Cre­at­ing a Knowl­edge Shar­ing Ca­pa­bil­ity in the Malaysian Cul­tural Con­text

Insurance - - KNOWLEDGE MGMT - by Dr Jas­bir Singh Dr Rod Dil­nutt Prof. Gabriele Lakom­ski

In this ar­ti­cle, based on data col­lected in 2006, the au­thors pro­vide an over­view of Malaysian work cul­ture and iden­tify the is­sues and chal­lenges with cre­at­ing a knowl­edge shar­ing ca­pa­bil­ity. Malaysia has a pop­u­la­tion of ap­prox­i­mately 25 mil­lion peo­ple com­prised of a di­verse eth­nic and racial mix of Malay, Chi­nese and In­dian peo­ple. Each com­mu­nity has its own iden­tity, be­liefs and tra­di­tions and in an or­gan­i­sa­tion this di­ver­sity cre­ates ob­sta­cles to cre­at­ing a knowl­edge shar­ing ca­pa­bil­ity as cul­tural val­ues are re­flected in the work­place by in­di­vid­ual em­ploy­ees. It is im­por­tant that th­ese val­ues are un­der­stood by man­agers of change as it im­pacts on the abil­ity to in­flu­ence and cre­ate the in­cen­tive for change in work prac­tices and be­hav­iours.

Malaysia has set as its ma­jor goal the achieve­ment of devel­oped na­tion sta­tus by the year 2020. Such com­mit­ment re­quires a high level of ca­pa­bil­ity at eco­nomic and so­cial lev­els, and knowl­edge man­age­ment, amongst other busi­ness prac­tices, has been adopted in a num­ber of Malaysian or­gan­i­sa­tions to help achieve this ma­jor goal. How­ever, re­search and gen­eral per­cep­tion is un­de­cided as to how suc­cess­fully knowl­edge man­age­ment prac­tices have been in­te­grated into busi­ness prac­tices. It is gen­er­ally recog­nised that cul­tural fac­tors play an im­por­tant role but this ob­ser­va­tion has not yet been ap­plied suf­fi­ciently in prac­tice.

In this ar­ti­cle we dis­cuss im­por­tant cul­tural as­pects of Malaysia from a broader so­ci­etal and or­gan­i­sa­tional con­text in or­der to high­light what man­agers need to know in or­der to im­ple­ment knowl­edge man­age­ment prac­tices suc­cess­fully. Fac­tors that con­trib­ute to the com­plex­ity of Malaysian cul­tural di­ver­sity in­clude those of eth­nic­ity, re­li­gion and ed­u­ca­tional back­ground. As a func­tion of this cul­tural di­ver­sity, we ar­gue that any or­gan­i­sa­tional change ini­tia­tives, in­clud­ing knowl­edge man­age­ment, must care­fully con­sider the need of the in­di­vid­u­als and groups that com­prise the pop­u­la­tion and cul­tural dis­po­si­tion of or­gan­i­sa­tions.

The data sup­port­ing this ar­ti­cle is de­rived from an em­pir­i­cal study con­ducted on a lead­ing fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tion in Malaysia (FinInst). The main fo­cus of a larger re­search project is an ex­am­i­na­tion of the sup­port­ing Knowl­edge Man­age­ment en­ablers in­tro­duced by FinInst, namely In­for­ma­tion Tech­nol­ogy In­fra­struc­ture, Or­gan­i­sa­tional Struc­ture, Hu­man Re­source Prac­tices and Lead­er­ship/Con­text Set­ting in or­der to de­tect the rea­sons for why they have fallen short of cre­at­ing greater knowl­edge man­age­ment aware­ness, readi­ness and de­sired re­sults. Re­sults re­ported here are part of the larger study and are lim­ited to the con­sid­er­a­tion of vari­ables as­so­ci­ated with cul­tural di­ver­sity and the im­pact of th­ese vari­ables. The gen­eral ques­tion the larger study ad­dresses is, “How can knowl­edge man­age­ment be suc­cess­fully achieved in the cul­tural con­text of Malaysia?” The spe­cific is­sue dis­cussed is, “What are the key cul­tural vari­ables that can pro­mote suc­cess­ful knowl­edge man­age­ment in FinInst as one ex­am­ple of a Malaysian or­gan­i­sa­tion?

