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Assessment of the Situation

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The highly decentralized and independent modus of operandi at Groupe Danone is creating challenges in the sharing and repurposing of knowledge within the organization. The Networking Attitude program was established to allow sharing of knowledge amongst its highly geographically dispersed units and has proven very successful. Over a three year period, the program has allowed more than half of Danone's managers to leverage best practices from their colleagues around the world (Edmondson, Moingeon, Dessain, & Jensen, 2008).

Key to the success of the program is its design; management developed the program to fit within the culture and core values of the organization and linked the sharing of knowledge to solving business problems that the units were facing (McDermott & O'Dell, 2001). This resulted in managers sharing knowledge exploiting existing ideas and opportunities but as indicated by March (1991) in Schilling & Kluge (2009), organizations also need to explore new ideas and opportunities to be successful in a changing and competitive environment. Hence the creation of the 'co-building events' put in place to create an innovation environment for new practices or products - Franck Mougin (executive vice president of HR) and Benedikt Beneti (director, organizational development) now have to think of a design that will continue to fit within the culture and values of the organization while leveraging the current networks for their exploration efforts.


Notwithstanding the success of the Network Attitude program, Groupe Danone is facing challenges which must be addressed as they are creating barriers to efficient and effective knowledge creation, sharing and innovation. As identified in the case, the Networking Attitude program demonstrated that: sharing didn't come as a natural thing for employees; the current infrastructure was not entirely suitable to knowledge creation, sharing and long-term management; and there were difficulties in maintaining the motivation of employees for exploratory efforts.


Many influential factors come into play as far as knowledge sharing is concerned. In Schilling & Kluge (2009), the activities of organizational learning are categorized using the 4i model put forward by Crossan et al. (1999). The model is predicated on the notion that there are four interconnected main processes by which the different levels of organizational learning occur: intuiting, interpreting, integrating and institutionalizing. Always in Schilling & Kluge (2009), the 4i model was extended, by Lawrence et al. (2005), to include factors detrimental to organizational learning, which ultimately influence organizational knowledge sharing and management practices. These factors are: (1) actional-personal, (2) structural-organizational and (3) societal-environmental.

At Groupe Danone, actional-personal factors are present and create barriers to the integrating learning process. For instance, because networking is not acknowledged or rewarded in any way shape or form, there is little motivation for individuals/units to network; the integration aspect of the learning process is impacted. Schilling & Kluge (2009) define integrating as when shared understanding among group is achieved, allowing for coherent, collective action within the organization. Sun and Scott (2005), in Schillking & Kluge (2009), advance that groups are not likely to share with other units if, amongst other things, recognition cannot be expected. Another actional-personal barrier that impact knowledge integrating is the 'not invented here syndrome'. Zell (2001), in Schilling & Kluge (2009), advances that employees might not cooperate in integrating ideas if they have not come up with it.

The intuiting learning process is also influenced by another actional-personal behaviour relating to the professional identify of employees characterized by first-order problem solving (Schilling & Kluge, 2009). As expressed by Thibaux in the case, the fact that people have too much work to put networking as a priority, compounded by the fact that it is not officially recognized or identified, creates a barrier to knowledge intuiting as employees focussed on what characterizes 'their' real job (Schilling & Kluge, 2009).


Alain Montembault, R&D Director for consumer science at Danone Research, points out the lack of IT systems in support of knowledge creation, storage, sharing and management. When an organization is in its early stages of knowledge sharing, automated tools such as those that can be provided by an IT infrastructure may not be as important as the human aspect to build relationships and trust amongst team members. However, as pointed out in Alavi & Leidner (2001), studies have shown that while organizations create knowledge and learn, they also forget (meaning they do not remember or lose track of the acquired knowledge). As also advanced by Alavi & Leidner (2001), the storage, organization, and retrieval of organizational knowledge is an important aspect of effective knowledge management.

Given the decentralized and autonomous culture at Groupe Danone, Benenati's strategy to first focus on tackling change in behaviour and in attitude as far as knowledge sharing is concerned served the organization well (Edmondson, Moingeon, Dessain, & Jensen, 2008). The organization may now be at a maturity level where introducing IT as a key enabler would be very beneficial. The usage of IT systems would allow for interaction between units to share best practices, ideas and perspectives enabling employees to arrive at new insights and/or more accurate interpretation than if they are left by themselves (Alavi & Leidner, 2001). This approach would enable 'virtual' proximal learning to occur. Proximal learning occurs when members of a team learn from each other so that collective performance exceeds the ability of any single team member.



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