Impediments for Knowledge Sharing in Professional Service Firms

Impediments for Knowledge Sharing in Professional Service Firms

Georg Disterer (University of Applied Sciences and Arts, Germany)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-026-4.ch290
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Professional service firms (PSFs), where professionals (consultants, lawyers, accountants, tax advisors, etc.) work, are interested in knowledge management because their businesses are heavily dependent on the knowledge of their employees. A core asset is their ability to solve complex problems through creative and innovative solutions, and the basis for this is their employees’ knowledge. The “product” that PSFs offer their clients is knowledge (Kay, 2002; Ofek & Sarvary, 2001; Chait, 1999). Sharing knowledge between colleagues improves the economical benefits a firm can realize from the knowledge of employees. This is especially true for PSFs (Huang, 1998; Quinn, Anderson, & Finkelstein, 1996), where broad ranges of knowledge must be kept to provide intellectual services, and real-life experiences with certain questions and situations are an important asset. The organizations and its members are spread over various offices across the country or the world. The necessity for sharing grows because the network of professionals in most cases can offer significantly better professional advice than any individual. “We sell knowledge… the most valuable thing we can offer is the collective, institutional knowledge of our firm” (Roger Siboni, KPMG executive, in Alavi, 1997, p. 1). Working together openly without holding back or protecting vital pieces of knowledge will result in more productivity and innovation than could be reached individually.
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No professional is denying the worth of using working documents and materials produced by others. All PSFs are trying to set up collections of knowledge acquired in projects in order to share it and conserve it for reuse. Knowledge databases can address what is sometimes called the traditional weakness of PSF: “…narrow specialists who see only their own solutions, self-centered egoists unwilling or unable to collaborate with colleagues” (Liedtka, Haskins, Rosenblum, & Weber, 1997, p. 58). Many authors signal that sharing knowledge seems to be “unnatural” (Quinn et al., 1996; Barua & Ravindran, 1996; Holloway, 2000).

However, attempts to use knowledge databases often fail. Only a few databases are accepted as up to date. The special fields of expertise are covered only in fragments. The access is laborious and uncomfortable. Heterogeneous sources (text, internal and external databases, journals, books, comments, codes of law, and so forth) cannot be integrated. The lack of actuality and completeness causes quality risks if dealt with thoughtlessly and if not reflected upon.

People issues are meant to be critical for successful knowledge sharing. According to Ruggles (1998), “In fact, if the people issues do not arise, the effort underway is probably not knowledge management. If technology solves the problem, yours was not a knowledge problem” (p. 88). Therefore, we analyze the reasons why knowledge sharing needs dedicated efforts and describe possible actions to foster knowledge sharing. Through our research (Disterer, 2000, 2001, 2002a) and analyses drawn from literature, we categorize and discuss the various impediments encountered by people sharing knowledge (see Figure 1). There are some empirical results that confirm these impediments (APQC, 1996; Ruggles, 1998; KPMG, 2003; Govindarajan & Gupta, 2001M; Hooff & Ridder, 2004; Lee, Kim, & Kim, 2006). Then we show various approaches to overcome these impediments.

Figure 1.

Impediments to knowledge sharing

Key Terms in this Chapter

Culture: Covers the pattern of basic assumptions accepted and used about behaviors, norms, and values within an organization.

Knowledge Management: The systematic, explicit, and deliberate approach to creating, sharing, and using knowledge in order to enhance organizational performance.

Community Of Practice: A group of people in an organization who are (somehow) held together by common interest in their work topic, purpose, and activities.

Knowledge Sharing: The processes of transforming and transferring knowledge through an organization are designated by knowledge sharing.

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