This data is used as a source of in­for­ma­tion to cor­rob­o­rate themes that have emerged from the broader body of lit­er­a­ture drawn from the dis­ci­plines of Man­age­ment Sci­ence, Knowl­edge Man­age­ment and Malaysian cul­tural stud­ies.

The For­ma­tion of Knowl­edge Man­age­ment in Malaysia

Ex­ist­ing lit­er­a­ture pro­vides no uni­ver­sal def­i­ni­tion of knowl­edge man­age­ment, which is in keep­ing with the fact that there is no agree­ment as to what con­sti­tutes knowl­edge in the first place. How­ever, for the pur­pose of this ar­ti­cle, knowl­edge man­age­ment is de­fined as the use of tech­nol­ogy, or­gan­i­sa­tional strate­gies and cul­ture to en­hance man­age­ment and lever­age hu­man knowl­edge.

Stud­ies in knowl­edge man­age­ment un­der­score the in­sep­a­ra­ble re­la­tion­ship be­tween knowl­edge man­age­ment and or­gan­i­sa­tional cul­ture. Where the causes of knowl­edge man­age­ment fail­ure have been ex­am­ined, in­ad­e­quate con­sid­er­a­tion of or­gan­i­sa­tional cul­ture is iden­ti­fied as a bar­rier to success. This is fur­ther sup­ported by stud­ies that recog­nise that tra­di­tional or­gan­i­sa­tional cul­tures and sys­tems may cre­ate ma­jor bar­ri­ers to suc­cess­ful knowl­edge man­age­ment. Cul­tural fac­tors that have re­ceived con­sid­er­able at­ten­tion are in­for­ma­tion sys­tems, or­gan­i­sa­tional struc­ture, re­ward sys­tems, pro­cesses, peo­ple and lead­er­ship.

For ex­am­ple, a study of 195 Span­ish firms that an­a­lysed how or­gan­i­sa­tional cul­ture af­fects knowl­edge man­age­ment, or­gan­i­sa­tional learn­ing and, ul­ti­mately, the per­for­mance of the firm, con­cluded that most or­gan­i­sa­tions lack a cul­ture that sup­ports col­lab­o­ra­tive work be­cause peo­ple view per­sonal own­er­ship of knowl­edge as a method to en­sure job se­cu­rity. As a re­sult, em­ploy­ees were re­luc­tant to share in­for­ma­tion and knowl­edge—an im­por­tant tenet of knowl­edge man­age­ment.

Most Malaysian or­gan­i­sa­tions are in the ini­tial phase of for­mal knowl­edge man­age­ment im­ple­men­ta­tion, and knowl­edge man­age­ment is widely prac­ticed in the ed­u­ca­tion sec­tor, government–owned or­gan­i­sa­tions and government de­part­ments and agen­cies. The rea­sons be­hind the in­tro­duc­tion of knowl­edge man­age­ment are due to the Malaysian government’s pol­icy ini­tia­tive, the Knowl­edge Based Econ­omy Master Plan, in­tro­duced in Septem­ber 2002. How­ever, it needs to be said that most of th­ese ini­tia­tives are tech­nol­ogy based. In this gen­eral con­text, FinInst is gen­er­ally con­sid­ered a pioneer be­cause it em­barked on be­com­ing a knowl­edge­based or­gan­i­sa­tion in Oc­to­ber 2000.

Stud­ies on knowl­edge man­age­ment in Malaysia are lim­ited and of­ten merely de­scribe its ex­is­tence and how it is re­lated to com­pet­i­tive­ness, or­gan­i­sa­tional fac­tors and em­ployee at­ti­tudes. How­ever, to our knowl­edge, there is no study that ex­am­ines an or­gan­i­sa­tion’s ap­proach in es­tab­lish­ing knowl­edge man­age­ment prac­tices, or once adopted the ap­pro­pri­ate­ness and ef­fec­tive­ness of the prac­tices in the busi­ness en­vi­ron­ment.

