Knowledge Management A Case Study Research Paper

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This approach has resulted in a successful just-in-time learner driven training program that uses scenario-based simulations to provide low cost training that workers can access when and where it is needed (Kelly & Nanjiani, 2005). This is an example of how Toyota has traditionally adhered to its fourteen principles (see Appendix a) and worked to maintain an organization in which knowledge management is paramount.

Organizational Development

Almost every organization professes to understand that we are now in the age of the knowledge worker and that people are the true competitive advantage. However, if we look, not at rhetoric, but at behavior, it seems clear that much of this talk is relatively superficial. The typical U.S. corporation is still best described as a pyramid, although perhaps with some variations. The people at the top of the pyramid still have the power, set the vision, and issue directives that cascade down on and are carried out by the men and women below. When the command-and-control hierarchical structure is not explicit, it is implicit (Lord & Brown, 2001).

Either way, it is insidious and tends to undermine or assault the self-esteem of most of the people "below." And of course it is not only self-esteem that suffers: performance, creativity, and innovation suffer as well. There is absolutely no difference between creating an organizational culture that supports and nurtures self-esteem and creating one that supports and nurtures high performance. The common denominator lies in the issue of what an independent mind needs to function optimally. Accordingly, a company needs to implement basic policies directed at promoting a positive learning environment if it is to achieve a culture of loyalty, creativity and high performance (Lord & Brown, 2001).

Fostering these types of knowledge workers is not possible within a system in which micromanagement is the management style of choice. People do not and cannot give their best when a manager is standing over their shoulder, that is, when they do not feel trusted. Micromanagement is offensive to self-esteem and subversive of high performance. In fact, in the age of the knowledge worker, the whole idea of management needs overhauling. 'Mind work' cannot be managed in the way that muscle work could. To the extent that management still means supervision, control, and manipulation, it frustrates and blocks what we need most in an information economy: the free exercise of independent minds (DeTienne, Dyer, Hoopes & Harris, 2004).

The organizations of the past knew how to manage. The organizations of the future will have to learn how to lead - and how to inspire. It is perhaps for this reason that Davenport (2004) submits that the "growth of knowledge work is the single most important factor driving the future of management" (p. 188).

Toyota has always been a pioneer in the automotive industry. In alignment with the Wiig model's tenet that "In order for information to be useful and valuable, it must be organized" (Dalkir, 2005, p. 61) Toyota popularized organizational techniques such as Just-in-time delivery (JIT) and kanban, which are inventory management systems that organize knowledge in an efficient manner. In fact, they were originally called the "Toyota Production System." These techniques have become staples of supply chain management in the automotive industry. According to Bryan (2002) "The hallmark of this approach is a willingness to change direction continually as more and more distinctive knowledge is acquired. The approach implies an expectation that major midcourse corrections will be required, not that everything will go according to plan. It calls for a willingness to shut down initiatives if it becomes clear that they are headed nowhere" (p. 18)

With such a long established reputation for being an industry pioneer, both in terms of automotive technology and management systems, it seems almost unbelievable that Toyota could be facing such a devastating setback as the recent safety issues and subsequent product recalls have presented. Could the problem be attributed to a failure of communication in which knowledge was not properly exchanged?

Knowledge Exchange

Explicit knowledge is clearly developed with all of its elements apparent. Such knowledge is documented and codified. Because it is distinctly stated, it is largely structured and has no disguised meaning. A good example of explicit knowledge is a development methodology that dictates an orderly approach to solving a problem and the roles and responsibilities for participants in the process. In contrast, tacit knowledge is implied or indicated but not always expressed. It is largely unstructured and is generally based on personal knowledge from personal experiences and capabilities. For example, handwritten and unsolicited comments regarding a new product are received periodically by a company's marketing department.

The Nonaka and Takeuchi spiral model is a model for the creation of knowledge, which is based on a process of conversions between tacit and explicit knowledge. it, involves the following four stages: 1) socialization (from tacit knowledge to tacit knowledge); (2) externalization (from tacit knowledge to explicit knowledge); (3) combination (from explicit knowledge to explicit knowledge); and (4) internalization (from explicit knowledge to tacit knowledge).

This model could turn out to be a very useful device for Toyota to think about its future directions and what its new organizational strategies will consist of. The company cannot allow itself to fall into the trap of what Dalkir refers to as the "garbage can model." The garbage can model deters the decision-making and knowledge exchange process by allowing too many ingredients to be thrown into the pot. As Dalkir explains, "the theoretical breakthrough of the garbage can model is that it disconnects problems, solutions and decision makers from each other" (p. 60). For Toyota to have missed the defects in their products seems to indicate that there was definitely a disconnect within the company.


Toyota is an organization that has traditionally been known for its innovation, its forward thinking and its effective knowledge management systems. The major setback that the company experienced earlier this year when it had to recall eight of its most popular car models due to safety issues is notably out of character for this industry leader. However just because Toyota is 'down' does not mean that it is 'out.' By working to apply the theories and models of knowledge management to ensure that there no more breakdowns in communication within the organization, Toyota is still likely to have a bright future ahead.

Annotated Bibliography

Bryan, L.L. (2002) Just-in-time strategy for a turbulent world. McKinsey Quarterly, 2, 17-21

This article examines different approaches to corporate strategy and how they have changed as a result of external factors such as globalization. The author asserts that in a time of constant change, it is sometimes comforting to be able to rely on classical strategies like JIT.

Cusumano, M.A. (1985) the Japanese Automobile Industry: Technology and Management at Nissan and Toyota, Cambridge, Mass.

This book provides insight into the automotive industry in Japan. In addition to providing lengthy histories of Nissan and Toyota, it also offers a great deal of information about the inner workings of these organizations, particularly in terms of technological innovation.

Dalkir, K. (2005). Knowledge management in theory and practice. Butterworth-Heineman

This textbook explains all of the significant details of knowledge management, highlighting the major models and theories that dominate the field. Each model is discussed in terms of its relationship to other models and theories, as well as its applicability to real world situations.

Davenport, T.H. (2005). Thinking for a living: How to get better performance and results from knowledge workers. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

This book covers all of the basics of knowledge management, with a strong focus on employee motivations and incentives. The author advocates creating a learning environment in which employees are allowed to thrive.

DeTienne, K.B, Dyer, G., Hoopes, C. And Harris, S. (2004). Toward a model of effective knowledge management and directions for future research: Culture, leadership, and CKOs Journal of Leadership and Organizational Studies, 10, 26-43.

The authors of this article performed an extensive literature review in an attempt to examine what they consider to be the three primary elements that constitute organizational culture: cooperative involvement, trust and incentives. Within these contexts, the authors integrate questions about the role of knowledge management as it affects organizational leadership.

Handy, Charles B. (1985). Understanding organizations, Penguin 3rd edition.

Charles Handy provides advice on how to handle employees when a company is going through changes; from negative changes such as downsizing to positive changes such as product differentiation.

Kelly, T. & Nanjiani, N. (2004). The business case for e-learning. San Jose, California, Cisco Press.

This book addresses online l earning through what is known as the "Cisco approach" which is a model that functions in accordance with "The Productivity Pyramid." It includes a section on Toyota's e-learning simulation program that was relevant to this paper.

Lawler, E.E. III (2005) From…

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