Establishing Tacit Knowledge Transfer Practices for Competitive Advantage at a Public Sector Organization

Establishing Tacit Knowledge Transfer Practices for Competitive Advantage at a Public Sector Organization

Peterson Dewah (National University of Science and Technology, Zimbabwe) and Silibaziso Natasha Ngwenya (National University of Science and Technology, Zimbabwe)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-0043-9.ch007

Abstract

The purpose of the study anchoring this chapter was to establish the tacit knowledge transfer processes for a competitive edge at a public sector organisation. Using a qualitative approach, data was collected through face-to-face interviews. The study revealed that staff understands and appreciates that the knowledge they possess is beneficial and important to the development of other employees and the competitiveness of the organization. It was established that the cultural factors that obstruct tacit knowledge transfer at this organisation include mistrust, insecurity, and lack of communication among employees. The study concluded that for the organisation to gain a competitive advantage over other pension fund organizations, knowledge needs to be transferred from the experienced senior staff to those who need it, such as subordinates who may be less experienced. The study recommended that the establishment of informal networks and communities of practice that allow employees to transfer knowledge to each other.
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Introduction And Background To The Study

In a corporate environment, knowledge is a resource that is crucial for organisations to get things done, make informed decisions, solve problems and gain competitive advantage over other competitors. Knowledge exists in both tangible (explicit or documented) and intangible (tacit or personal) forms (Churg, 2013). Explicit knowledge stands for facts from organisational rules and is written down in books, journals, manuals, routines, software, procedures, memos, tables or diagrams, and is documented, verbalised, communicated, processed, transmitted, stored and above all easy to transfer and access (Salleh, Chong, Ahmad and Ikhsan 2013; Alwis and Hartmann, 2008). Explicit knowledge is ‘knowledge about’ and tacit knowledge is the ‘know-how’ (Wal, 2013). Tacit knowledge is held in people’s minds such as experience and expertise, and is difficult to articulate and access but when it is shared with others, the organisation can develop progressively towards its intended goals because employees are utilising improved knowledge to conduct day to day duties. This is evidenced by the fact that knowledge transfer facilitates organisational learning which fosters the growth of new knowledge generated by employees. Zouaghi (2011) argues that the idea of tacit knowledge is very important for those trying to understand sources of competitive advantage which comes partially from knowledge that cannot be expressed and also from the organization’s experiences that provide specific skills and capabilities that cannot be imitated by competitors. Tacit knowledge is an important resource for the survival and growth of an organisation and it is crucial that it must be transferred and shared among employees in order to maximise knowledge from the experts to the less experienced.

Knowledge transfer is defined as the transmission and receipt of knowledge by actors who share a common practice (Berends, Garud, Debackere, and Weggeman, 2011), and replicating the expertise, wisdom, and skills of critical professionals in the heads and hands of co- workers (Al- Hawamdeh, 2003). Simply put, it is the structures and processes that move the right knowledge and skills at the right time to keep a workforce prepared, productive, innovative, and competitive (Trautman, 2013). It is concerned with the sharing of knowledge from a person with more experience with an individual with far less know how about a particular field or operation in an effort to maximise productivity within employees. Knowledge should be transferred because it is the only way an organisation can reduce misjudgments and miscalculations that can be costly to correct. The process of knowledge transfer is about conveying or teaching the right knowledge to the right team members in a timely manner (Hollinden, 2015). The purpose of knowledge sharing amongst employees in an organisation is to transfer knowledge into organisational assets and resources thus enabling the spread of knowledge as organisational collective knowledge and helping the company use available resources in an efficient and effective manner (Henttonen, Kianto and Ritala, 2016).

Nonaka and Takeuchi (1995) believe that tacit knowledge is transferred from individuals who have it to those who do not know through one of the patterns that they called socialization. Through socialization tacit knowledge is converted into new tacit knowledge and transferred to other employees without use of language. Employees can observe, imitate and practice what they observe and by so doing they acquire new knowledge. Through the internalization mode explicit knowledge is converted in to new tacit knowledge in the mind of an individual. Mathangani, Odini and Irura (2019) contends that the transfer of tacit knowledge is enabled through human interaction, for example, apprenticeship, mentorship, or job training.

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