Em­pir­i­cal data was col­lected by means of a sur­vey in­stru­ment dis­trib­uted to FinInst staff in June 2006. Twenty–eight knowl­edge man­age­ment of­fi­cers were also en­listed to help en­cour­age staff par­tic­i­pa­tion. By sub­mit­ting their re­sponses on­line anonymity was en­sured.

Sur­vey ques­tions were de­signed to cover broad topics such as pro­cesses, learn­ing and in­no­va­tion, knowl­edge goals, peo­ple and work­place, lead­ers, tech­nol­ogy and in­for­ma­tion man­age­ment, cul­ture and work­ing styles, and the cur­rent sta­tus of knowl­edge man­age­ment. In all, 489 valid sub­mis­sions were re­turned rep­re­sent­ing 30% of the FinInst pop­u­la­tion. The re­sults of the sur­vey were used to com­pare and val­i­date themes re­lat­ing to cul­tural di­ver­sity emerg­ing in the lit­er­a­ture re­view. Th­ese iden­ti­fied themes were used as the frame­work for com­par­a­tive dis­cus­sion of the be­havioural as­pects of the var­i­ous eth­nic groups. Th­ese themes are: re­li­gion, eth­nic com­mu­nity, re­la­tion­ships, hi­er­ar­chy, ed­u­ca­tion so­ciopo­lit­i­cal, cul­tural set­ting, ini­tia­tive, busi­ness fo­cus, per­for­mance man­age­ment and mo­ti­va­tion.

Knowl­edge Man­age­ment within the Malaysian Con­text

English is the com­mon lan­guage spo­ken in most or­gan­i­sa­tions and there is a ten­dency in Malaysian or­gan­i­sa­tions to rely heav­ily on man­age­ment and be­havioural the­o­ries im­ported from the west. There is lim­ited knowl­edge of how im­ported val­ues or con­cepts such as self-es­teem, self-ac­tu­al­i­sa­tion and em­pow­er­ment fit into the cur­rent work en­vi­ron­ment. As a re­sult many of th­ese con­cepts are re­ceived in a cul­tural vac­uum as there is no frame of ref­er­ence in the ex­ist­ing struc­tures in Malaysian or­gan­i­sa­tions to sit­u­ate them. This cre­ates chal­lenges to busi­ness man­agers who are try­ing to achieve

in­sti­tu­tion­al­i­sa­tion of ‘best prac­tice’. A ma­jor en­abler of cul­tural con­ver­gence in Malaysia there­fore is through the adop­tion of English as the com­mon lan­guage.

In to­day’s ‘glob­al­i­sa­tion era’, col­lab­o­ra­tive learn­ing, knowl­edge shar­ing and in­sti­tu­tional net­work­ing across bor­ders have be­come enor­mously im­por­tant to pol­icy-mak­ers, man­agers and or­di­nary ci­ti­zens. There­fore, it is im­por­tant to be able to se­lect and adopt the most ap­pro­pri­ate con­cept from Euro­pean, Amer­i­can, Ja­panese and, the most re­cent, Chi­nese styles that would suit the or­gan­i­sa­tion or work cul­ture.

Not only is the cul­tural en­vi­ron­ment framed by eth­nic/racial di­ver­sity, it is also char­ac­terised by a trend over the past 20 years for Malaysians to be ed­u­cated in a west­ern cul­ture. The im­pact of this is that Malaysians who have been ex­posed to overseas ed­u­ca­tion may ex­press more lib­eral val­ues and demon­strate a West­ern-ed­u­cated out­look. Each gen­er­a­tion of Malaysians is ex­posed to a new set of western­ised val­ues, which are com­mu­ni­cated through the me­dia, In­ter­net and con­tacts with for­eign­ers in ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions and at the work­place. How­ever, many of those who are in po­si­tions of power and author­ity to make de­ci­sions at the work­place tend to be much older, who can be ei­ther lo­cally or for­eign ed­u­cated, and more con­ser­va­tive in out­look, i.e. they were trained and re­ceived their ed­u­ca­tion from work­ing with colo­nial man­age­ment prac­tices. Fur­ther, we need to con­sider the im­per­a­tive for change as Malaysia strives to­wards its 2020 goal of achiev­ing devel­oped na­tion sta­tus. To that end, the adop­tion of im­proved busi­ness prac­tices is recog­nised as a ne­ces­sity, for ex­am­ple, man­age­ment based on mer­i­toc­racy.

