Purpose – The purpose of this article is to examine the affect of national culture on knowledge management (KM) for multinational companies (MNCs). MNCs often have to decide whether to standardize or adapt their operations. Previous research has found that national culture has an effect in a range of MNC operations, e.g. human resources, marketing. However, there has been limited research on the influence of culture on knowledge management. The aim of this article is to propose a framework for standardization and adaptation of knowledge management processes based on differences in national culture.
Design/methodology/approach – The following literatures were reviewed: knowledge management processes, the effect of culture on knowledge management, and the standardization versus adaptation decision in international business. These perspectives were combined to develop a conceptual framework that explores the decision to standardise or adapt knowledge management practices.
Findings – There are several key findings. First, the impact of national culture on KM may be understood at the level of KM's processes and sub-processes, e.g. knowledge creation. Second, the level and nature of impact will vary by process or sub-processes. Third, the variance by process allows us to isolate the impact and better manage it. Fourth, the impact of national culture standardization versus adaptation decision for KM may be resolved through two competing tensions: pressures for cultural responsiveness and pressures for scope economies. Fifth, while there are conditions where standardization is appropriate and where adaptation is appropriate, at the KM system, process and sub-process levels, the decision must still be implemented effectively. This leads to four potential outcomes of the standardization versus adaptation decision: appropriate and inappropriate standardization, and appropriate and inappropriate adaptation.
Practical implications – The article's conceptual framework provides managers with guidelines on how to understand the impact of national culture on their knowledge management practices, leading to effective standardization versus adaptation decisions. The main contribution is the notion that the impact of culture may be isolated at the process level, providing more flexibility and manageability. Academics may use the conceptual framework as a basis for further empirical research on the standardization and adaptation of knowledge management practices.
Originality/value – This article is the first to examine the standardization and adaptation of knowledge management practices in an international context. The standardization versus adaptation decision has been explored in other disciplines (e.g. strategy, marketing, human resources) and has been found to be an important international business decision. Our conceptual framework makes an innovative contribution to this debate by suggesting there are two tensions involved: pressures for cultural responsiveness and pressures for scope economies. By understanding the factors underlying these pressures and linking these to knowledge management processes, we suggest that firms may isolate and better manage the standardization versus adaptation decision.