Academic journal article Journal of Managerial Issues

Knowledge Type and Communication Media Choice in the Knowledge Transfer Process

Academic journal article Journal of Managerial Issues

Knowledge Type and Communication Media Choice in the Knowledge Transfer Process

Article excerpt

Many researchers have written that knowledge is the key ingredient in gaining a competitive advantage (e.g., Gnyawali et al., 1997; Kogut and Zander, 1992) and that knowledge is a firm's main inimitable resource (Grant, 1996b). One important implication of this research is that in order for firms to maximize the competitive advantage arising from knowledge, knowledge must be effectively transferred within organizations. What is absent in the literature, however, is information on how organizations accomplish this task (Spender and Grant, 1996). While the importance of research on knowledge sharing has been well documented (e.g., Dodgson, 1993), very little empirical research exists that offers practical guidelines for organizations seeking to manage the knowledge transfer process.

Research on knowledge transfer in organizations has been conducted from a variety of theoretical perspectives including individual psychology, strategic management, and organization theory. The psychology literature has focused on individual knowledge transfer processes and outcomes, such as how task experience affects performance on other tasks or the extent and accuracy of recall (Argote et al., 2000). In contrast, the strategy literature has focused on organizational outcomes like firm success and competitive advantage (e.g., Grant, 1996b; Zander and Kogut, 1995). Zander and Kogut (1995) have shown that increasing degrees of knowledge codifiability and teachability speed knowledge transfer. Organization theory researchers have been concerned with organization forms and how they affect the knowledge transfer process (Darr et al., 1995; Argote et al., 2000). What ties these diverse approaches together is the belief that knowledge transfer within organizations is a key component of organizational learning, a topic that is also the focus of considerable attention (Dodgson, 1993).

In this research we propose that one way organizations manage the knowledge-sharing process is to select appropriate communication media for the property or type of knowledge to be transferred. Our survey of 287 employees in five hospitals provides support for our hypotheses, and our results were consistent across three administrative levels: hospital administrators, nursing directors, and staff nurses. Communication media classified as having low-media richness were most likely to be chosen to share information or explicit knowledge, whereas media classified as having high-media richness were most likely to be chosen to transfer know-how or tacit knowledge (Daft and Lengel, 1986; Grant, 1996b; Nonaka, 1991).

In the next sections we discuss the literature that addresses knowledge and knowledge transfer, and develop our hypotheses by building on the strategic management and organization theory literatures. We then present the methods and results of our empirical analysis, followed by a discussion section that addresses the implications of our study for both researchers and managers. Finally, we conclude with a summary of the overall study, limitations, and directions for future research.


Knowledge and Knowledge Transfer

Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, both researchers and practitioners (e.g., Desenberg, 2000; Govindarajan and Fisher, 1990; Kogut and Zander, 1992; Narasimha, 2000; Zander and Kogut, 1995) have discussed the importance of knowledge transfer within organizations. The idea that knowledge transfer is necessary to an organization's success has become the focal point of strategy and the strategic planning process (Liebeskind, 1996). Knowledge has emerged as the most strategically significant resource of the firm (Grant, 1996b).

Knowledge may be defined as information whose validity has been established through test of proof and can therefore be distinguished from opinion, speculation, beliefs, or other types of unproven information (Liebeskind, 1996). This definition of knowledge consists of two primary classifications: information (explicit knowledge) and know-how (tacit knowledge) (Nonaka, 1991; Simmonds et al. …

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