Role of HR function in Knowledge Management at Unilever

Knowledge management is getting the right knowledge to the right people at the right time to maximize an entreprise’s knowledge related effectiveness. Knowledge management focuses on doing the right things instead of doing the things right. In this view all the business processes involve creation, dissemination, renewal and application of knowledge towards the organizational survival. Effective knowledge management enhances products, speeds deployments, increase sales, improves profits and creates customer satisfaction.

It is widely known that Knowledge Management (KM) as a discipline and a tool is meant to provide an integrated way to identify, capture, reshape, and, share, the organization’s information assets so as to create faster response time for seekers in the organization.

It is often a debatable question if KM should be a separate department by itself handling the various aspects of KM or should it be integrated with an already established department. KM processes directly improve organizational processes, such as innovation, collaborative decision-making, and individual and collective learning.

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These improved organizational processes produce intermediate outcomes such as better decisions, organizational behaviors, products, services and relationships. These, in turn, lead to improved organizational performance.

This brings me to the Human Resource (HR) department. KM is all about people and the culture of sharing and not just the tools employed. Hence from my perspective, the HR department has a very crucial and vital role to play in not just its formation but also in giving KM its shape.

In many large organizations the HR department is in itself divided into smaller units looking at various components within the company like policy making, recruitment, corporate communication & entertainment, etc.

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However, given that the policies created will go a long way in shaping the attitude of its employees, KM, and its policies need to be integrated and also worked along these lines.

So what exactly can HR Management (HRM) do for KM? There are a few Basic Criteria that should be followed by HRM when implementing KM

o HRM can and must help with articulating the main purpose of knowledge management. Since HR deals with people, knows the workings of the organization, the vision of its Board/Trustees, it is in a strategic position to understand how KM can be employed for the benefit of its employees and the organization as a whole. o Along with the vision, HRM should and must align KM along the organization’s mission, and, policies. The main purpose being is to create an atmosphere of sharing and using knowledge to its optimum to begin with, at least. o The most crucial purpose is to transfer tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge.

This can be done through its traditional training methods via building employee personality and career skills and competencies, through workshops, through fun and entertainment, through internal social networking sites and mailing lists via the intranet. It has to employ not just tools, but, the human capital to energize the company towards the change that it must bring. And change it must! o Initiate culture change and Learning initiatives: HRM can help facilitate this through a series of event related initiatives and talent fairs and interactive e-learning modules with mentorship, within the organization thus involving all levels of employees from across projects and the organization. HRM has to be the enabler for behavioural change for KM to succeed.

HRM itself has to undergo some change in its use of technology – it needs to be at the forefront in understanding what technological tool/s are appropriate for the sharing of knowledge, moving it from internal email niches to wider discussion forums on the intranet.

HRM has to be the catalyst for culture change to be effected – connecting the traditional to the new methods that is appropriate with the Next-Gen, to leverage the collective knowledge in an atmosphere of “openness” with a competitive edge.

KM by itself cannot survive in a vacuum. It involves people and communication, employee favouring policies, updated technologies, and, above all, a change in the culture of an organization, without which the organization’s transformation into a knowledge driven company cannot be achieved.

Knowledge management systems (KMS) are applications of the organization’s computer-based communications and information systems (CIS) to support the various KM processes. They are typically not technologically distinct from the CIS, but involve databases, such as “lessons learned” repositories, and directories and networks, such as those designed to put organizational participants in contact with recognized experts in a variety of topic areas.

What does knowledge management involve?

Knowledge management is essentially about facilitating the processes by which knowledge is created, shared and used in organisations. It is not about setting up a new department or getting in a new computer system. It is about making small changes to the way everyone in the organisation works. There are many ways of looking at knowledge management and different organisations will take different approaches. Generally speaking, creating a knowledge environment usually requires changing organisational values and culture, changing people’s behaviours and work patterns, and providing people with easy access to each other and to relevant information resources.

In terms of how that is done, the processes of knowledge management are many and varied. As knowledge management is a relatively new concept, organisations are still finding their way and so there is no single agreed way forward or best practice. This is a time of much trial and error. Similarly, to simply copy the practices of another organisation would probably not work because each organisation faces a different set of knowledge management problems and challenges.

Knowledge management is essentially about people – how they create, share and use knowledge, and so no knowledge management tool will work if it is not applied in a manner that is sensitive to the ways people think and behave. That being said, there are
of course a whole raft of options in terms of tools and techniques, many of which are not new. Many of the processes that currently fall under the banner of knowledge management have been around for a long time, but as part of functions such as training, human resources, internal communications, information technology, librarianship, records management and marketing to name a few. And some of those processes can be very simple, such as:

o providing induction packs full of “know how” to new staff; o conducting exit interviews when staff leave so that their knowledge is not lost to the organisation; o creating databases of all publications produced by an organisation so that staff can access them from their desk;

Unilever is one of the largest consumer goods companies, with corporate centres in London and Rotterdam, and annual sales of around $48bn. It produces and markets a wide range of foods, home and personal-care products, under well known brands like Lipton, Ragu, Flora, I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter, Breyers, Omo, All, Calvin Klein Cosmetics, Elisabeth Arden and Dove. A truly global company, Unilever employs almost 250,000 people in 100 countries, with sales in over 50 more. About 2.5 per cent of annual turnover is invested in basic research and product innovation, leading to the filing of more than 400 patent applications each year. Unilever’s corporate purpose is the ambition to be a truly ‘multi-local’, multinational company – understanding and anticipating the everyday needs of people everywhere and meeting these needs with branded products and services.

