Knowledge Transfer

I started talking about knowledge transfer in my last post and this post also discusses it further. Kang and Kang (2010) talk a little about tacit and explicit knowledge (it always comes back!) and how it affects knowledge transfer. My typical reaction has been (because of the articles I have read) that tacit knowledge is harder to transfer than explicit knowledge.

What I found interesting in Kang and Kang (2010) is when they said, “even though knowledge sources can precisely codify their knowledge and can teach knowledge recipients well, it is still hard for recipients to learn that knowledge because of its complexity and unfamiliarity” (p. 8157).  Just because knowledge is explicit does not always mean that it is easy to transfer. Sometimes it is difficult because of how complex it can be, not just if it is tacit or explicit. That being said, that does not mean it is more difficult to transfer than tacit knowledge; it just means it may not always be easy. I know I have had a perception of explicit knowledge where it is simple and easily transferable, but that may not always be the case. However, “The more tacit the knowledge is, the more effort is required by recipients to secure the transfer of knowledge” (Kang and Kang, 2010, p. 8159).   

In organizational crises, it is very important that knowledge can get transferred as fast as possible.  According to Wang and Lu (2010), “in order to achieve effective decision making during organizational crises, organizations need to identify what needs to be known and transfer this knowledge to those who really need it” (p. 3934).  They discuss a Japanese motorcycle company that had to recall a motorcycle that had a design problem. They would lose money from the recall but the most damage could have been to their image and reputation. Image and reputation matter to organizations and if you lose that, it could cause irreparable damage. Wang and Lu (2010) mentioned four knowledge transfer practices from their research: communities of practice, documentation, mentoring systems, and job transfer. (p. 3938). I wonder what other knowledge transfer practices are effective and how different might they be from organization to organization.

Because knowledge transfer is essential, it is important to figure out impediments that may hinder knowledge transfer, which Szulanski (1996) refers to  as stickiness. Szulanski (1996) suggests that it is knowledge related factors that hinder knowledge transfer the most. These include “lack of absorptive capacity of the recipient, causal ambiguity, and an arduous relationship between the source and recipient” (p. 36). While this quote came from the end of the article, he does mention them at the beginning as well. When I first read about these things, I had no idea what he was talking about. So, I’m going to break it down a little bit. Causal ambiguity is basically when it cannot be determined what caused success or failure. Absorptive capacity is the ability to see the value of new information and apply it to the organization. The arduous relationship between the source and recipient is apparent and part of that may be impacted by trust which is what I focused on in my last post. said that “often, there may be team members who rely on their own tacit or explicit knowledge, refusing to learn from others because of their prior personal or institutional experiences”. This can influence relationships between people in an organization. There are other factors that contribute to stickiness in knowledge transfer, but according to Szulanski’s (1996) research, these are the most impactful ones. Whether those are always the most important or not, it is important to understand what can hinder knowledge transfer in order to fix it and make the way of knowledge transfer easier.

I think this will be my last post on knowledge transfer. Does anyone have ideas on how to best facilitate knowledge transfer? What could help get rid of or diminish the impact of stickiness?


Kang, J., Rhee, M., & Kang, K. H. (2010). Revisiting knowledge transfer: Effects of knowledge characteristics on organizational effort for knowledge transfer. Expert Systems with Applications, 37(12), 8155–8160.

Szulanski, G. (1996). Exploring internal stickiness: Impediments to the transfer of best practices within the firm. Strategic Management Journal, 17, 27-43.

Wang, W. T., & Lu, Y. C. (2010). Knowledge transfer in response to organizational crises: An exploratory study. Expert Systems with Applications, 37(5), 3934-3942. doi:10.1016/j.eswa.2009.11.023

6 thoughts on “Knowledge Transfer

  1. You mention one point that really sticks out to me, and that is the difficulty a person might have in receiving knowledge. You mention first that it can be difficult because of the complexity of the knowledge, and then mention it could be rejected because of prior tacit/explicit knowledge. This really stands out to me because I think we talk a lot about how difficult it is to share knowledge or to have others see knowledge the same way we do, but I don’t think we (as a class) have discussed the difficulty the learner might have in accepting that knowledge. It is an interesting point.

    I don’t know if I have an answer to your question, but these ideas reinforce (in my mind) that knowledge sharing is a dialogue, and that it is important to not only have documents but to talk about them to ensure we all interpret those documents in the same way to identify potential problems.


  2. I really liked when you mentioned decision making and reputation. I know that that’s alway an issue I’ve come across. It’s really hard to work someone when people can’t make decisions or the decision they make aren’t for the betterment of the company image, just profits or personal reasons.


  3. I do not like working for people who make decisions not based on the betterment of the company. One of my coworkers in the past made decisions based on personal reasons that led to a lot of work not getting done that I had to come behind and finish. Not a good situation!


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