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Quality General Manager

The above paragraph illustrates an important point: while the formal efforts that were undertaken were essential, the importance of informal social networks as a vehicle for knowledge sharing cannot be overstated. There were observed strength and speed of informal networks in finding individuals with specific knowledge, exchanging ideas and insights, providing access to job information, and deciphering cultural norms and values.

Today’s business environment—such as downsizing, increased employee mobility between companies, and the rise of “virtual employees” who are no longer colocated in an office—have the potential to significantly erode these networks. Much like wireless p...

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...hone networks, insufficient social network connections can lead to “drops” and distortions that can prevent organizations from sharing knowledge, especially in time-constrained environments.

To better understand how social networks operate, IBM has conducted a significant research effort focused on understanding social networks and their impact on organizations. Most of the work in this area, led by Rob Cross, a professor at the University of Virginia and a former IBM colleague, and Andrew Parker of the KOPF, has applied techniques used by sociologists for decades, to increase the visibility and gain better insight into the dynamics of network formation and operation.

Social network analysis uses survey data and graphics software to examine the types of connections made by individuals and to depict these connections in a way that is easy to visualize and compare. Another critical knowledge dimension is engagement—the extent to which the knowledge source is willing to work with the knowledge seeker to help focus the seeker’s questions and think through the problem-solving process. Rather than simply providing the knowledge seeker with documents, successful knowledge sharing often occurs when the knowledge seeker and source engage in a dialogue.

This interaction often provides the right level of contextual background and tacit knowledge sharing that leaves the knowledge seeker confident in his or her ability to apply the newfound knowledge. One of the primary aims of knowledge management is to make its sharing endogenous to companies and sectors functioning on a day-to-day basis, in other words to bring its operation closer to the primitive system of reciprocity, a system which is characterised by the prevalence of three obligations: the obligation to give, the obligation to receive and the obligation to reciprocate or give back.

Grangers is a high-tech company, a division of IBM (UK), and was created through a management buyout, continuing to manufacture computer hardware and software. Intranet adoption What the intranet offers for Grangers, both initially and as it develops, has much to do with (1) the way it has been set up by people and (2) how people configure its subsequent use. This design flexibility in the overall architecture influences many later parameters in the evolution and use of the intranet, such that perceptions of this freedom of design become significant.

At the same time, a particular group of people, in particular IS specialists, took the leading role in the configuration of the intranet in the early days and in designing the architecture which still constrains what is possible. The firm moved to a business-centre organization structure and the intranet technology facilitated the decentralization of the IS function to the new divisions which were created. This would apparently have been more difficult to do, if not impossible, with the previous IT (Preece and Clarke 2000).

The IS and Quality General Manager, who played a leading role in the adoption and introduction of the intranet, recognized that while the technology architecture was a key part of the socio-technical ensemble, it would be the response and orientation of staff which would ‘make or break’ the change (Wachter and Gupta 1997). One of senior management’s key objectives in introducing the intranet into this recently formed company was to use it to help shape the new corporate identity, which they wanted to be seen as distinct by employees, customers and suppliers alike from the (remaining) legacy of its IBM parentage.

Shortly after this, IS introduced user representatives (who were selected by IS for their anticipated enthusiasm for the technology) from the various business units to act as disciples and carry the message deeper into the organization, and to act as sources of local expertise and two-way communication between the users and the IS specialists (Newell, Scarborough and Swan 2001).

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