In today’s highly turbulent and dynamic business environment, knowledge is widely
recognized as the only true and sustainable resource for competitiveness. Over the past
decade, an increasing amount of contributions has been made to the management
literature, both from academics and practitioners, stressing the relevance of knowledge
as well as its management for organisational competitiveness; focusing the attention
both on the assessment of knowledge assets and intellectual capital (see Haanes and
Lowendhal, 1997; Marr and Schiuma, 2001; Roos et al., 1997) and their management
(see Davenport and Prusak, 1998; Grant, 1991; Nonaka and Konno, 1998; Ruggles, 1998;
Nowadays, it is accepted that knowledge is at the heart of organizational
capabilities and the need for organizations to continuously generate and refresh their
knowledge has never been greater. Leading organizations see themselves, and operate,
as learning organisms able to continuously adapt to the competitive context and
change their business processes looking for new and improved performance. They
recognize that knowledge assets are key strategic resources while tangible assets are a
value transient and generally do not play, specifically in the medium and long term, a
pivotal role in achieving a strategic competitive advantage.
Thus, in order to acquire and maintain competitive advantages organizations must
explicitly manage their cognitive resources. They need to appreciate how they can
identify and evaluate existing knowledge assets within the organization and how to
manage these assets in order to achieve competitive advantage.
In this context, we advocate that the assessment and the management of knowledge
assets are two main building blocks of company’s performance management system.
By knowledge assessment, organisations can identify and evaluate their knowledge
assets which are at the basis of performance, and by knowledge management it is
possible to define the managerial processes and projects which enable organisations to
acquire, create, continually renew and effectively apply their knowledge assets in order
to generate value. In order for this to work, it is prudent that organistions have a clear
view of what benefits they could expect. This demands an understanding of the link
between knowledge management and business performance. This understanding
would support the validation of knowledge management investments and can
contribute to explain what knowledge should be managed and developed within an
organisation to achieve performance improvement. Upon analysing the current
research (see Armistead, 1999; Chong et al., 2000; Firestone, 2001), it becomes evident
that there is no straight-forward generic link between knowledge management and
business performance, but rather a complex set of relationships which appear to be
However an important feature emerging from the literature is the relevant role of the
company’s strategy in defining the knowledge management initiatives which can have
a positive impact on company business performance. Therefore, the starting point to
define any knowledge management initiative is company’s strategy, which should be
It is this perspective that drove this special issue on how benchmarking can
contribute to exploring and exploiting the link between knowledge management
initiatives and business performance for organisational value creation.
We believe that benchmarking represents a fundamental lever to stimulate and
sustain the knowledge management mechanisms of an organisation. It can be
considered as a multifaceted technique to perform competitive analysis, by collecting
performance data and measures of leading performers, and to identify operational and
strategic organizational shortcomings in order to identify best practices that can be
applied to close any existing performance gaps (see Shetty, 1993; Tucker et al., 1987;
Yasin, 2002). Benchmarking can have an internal as well as an external focus and
allows an organization to understand its current performance levels and to set future
targets by identifying, understanding and adopting outstanding practices (see Camp,
1989; O’Dell and Grayson, 1998; Zairi and Whymark, 2000). It can help organizations
implement knowledge management initiative by mapping their knowledge domain in
order to understand what are their strategic knowledge assets, what is their nature,
where they reside within the company, how they can be reached, and who manages
them. By benchmarking, an organization can codify its knowledge, particularly when it
sets up best practices to support knowledge and capabilities transfer processes both
internally and externally.
This special issue aims to explore the role of the benchmarking in the knowledge era
and to contribute to the debate about how knowledge management can support
companies in improving their performances.
Firstly, the relevance of benchmarking for assessing organizational intangible
assets is addressed. Looking at the role of intellectual capital as a prime value driver in
today’s knowledge based economy, Marr focuses the attention on the measurement and
benchmarking process of intellectual capital. The paper explores techniques of
benchmarking for the operational management of intellectual capital. Using the results
of a longitudinal action and case research in an R&D organization, Marr demonstrates
how the failure to benchmark intellectual capital management practices between two
seemingly identical subsidiaries has implications for the measurement and
benchmarking of intellectual capital. He concludes that it is critical to understand
the context, organizational epistemology and value creation pathways before
organizations start any attempt to benchmark intellectual capital. Subsequently
Castka, Bamber and Sharp discuss the self-assessment and benchmarking of
intangible assets in teamwork development. The authors propose a model (the TEaM
model), based on the EFQM Business Excellence framework, as a self-assessment and
benchmarking tool. The TEaM model is presented as a framework based on ten criteria
(enablers and results) and the authors demonstrate how it can be applied in
organizations and how this tool reflects the emerging trends in benchmarking practice.
This is followed by a paper analyzing how benchmarking can support knowledge
management processes in order to improve company performance and an attempt to
investigate the link between benchmarking and knowledge transfer. Albino, Garavelli,
and Gorgoglione adopt a cognitive analysis to investigate the knowledge transfer
process in order to find out efficient and effective support strategies. The authors
propose a model describing knowledge transfer, and stress that a better understanding
of the knowledge transfer process can be achieved by distinguishing organizational
similarity from dissimilarity, training from fertilization, and autonomous from
interactive practice. The model appears to be particularly helpful in order to discuss
the role and value of technology in supporting knowledge transfer processes.
Following on from that, Leung, Chan, and Lee focus their attention on the
autonomous knowledge transfer, specifically on the role modification of the knowledge
recipients. Benchmarking is proposed as a suitable methodology to identify, compare
and adopt practices from other organizations and/or professions to support
autonomous knowledge transfer.
The role of benchmarking in supporting organizational innovation dynamics is
investigated by Massa and Testa who highlight how benchmarking can be adopted as
a process to acquire explicit and tacit knowledge external to the organization.
Benchmarking is proposed as an approach for looking outside the company’s
boundaries, searching for a comparison with best performance companies, in order to
acquire new knowledge to be integrated with the internal organisational knowledge.
This allows a company to support continuous performance improvement and to
develop its innovation processes. The paper, based on a three year research in the
maintenance services sector, shows the role of benchmarking as a model that
integrates aspects of knowledge management and innovation.
Finally, benchmarking can be seen as a managerial approach to promote and to
measure the learning capability of a learning organization. This is the focus of Laise’s
paper which specifically proposes a multi-criteria methodology, founded on the notion
of outranking, for the benchmarking and measurement of the organizational learning
capability. The paper proposes the application of the multi-criteria methodology based
on the outranking, illustrating the advantages over the traditional approach in terms of
greater flexibility and realism.
Overall, this special issue sheds light on the different facets, applications and effects
of benchmarking in the knowledge economy which goes to emphasize the continuing
relevance, and global spread, of benchmarking as an approach for continuous
improvement and learning.
Previously published in: Benchmarking, Volume 11, Number 6, 2004