; Culture mediates the relationships between levels of knowledge; Culture creates a setting for social interaction; Culture shapes creation and acceptance of new knowledge. Overall, the frameworks suggested that interactivity, collaboration, sharing and teaching, dealing with mistakes and orientation to existing knowledge is the cultural characteristics, shaping social interaction within the context of knowledge management (Delong & Fahey, 2000).


The methodologies used comprise only literature review, which spanned the perceived concept of OC and KMPS. The essence of the literature review was also applied to establish that organisational culture is indeed of great importance, of KM as to warrant investigating its implications for knowledge management processes. Having established that, this study further reviewed the four frameworks of organisational culture by DeLong & Fahey, (2000) which enumerated some of the implications of OC for KMPs via cultural factors links to the two. Also, organisational cultural effects are common and clearly see from the perspective of its factors rather than directly. Hence, this work also explored the implications of OC for KMPs from this position, especially using the studies by Alavi et al, (2005), Gan et al, (2006)   and Saeed et al, (2010) in which, cultural factors Were all seen as areas of the vast implications of OC for KMPs.


Our findings indicated that OC is very crucial for KMPs, so crucial that it is almost impossible to successfully acquire, create, store, share, use and apply organization’s knowledge or share individual’s knowledge within an organization without an organizational culture to support these processes. Hence, what are the implications of organizational culture for Knowledge Management processes? The implications of OC for KMPs are imbedded on the cultural factors which greatly influence KMPs. For instance, a culture of trust is a valuable asset for any organization that nurtures and develops it and as such, Lopez et al, (2004) asserts that to encourage innovation, experimentation and risk taking in order to develop new knowledge or use existing knowledge, that an atmosphere of trust and security must be ensured. This is essential achieving effective KMPs because the level of trust within an organization, especially among its employees greatly influences the amount of knowledge that is shared. That said, it is important to note trust is difficult to build and maintain, especially in larger organizations (Lee & Choi, 2003).

The literature review confirms that collaboration is a cultural factor which strongly enables KMPs, such as knowledge creation, transfer and sharing, however, without an OC that allows for shared understanding among team members, very few knowledge creation activities are conducted (Lee & Choi, 2003). The literature indicates that collaboration is an important cultural enabler in knowledge management which contributes to increased levels of knowledge interchange and knowledge creation (Lee & Choi, 2003). Hence, the failure of existing culture in an organization to support collaboration will result to ineffective knowledge sharing or creation among the employees.

Furthermore, learning orientation as a cultural factor exists in all organizations in any form and it is the basis of fostering organizational learning. However, the OC must support the employees to have the strong will to acquire knowledge to solve their problems and innovate on their business process, in order to enable the organization to accumulate high quality knowledge and will find it easier to satisfy its end users since KM tools, methods, and principles will render a good fit with such learning-oriented users (Yu et al., 2007). For a successful knowledge creation to occur, organisations should develop a deeply ingrained learning culture and have education, training and mentoring programmes available to promote knowledge acquisition (Lee & Choi, 2003). This is so because the literature suggests that learning is a facilitator of knowledge management that allows an organisation to be infused with novel knowledge and it stimulates knowledge creation activities (Lee & Choi, 2003; Nonaka & Takeuchi, 1995)

Table 1: Summary of the implications of organizational culture for Knowledge Management Processes/Practices (KMPs)

Organizational culture and their implications for Knowledge Management Processes (KMPs)


Cultural Factors Connections with
Management (KMPs)
Implications for
Management (KMPs)
Mutual trust, Trust promotes creativity, engagement management, empowerment, teamwork, and leadership during times of uncertainty and change.
– Encourages an environment that promotes knowledge creation as it reduces the fear of risk
-Allows employees to perform a more honest job of aggregating useful information, and making it available to others who need it when they call for it.
– Facilitates for open, substantive and influential knowledge exchange which leads to knowledge creation
A culture of trust is a valuable asset for any organization that nurtures and develops it.
An atmosphere of trust and security is essential to encourage innovation, experimentation and risk taking in order to develop new knowledge and use existing knowledge. Lopez et al (2004).The level of trust greatly influences the amount of knowledge that is shared
Employees need reassurances that they are still valued members of their team after they give up their knowledge
Collaboration – Determines the degree to which people in a group actively assist one another in their undertaking

