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Unilever’s knowledge assets in the context of Unilever's organisational objectives

1.Describe Unilever’s knowledge assets in the context of Unilever's organisational objectives, and classify the knowledge into category(ies) of tacit and/or explicit knowledge. Describe Unilever’s KM activities and associate the activities with the knowledge?


2.Describe Unilever’s KM issues. Choose 4 KM models from Topic 2 of this unit, among which 2 models are appropriate for Unilever and the other 2 are not and discuss why and why not (you may adapt the existing models to Unilever)?


3.Identify and explain challenge(s) for Unilever's KM, and provide and discuss your own solution(s) to the challenge(s)?


4.Cathy is going to call her team to discuss the way forward. As a team member, you are asked to recommend a KM cycle for Unilever, focusing on activities in each phase?

Unilever is one of the largest consumer goods at the global level with an annual turnover €40bn. It has its presence in approximate around 100 countries (Unilever UK & Ireland 2018). Such a larger presence means there might be few management challenges which could only be mitigated if appropriate strategies are being implemented. One of such challenges to Unilever is the KM (Knowledge Management). They have been following the knowledge management strategy since 1996; however, there are flaws like the updating of senior expert’s profiles in the CoP (communities of practice). CoP was being initiated in Unilever with a vision to improve its KM by connecting together the company’s experts who are geographically dispersed (Sim, King and Price 2016).

KM at Unilever can be divided into two categories such as the follows:

Tacit- The knowledge management structure at Unilever is tacit in a form that the experts at the different geographical places are connected through CoP (Grover and Froese 2016). They exchange their experience and learning with each other. They are like the members of CoP workshop.

Explicit- The knowledge is explicit in the form that they have created a database portal on the workshop through which employees can access to several domains like ‘learning histories’ which covers the experiences shared by retired employees (Grover and Froese 2016).

As discussed, the activities include the creation of workshop in the CoP (community of practice) where experts from different geographic can come closer to each other and share what their useful experiences are. They have also created an intranet portal that also reflects the explicit knowledge of Unilever has a domain named ‘learning histories’. Experts and employees can go to the domain and find what the senior & retired professionals have followed under different circumstances. This is another way of enriching the knowledge management (KM) (Sim, King and Price 2016). 

Classifying the knowledge into tacit and explicit knowledge

One of the issues, as identified in the attached case study, is the updating of CoP (community of practice). The experts from different branch locations of Unilever at the global level do not regularly update their profiles. This is problematic because if there is no update then the flow of knowledge would be hampered (Chang and Lin 2015). Another issue as being identified by the new CEO Paul Polman is the alienation of knowledge management with the Unilever’s organisational objectives. Cathy has more or less the same views on KM who is the head of knowledge management group in Unilever. Cathy has indicated that there is a need to align the knowledge management process with the thought process of company’s CEO. Cathy further added that professional competencies are not just doing what people know but, it is giving importance to what should be known in order to deliver the success. 

The four models are Organisational Epistemology Model, Knowledge Spiral Model, Sense-Making KM Model and Building & Using Knowledge Model (Strunga 2015). Organisational Epistemology Model is similar to Unilever’s CoP (community workshops) as the model has emphasised on having an organisational structure in which individual member shares their innovative thoughts to facilitate organisational knowledge. The Knowledge Spiral Model is not appropriate to Unilever’s KM because the model facilitates a knowledge management based on a continuous updating of a tacit and explicit form of knowledge. The Sense-Making KM Model is also not suitable to Unilever’s KM as the model encourages individual contribution and their external information. The Building & Using Knowledge Model is in the line with the Unilever’s CoP workshop as the model governs the organising of knowledge in a storehouse for users, so that, they are able to utilise the correct knowledge in context to specific problem (Strunga 2015). This is exactly similar in meaning to the Unilever’s CoP workshop where every expert from different geographic is able to get strategic approaches to a specific problem. 