Due to a race riot in 1969, a New Eco­nomic Pol­icy (NEP) was for­mu­lated by the Malaysian Government with the ob­jec­tives of help­ing Malays en­ter the world of busi­ness and com­merce which has long been as­so­ci­ated with the Chi­nese. How­ever, many nonMalays felt that the NEP was a form of dis­crim­i­na­tion as they would have to sac­ri­fice more in or­der for the Government to achieve the ob­jec­tives and have to ac­cept the fact that any gain by the Malays will be at their ex­pense in the short term.

In­ter­est­ingly, the sur­vey found that there is a FinInst work cul­ture rather than a mix of sub-cul­tures based on eth­nic iden­tity. How­ever, although eth­nic pref­er­ences of be­hav­iour by Chi­nese, Malay and In­dian staff were iden­ti­fi­able they were not seen as sig­nif­i­cantly im­pli­cat­ing the over­all work cul­ture.

Knowl­edge Man­age­ment Chal­lenges in Malaysia

Our study has found that the main bar­ri­ers to the im­ple­men­ta­tion of knowl­edge man­age­ment ini­tia­tives in Malaysia is the re­luc­tance of peo­ple to change, re­luc­tance to share knowl­edge, fail­ing to up­date in­for­ma­tion, lack of skills and ex­per­tise in knowl­edge man­age­ment, and lack of time. For FinInst, the bar­ri­ers are mainly re­lated to com­mu­ni­ca­tion, aware­ness, lack of un­der­stand­ing and pri­ori­tis­ing.

Some de­scrip­tions that de­pict com­mon el­e­ments of an un­healthy cor­po­rate cul­ture in many Malaysian or­gan­i­sa­tions re­late to man­age­ment at­ti­tudes and be­hav­iours that have a neg­a­tive ef­fect on knowl­edge man­age­ment. For ex­am­ple, one will hoard knowl­edge in fear that if shared some­one else will ben­e­fit from it to gain pro­mo­tion or recog­ni­tion.

In Malaysia, knowl­edge man­age­ment in its broader, so­cial and cul­tural as­pects is still in its in­fancy as a man­age­ment dis­ci­pline. As a start­ing point, knowl­edge man­age­ment needs to be clearly iden­ti­fied and em­ploy­ees need to un­der­stand their role within a knowl­edge based busi­ness. In this devel­op­ment, lead­ers play a vi­tal and im­por­tant role to en­sure that knowl­edge man­age­ment is im­ple­mented and pur­sued.

Malaysian or­gan­i­sa­tions must put more ef­fort into build­ing trust through mo­ti­va­tion and en­cour­age­ment by cre­at­ing and sup­port­ing open and hon­est com­mu­ni­ca­tion to all ir­re­spec­tive of eth­nic­ity. To cre­ate such a cul­ture there should be a com­mon vi­sion and shared val­ues. By prac­tic­ing th­ese shared val­ues peo­ple in or­gan­i­sa­tions will un­der­stand each other bet­ter to strive to­wards a com­mon goal.

Malaysia is a di­verse so­ci­ety with peo­ple from dif­fer­ent cul­tural back­grounds and be­liefs. Iden­tity and tra­di­tion in­flu­ence in­ter­ac­tions in the work­place. It is there­fore im­por­tant to un­der­stand the dif­fer­ent cul­tural back­grounds and to be sen­si­tive to th­ese in deal­ing with work re­lated is­sues.