– Allows for increased points of knowledge exchange, which is a prerequisite for knowledge creation

– Gets rid of common barriers to knowledge exchange by reducing fear and increasing openness in teams

– Enable learning, sharing of cross-functional expertise, and sharing of worker-to-worker knowledge
– Increases levels of knowledge interchange and knowledge creation

Without a culture that grants for shared understanding among team members, very few knowledge creation activities are conducted (Lee & Choi, 2003).
Learning, – Defines any relatively permanent alteration in behaviour that happens as a result of experience (Robbins, Millet, Cacioppe & Waters-Marsh, 2001)
-Provides an avenue for the organization to be infused with new knowledge (Nonaka & Takeuchi, 1995; Lee & Choi, 2003).
– Predicts knowledge creation and learning actions
– Enhances the employees‟ knowledge applicative capability (Tsai & Lee, 2006)
With an accent on learning and continuous development, organisation’s knowledge creation activities will increase and employees can make for an active part in the operation.
For a successful knowledge creation to occur, organisations should develop a deeply ingrained learning culture and have education, training and mentoring programmes available to promote scholarship.   (Lee & Choi, 2003)
Formalization – Rules, procedure and written documentation such as policy manuals and job descriptions
– Uncertainty avoidance practices – in unknown or unpredictable situations
Regulations and directives help sequencing problem solving and decision making, which in turn facilitate knowledge accumulation (Gold et al., 2001).
Without a culture that grants for the formalisation of an organization’s KM practice, avoidable mistakes in the process will be reprised.
Leadership – Defines the ability to work and train people and squads to accomplish finishes that possess been set by the system

– Driver for effective knowledge management in organisations
– Provides solid and devoted commitment to knowledge management initiatives
– Fosters open knowledge sharing by creating an environment built on trust via teaching, dealing with mistakes, orientation to existing knowledge

What type of leadership is forcing the knowledge management operations?Transactional Leadership vs.   Transformational Leadership
Transformational leader has Charisma, individualized consideration and intellectual stimulation to subordinates while Transactional leader lacks the above qualities, but guide and motivate subordinates in the management of established goals by clarifying the purpose and job requirements (Wood, Wallace, Zeffane,   Schermerhorn, Hunt & Osborn, 1998).
Surveys hold shown that transformational leaders are strongly correlated to knowledge management (Crawford, 2003).
Failure in ensuring adequate leadership appears to have resulted in the bankruptcy of many knowledge management initiatives (Ambrosio, 2000).
Incentives /
– Provides balance between intrinsic and extrinsic motivators i.e. Extrinsic rewards are positively valued work outcomes that are paid to the employee in the work setting whilst intrinsic rewards are positively valued work outcomes that are picked up by the employee directly as a outcome of project performance (Wood et al., 1998).
– Encourages knowledge sharing across role and operational boundaries
– Formal assessment of achievements against knowledge management aims
Nevertheless, artificial or extrinsic rewards that are not held by the cultivation of the organisation are likely to be inefficient and may contribute to employee cynicism (O’Dell &
Grayson, 1999).
Prospects of the employees that they will be reward could thwarting knowledge management activities in the system (Bock & Kim, 2002, 2003), especially if this expectation fails to materialize.



In this paper, the author has presented a proposal to study the implications of organizational culture for knowledge KMPs. Through a literature review of the importance of OC and the different links between organisational culture and KM, more knowledge was offered on how OC is considered as having very substantial implications for knowledge management processes within an organisational context. The study is of interest mainly from a pragmatic position. The importance of OC, the relationships between OC, and KMPs may provide a hint as to how firms can adjust knowledge management processes to maintain their competitive edge. Furthermore, knowledge managers will be better able to understand the implications of OC for KMPs which are critical for robust strategies to guarantee effective knowledge acquisition, creation, storage, sharing, usage and application. This is because understanding the implications OC for KMPs will help them to ascertain how appropriate their existing OC is before embarking on KMPs strategies.

While use of a literature review is valid for this study, it will be useful to conduct similar research using data from some organizations to provide more specific implications of OC for KMPs. For instance, it is a wild claim that effect of trust as a cultural factor is dependent on the size of the organization, but to what extent cannot be determined without testing this claim with actual data. Hence, this study’s limitation is that some of the findings need further study to be able to generalize them, given that bias can exist within literatures.

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