Knowledge management a let-down for business

Research on competitiveness presents a bleak picture for UK business and
reveals most companies’ training and knowledge management initiatives are too
generalised to have any real impact on productivity.

The study, by the Centre for Competitiveness at the University of Luton,
spanned five years and examined initiatives in some 2,000 companies. Its
conclusions sparked a scathing attack on the state of training in this country
by the centre’s head.

In a book based on the new research, The Knowledge Entrepreneur, Professor
Colin Coulson-Thomas brands training as both "exceedingly general"
and "totally a waste of time" in terms of boosting productivity –
resulting in huge sums being wasted.

He found only one of all the companies surveyed in his research, was
actually doing something to train its people to be more successful at
competitive bidding – "and this was in companies whose total income was
dependent on competitive bidding", he said. "I’d actually be
interviewing someone with a training budget of £25m, and the performance
wouldn’t be affected at all."

He contended productivity loses out too often to diversity on today’s
training agenda. Training "would only cost a twentieth or thirtieth as
much," he said.

The centre is a partner in the national Fit for the Future campaign led by
the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) and Department of Trade and
Industry (DTI) to improve productivity in terms of people and increase

Turning to productivity itself, Coulson-Thomas said too many organisations
are putting enormous effort – and resources – into knowledge management schemes
that "don’t increase productivity whatsoever".

Instead of focusing on creating knowledge which can then be captured and
shared to increase performance and income streams, too many companies simply
invest in technology such as corporate intranets which may not even be relevant
to corporate objectives, he said Coulson-Thomas. "You have a giant mass of
information on the corporate intranet, but… just dumping knowledge on people
without giving them the tools to apply and use that knowledge won’t increase

This the latest in a series of findings highlighting the UK’s poor
productivity record. While unemployment in the UK is at its lowest since the
1970s, a substantial productivity gap still exists relative to the US and much
of Europe [source: DTI]. According to separate figures from the Work
Foundation, the UK lags 40 per cent behind the US and 14 per cent behind

Coulson-Thomas said it is not all bad news, however – there’s no shortage of
money going into training, meaning there is immense potential if those
resources were better used. He and his colleagues have identified ‘critical success
factors’ in a range of areas necessary for business to move ahead, including

Coulson-Thomas described the concept of the knowledge entrepreneur as
"someone who is generating commercial results and giving their people
greater personal satisfaction through creative exploitation of know-how. It is
also about creating knowledge-based products and services to help people do new
and different things – and do them better.¾

The Knowledge Entrepreneur is published by Kogan Page and includes a CD on
the use of job support tools

By Margaret Kubicek

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