Our study of the lit­er­a­ture and FinInst has found that there are a num­ber of cul­tural vari­ables that im­pact on the be­hav­iours of in­di­vid­u­als which in turn im­pact on the ef­fec­tive­ness of knowl­edge man­age­ment.

As a man­age­ment prac­tice, knowl­edge man­age­ment does not stand alone but is sup­ported by strat­egy, tech­nol­ogy and cul­ture, and if there is an im­ple­men­ta­tion fail­ure one or more of th­ese three sup­port sys­tems are in­ad­e­quate. A key im­pli­ca­tion for knowl­edge man­age­ment is that or­gan­i­sa­tions need to de­velop a strate­gic per­spec­tive to­wards in­tro­duc­ing a

knowl­edge shar­ing cul­ture. In any or­gan­i­sa­tion, em­ployee involvement is a must and is an im­por­tant pre­con­di­tion for knowl­edge man­age­ment success. In ad­di­tion to shar­ing knowl­edge, em­ploy­ees must first of all trust each other; but such an en­vi­ron­ment does not cur­rently ex­ist in many or­gan­i­sa­tions in Malaysia as there is per­ceived bias re­gard­ing par­tic­u­lar eth­nic groups.

The Road to Knowl­edge Man­age­ment Success

Any change brought about by knowl­edge man­age­ment will have to be tai­lored to ac­com­mo­date the Malaysian work cul­ture. Many west­ern change con­cepts do not eas­ily fit the cur­rent Malaysian work en­vi­ron­ment be­cause their prime as­sump­tions are broadly con­ceived ‘west­ern’ val­ues that do not take into ac­count the speci­fici­ties of Malaysian (work) cul­tures. For any change to be suc­cess­ful, the cul­tural phe­nom­ena we dis­cussed in the pre­ced­ing pages must be con­sid­ered. Fur­ther, it is es­sen­tial to get the sup­port from the Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Of­fi­cer and other se­nior man­agers to ex­pe­dite change for the whole or­gan­i­sa­tion. This is con­sis­tent with other find­ings re­ported in the knowl­edge man­age­ment lit­er­a­ture.

Knowl­edge has al­ways been the cat­a­lyst to­wards the eco­nomic devel­op­ment of devel­oped coun­tries and this in­sight needs to be trans­lated to­wards achiev­ing Vi­sion 2020. Or­gan­i­sa­tions in Malaysia need to re­alise that knowl­edge re­sources are es­sen­tial to their devel­op­ment, and that the con­tri­bu­tion of Malaysian knowl­edge work­ers is cen­tral to achiev­ing Malaysia’s 2020 goals.

In this ar­ti­cle, we have drawn at­ten­tion to some of the spe­cific cul­tural features in the Malaysian con­text that have to be con­sid­ered in or­der for com­pa­nies to cre­ate a sus­tain­able knowl­edge shar­ing ca­pa­bil­ity. Such at­ten­tion is an im­por­tant pre­con­di­tion to build knowl­edge man­age­ment from ‘the ground up’. Success in knowl­edge shar­ing is de­pen­dent on un­der­stand­ing the na­ture of or­gan­i­sa­tional cul­ture and the as­sump­tions and be­hav­iours of the var­i­ous in­di­vid­u­als and groups that char­ac­terise that cul­ture.

2012: FinInst’s Knowl­edge Man­age­ment Up­date

In 2012, the sce­nario has evolved as FinInst re­alised the need to cre­ate its own work cul­ture de­pict­ing iden­ti­cal val­ues to be prac­ticed by its em­ploy­ees. Among oth­ers, the shared val­ues in­clude trust, col­lab­o­ra­tion and striv­ing for ex­cel­lence, which are keys for de­vel­op­ing a knowl­edge shar­ing cul­ture. Th­ese val­ues were in­tro­duced to have a com­pe­tent work­force that prac­tices them mov­ing to­wards FinInst re­al­is­ing its vi­sion of be­com­ing a knowl­edge-based or­gan­i­sa­tion.