The challenge to Unilever’s KM is evident from the views of new CEO which has indicated towards its alienation with the organizational objectives. The fact has also been supported by Cathy who is the head of Unilever's knowledge management group. One of the objectives of Unilever is to establish a continuous flow of both tacit and explicit knowledge, so that, they could construct better strategies to counter the challenges and be one of the leading names in the competition. However, such thing is not happening as believed by the new CEO and the knowledge management group head. They have identified few reasons for it such as an irregular updating from senior experts at the different geographic locations (Wong et al. 2015).

Describing Unilever’s KM activities and associate the activities with the knowledge

 The community CoP was developed keeping in mind that expert's views would be exchanged and thereby, benefit the decision-making capabilities. An intranet portal was also being developed, so that, it could be made both interesting and engaging. The portal had contents like ‘learning histories’ which showcases the experience of retired professionals when they were the part of Unilever. It was being developed, so that, existing experts could know from such experiences that how to handle a specific situation. Despite such strategies, the knowledge management process in Unilever has flaws. However, it is indicative only that probable reason for it could be the inactive responses from the experts. 

The recommendations would be to align the knowledge management process with the organisational objectives. Moreover, the senior experts would be required to regularly update their profiling on the CoP workshop. This is necessary as team will find the expert’s views and experiences on different strategic challenges. Moreover, will keep getting the number of views on similar kind of challenges and hence, they will grow in knowledge which is necessary to maintain an equivalent success in different branch locations (Antle et al. 2017).

There are various cycles using which knowledge management in Unilever can be improved; however, the ‘Integrated KM Cycle’ looks the most feasible with the existing organisational procedure. The integrated KM cycle follows some principles which are quite similar in meaning to Unilever’s CoP which is why Cathy may find this cycle much more effective than the rest other cycles. The integrated KM cycle adheres to the following process:

Capturing the knowledge or creating it and then after assessing the suitability of the knowledge, passing it to others. This is a one form of tacit knowledge. The next stage is contextualising the concept and applying it to a problem situation. If it is productive then applying it by updating to the storehouse of knowledge management (Strunga 2015). The process cycle is exactly similar in meaning to the Unilever’s CoP where experts share their experience in different challenging situations. The senior experts first capture the information and then asses it on some strategic situation. If they find this effective then they apply it to the organisation by updating this to the intranet portal. However, the experts have expectedly lacked in updating their knowledge and thoughts which are why the workshop has suffered and could not deliver the updated knowledge that could have helped Unilever in being in line with the organisational objectives. Cathy with the help of ‘Integrated KM Cycle’ can highlight her team member the areas where they have lagged. Moreover, Cathy can also show the importance of following the chosen cycle. 

References:

Antle, J.M., Basso, B., Conant, R.T., Godfray, H.C.J., Jones, J.W., Herrero, M., Howitt, R.E., Keating, B.A., Munoz-Carpena, R., Rosenzweig, C. and Tittonell, P., 2017. Towards a new generation of agricultural system data, models and knowledge products: Design and improvement. Agricultural systems, 155, pp.255-268.

Chang, C.L.H. and Lin, T.C., 2015. The role of organizational culture in the knowledge management process. Journal of Knowledge management, 19(3), pp.433-455.

Grover, R. and Froese, T.M., 2016. Knowledge management in construction using a SocioBIM platform: A case study of AYO smart home project. Procedia Engineering, 145, pp.1283-1290.

Sim, S., King, H. and Price, E., 2016. The role of science in shaping sustainable business: unilever case study. In Taking Stock of Industrial Ecology (pp. 291-302). Springer, Cham.

Strunga, A., 2015. The Integration of Virtual Learning Communities into Universities’ Knowledge Management Models. Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences, 197, pp.2430-2434.

Unilever UK & Ireland. 2018. Home. [online] Available at: https://www.unilever.co.uk/ [Accessed 14 Mar. 2018].

Wong, K.Y., Tan, L.P., Lee, C.S. and Wong, W.P., 2015. Knowledge Management performance measurement: measures, approaches, trends and future directions. Information Development, 31(3), pp.239-257.

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