Having recognised the importance of knowledge as a key differentiator and the source for sustainable competitive advantage, Unilever has made significant investments in IT over the past decades. But the company soon realised that this was only part of the solution and that it was becoming more important that the investments the firm was making in knowledge contributed to top-line growth and profitability.

Taking this learning-organisation perspective as a starting point, Unilever has put numerous knowledge-management initiatives in place across the company. In order to capture what was known and identify what was not (knowledge gaps), knowledge workshops were organised. Key experts and practitioners from around the world discussed, in an interactive and structured way, a specific, strategically relevant knowledge domain. The aim of the workshops was to come to a common understanding about the knowledge strengths and weaknesses of the company as a whole. Existing good practices were captured and rolled out to the wider community.

At the same time, innovation and R&D programmes were put in place to address the knowledge gaps that were identified. Unilever’s knowledge management group aims to help the organisation become learning and networked organisation. They follow a framework focussing on delivery to Unilever’s strategic objectives through locating, capturing, sharing, transferring and creating knowledge. The main aim of knowledge management group is to influence the organisation in order to develop a culture of interdependency amongst the categories, regions and functions.

Impact of HR on knowledge management at Unilever

At the stage of induction of new executives into the organisation, coaching and mentoring systems are meant to transfer knowledge, exposure during, training to variety of functions, units and geographical locations helps knowledge awareness and transfers.

HR process at Unilever that are aligned to strengthen knowledge management:

Job rotations: Well planned job rotations across various locations and businesses in a firm not only help in people development but also provide an important vehicle for transfer of knowledge and best practices, even though an organisation cannot obviously depend on this as the main source of knowledge transfer.

Networked organisations: A networked organisation with people playing multiple roles, being part of multiple teams, is the way to effectively implement ‘leverage collective knowledge’ of an enterprise. HR plays a key role in developing such a networked organisation, through sponsorship and facilitation of knowledge communities cutting across formal organisational silos.

Training: Learning and knowledge are inter connected. Knowledge strategies encompass learning initiatives and knowledge initiatives to cover training initiatives. Unilever’s training program focus on functional and business specific skill development programs as well as competency development focused programs.


A new and exciting design challenge is to develop the KM-systems’ functions, so that information concerning the employees’ aims, directions and ambitions, and the organizations strategic business goals can be combined.

Uniliver should concentrate on what they don’t know” they should discover where the search process broke down and determine why the company may not have understood the true intent of the user’s initial inquiry. Thinking globally also requires planning for the use of knowledge management across multiple channels and Unilever should increase the efficiency and effectiveness of relationships with partners and vendors.

The knowledge management system acted as a web of learning with a foundation comprised of effective:

• communication

• collaboration

• knowledge sharing.

These characteristics of the KMS enable employees to develop a critical thinking process that is methodical and intentional, resulting in improved efficiency and effectiveness.


In today’s fast changing global markets, the new critical resources of success are inside the heads of employees that is knowledge. Knowledge management is a set of relatively new organizational activities that are aimed at improving knowledge, knowledge-related practices, organizational behaviours and decisions and organizational performance. KM focuses on knowledge processes – knowledge creation, acquisition, refinement, storage, transfer, sharing and utilization. These processes support organizational processes involving innovation, individual learning, collective learning and collaborative decision making. The “intermediate outcomes” of KM are improved organizational behaviours, decisions, products, services, processes and relationships that enable the organization to improve its overall performance.

The KM-systems at Unilever are particularly designed to support the organizations in their efforts to manage the employees’ competencies in an efficient and structured way, i.e. to have the right competence, at the right time at the right place


o Cross, R., and L. Baird, 2000, Technology is not enough: Improving performance by building organizational memory, Sloan Management Review.

o Davenport, T.H., and L. Prusak, 2000, Working knowledge: How organizations manage what they know, Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.

o Dixon, N.M., 1994, The organizational learning cycle: How we can learn collectively, New York, McGraw-Hill.

o Earl, M., 2001, Knowledge management strategies, Journal of Management Information Systems.

o Easterby Smith, M., and M. Lyles, 2003, The Blackwell handbook of
organizational learning and knowledge management, Oxford, Blackwell.

o Hansen, M.T., N. Nohria, and T. Tierney, 1999, What’s your strategy for managing knowledge?, Harvard Business Review.

o Huber, G.P., 1991, Organizational learning: The contributing processes and the literatures, Organization Science.

Updated: Feb 22, 2021
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Role of HR function in Knowledge Management at Unilever. (2017, May 24). Retrieved from

Role of HR function in Knowledge Management at Unilever essay
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