In re­al­is­ing its mis­sion, one of FinInst’s en­abling fac­tors to­wards be­com­ing a knowl­edge-based or­gan­i­sa­tion were the Hu­man Re­source Prac­tices. The aim of which is, to pro­duce knowl­edge work­ers. Schol­ar­ships were awarded to ex­cel­lent stu­dents to be ed­u­cated overseas and this has changed the mind­set and work be­hav­iour of the Gen­er­a­tion Y seg­ment. In the near fu­ture, there is a like­li­hood of the work cul­ture trans­form­ing with the adop­tion of western­ised man­age­ment prac­tices. i

Ex­tracted from The In­ter­na­tional Jour­nal Of Di­ver­sity In Or­gan­i­sa­tions, Com­mu­ni­ties And Na­tions,Vol­ume 7, 2007, pp 77 - 86.

Jas­bir Singh is an ex­pe­ri­enced prac­ti­tioner of knowl­edge man­age­ment and was one of the first to be ap­pointed as a Knowl­edge Man­age­ment Of­fi­cer when Bank Ne­gara Malaysia em­barked into be­com­ing a knowl­edge­based or­gan­i­sa­tion in 2000.

His pas­sion for knowl­edge man­age­ment led him to pur­sue a PhD pro­gramme in knowl­edge man­age­ment with the Univer­sity of Mel­bourne. Jas­bir Singh’s re­search fo­cused on how to de­velop knowl­edge man­age­ment prac­tices in Malaysia. Jas­bir Singh holds a Bach­e­lor of So­cial Sci­ence (Hons) from Univer­siti Sains Malaysia, a Master of Eco­nom­ics from Univer­siti Pu­tra Malaysia and a Doc­tor of Phi­los­o­phy from Univer­sity of Mel­bourne.

Jas­bir is a Re­search As­so­ciate in the Cen­tre for Or­gan­i­sa­tional Learn­ing and Lead­er­ship, Grad­u­ate School of Ed­u­ca­tion, The Univer­sity of Mel­bourne, Aus­tralia.

Dr. Rod Dil­nutt is the Man­ag­ing Di­rec­tor of Wil­liam Beth­wey & As­so­ci­ates, a spe­cial­ist knowl­edge and change man­age­ment con­sul­tancy. He has over twenty five years' ex­pe­ri­ence as a con­sul­tant and is re­tained by many blue chip or­gan­i­sa­tions in the pri­vate and pub­lic sec­tors across the Asia Pa­cific re­gion and be­yond. Rod holds an MBA Doc­tor­ate in Knowl­edge Man­age­ment and as a Se­nior Re­search Fel­low at the Univer­sity of Mel­bourne where he lec­tures and par­tic­i­pates in post­grad­u­ate and fac­ulty re­search pro­grammes.

Pro­fes­sor Gabriele Lakom­ski is best known for her crit­i­cal work on lead­er­ship and or­gan­i­sa­tional learn­ing in both pub­lic and pri­vate sec­tor or­gan­i­sa­tions, and in­cludes the study of or­gan­i­sa­tional cul­ture and change, emo­tions and de­ci­sion-mak­ing, and the train­ing of man­agers and ad­min­is­tra­tors. Her re­search pro­gramme in­cludes the anal­y­sis of Knowl­edge Man­age­ment as a new tool for man­ag­ing or­gan­i­sa­tional devel­op­ment and change.

A mem­ber of the Academy of Man­age­ment (USA), Pro­fes­sor Lakom­ski served as an ex­ec­u­tive mem­ber of the Academy’s Man­age­ment Ed­u­ca­tion Di­vi­sion. She was a Se­nior Ed­i­tor of Or­gan­i­sa­tion Stud­ies, and is a mem­ber of a num­ber of ed­i­to­rial boards of ed­u­ca­tion and man­age­ment jour­nals, in­clud­ing Man­age­ment Learn­ing. She also serves as Di­rec­tor on the Board of Direc­tors of St. Michael’s Gram­mar School in St. Kilda. She re­sides in Mel­bourne.

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