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Tacit Knowledge Management, Essay Example

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Words: 2002

Essay

Tacit knowledge management is an essential component of business because it allows employees to gain a greater understanding of unspoken protocols and traditions within a particular industry or company. However, since tacit knowledge cannot often be made concrete, it is essential for managers to determine how to provide this information to new employees. To an extent, the ability for an employer to effectively pass this sense of knowledge and tradition to others has a direct relationship with the organizational culture.

A recent study published in the Journal of Knowledge Management indicated that both affect-based trust and cognition-based trust of coworkers had a direct impact on the willingness of employees to pass on their tacit knowledge to others (Holste et al., 2010). This is important to the field of tacit knowledge management as a whole, as a primary issue facing managers is how to pass on information that is in the abstract. Therefore, it would be helpful for employers to foster a positive work environment and to ensure that the office functions as a community. Encouraging communication among employees will help spread tacit knowledge, which will in turn help these individuals continue to perpetuate company values.

Affect-based trust is defined as the emotional bonds between individuals while cognition-based trust is defined as trust based on the demonstrated abilities of the organization and belief in its benevolence. The Holste et al. study indicated that affect-based trust has a greater impact on a willingness to share tacit knowledge while cognition-based trust has a greater impact in the willingness to use this knowledge and apply it to work. Therefore, it is essential for managers to enforce both types of trust in manager/employee and employee/employee relationships. Simply being aware of the tacit knowledge is not enough for this transition of information to be of practical use for the company.

Since there is a clear connection between trust that exists between employees in a company and the organizational culture, it is important for managers to determine how to effectively build a positive organizational culture to promote the transfer of tacit knowledge. A recent study evaluated Malaysian organizations and determined that different organizational culture types have different impacts on the likelihood and effectiveness of employees in their ability to share tacit knowledge (Suppiah et al., 2011). While the results of this study were internally valid, it raises the point that there is a need to continue an examination of organizational cultures to determine which are the most effective in allowing knowledge transfer. Ultimately, a majority of the knowledge contained within organizations exist in tacit form, so it is important to maximize the communication of these ideas. It is in the best interest of managers to learn how to do so, as this will result in economic gain.

While it is clear that communication is an essential aspect of transferring tacit knowledge, some studies have been conducted to determine the particular aspects of this communication that is helpful in this process. Some business professionals believe that storytelling is a useful component of this information transfer, as coworkers regularly tell one another stories about their lives that relate to their work (Whyte et al., 2012). In this situation, researchers listened to individuals communicate with one another over a 12 month long period and determined that, although a wide range of conversation was covered that included a wide range of disciplines, researchers were able to code each story and put it in a particular category. Thus, the authors of this study indicate that it is possible for managers to simply observe their employees and determine the extent to which tacit knowledge is being passed. This provides them with a measurable way to determine whether their organizational culture needs to be strengthened or altered.

Other aspects of this particular study that are essential for strengthening the communication among employees is an emphasis on language and other commonalities that are necessary to cause employees to trust one another. A common language is necessary for effective communication and therefore storytelling, so it may be preferable for managers to hire individuals who are already excellent in their verbal communication skills. Furthermore, it is helpful to have employees who are already knowledgeable about the terminology that is used frequently in their field, as this will encourage relevant work conversation. This basis will allow employees to communicate efficiently about their work, and in this passing of concrete knowledge, the passage of tacit knowledge will follow.

Aside from managers using storytelling to determine the extent to which tacit knowledge is being transferred within the organization, they can use this activity to recognize which information is being passed and attempt to make it more concrete. Therefore, employers can listen closely to these conversations to identify recurring themes to determine how to best explain necessary tacit information to others. Further research will need to be conducted before an individual can effectively determine which stories help pass on tacit information, but once the coding system is perfected, it will provide managers with a more concrete way to determine how this knowledge is transitioning from employee to employee.

Although it is difficult for both employers and researchers to determine how to identify the transfer of tacit knowledge, it is apparent that this is an essential component of organizational success. It is also difficult to quantify this transfer, while it is far simpler to determine the outcome of this process. Essentially tacit knowledge management helps improve organizational innovation and corporate performance. In an attempts to study the connection between these two variables, a majority of researchers have hypothesized that codification and personalization has a direct impact on these factors (Lopez-Nicolas, 2011). Thus, although it is difficult to determine how knowledge management can be enhanced, it is certain that it has a direct impact on the innovation and therefore profitability of companies. Organizations that are able to connect more deeply with their employees are more likely to determine how to best allow this information to be transferred, even if their ability to improve this process is subliminal rather than physical.

Employers who understand that the effective passage of information will allow their company to perform better are more likely to increase the company’s profitability, which in turn will increase their position in the organization. Therefore, a majority of managers are becoming increasingly motivated to discover unique ways that will allow them to do so. While training programs have been effective in ensuring the passage of concrete information, most companies have these programs in place. These programs contribute to some degree of success, but do not allow them to improve themselves significantly over the competition. Therefore, there is an extreme need to improve the transfer of all types of information with an emphasis on tacit knowledge transfer.

Since developing an understanding that a majority of knowledge within an organization is tacit, researchers have become increasingly concerned with how to best increase our understanding of this field. Providing this information to companies would be extremely profitable, and doing so would contribute greatly to our ability to advance business and production by increasing speed and efficiency. One of the greatest problems concerning tacit knowledge is that it is difficult to define, yet being able to both define and identify it would contribute to a meaningful impact (Venkitachalam et al., 2012).

There are currently many gaps in our understanding of tacit knowledge. This ranges from being able to define with certainty what tacit knowledge actually means to being able to determine how to appropriately quantify its transfer. Based on the previous discussion, psychological principles can be used to code employee conversation and determine the impact this has on business. After careful study of a particular organizational culture, managers may be able to identify which aspects of communication allows for tacit knowledge transfer. To gain conclusive results, it would be necessary to conduct this type of study across many organizations with both similar and dissimilar organizational cultures. If enough information is gathered, it would be possible to more easily determine when tacit knowledge transfer is and is not occurring. Using this research to help employers measure the quality and quantity of knowledge transfer, studies can be conducted to gain a greater understanding of how to make the transfer more efficient.

Once the transfer of tacit knowledge can be measured, employers can optimize the efficacy of their organizations by working towards a more productive organizational culture. After the effectiveness of knowledge transfer in each type of organizational culture is classified, employers can attempt to change their organizational culture in a manner that more closely reflects those with a higher degree of success. To ensure these changes are adequate, they can continue measuring the rate of knowledge transfer based on the employee observation and coding process. Additional ways of enhancing tacit knowledge transition would be to encourage employee communication at all points of the day. Encouraging employees to work in groups and to form bonds that will make them want to speak to one another during their break time or after work will help in this process.

Lastly, it is essential to consider that a major disadvantage in the current studies of tacit knowledge management is that it is often difficult to distinguish among different types of knowledge. Therefore, before being able to completely identify tacit knowledge management measurements and techniques, it may be necessary to continue studies of more concrete forms of knowledge to determine examples in which these forms of knowledge intersect or are distinct. This understanding will allow us to more effectively consider which of these principles are in effect and which are contributing to different aspects of the organizational cultural. It is easier to have an impact on the transfer and application of concrete knowledge through training programs, although it is likely that these programs have a small impact on the transfer of tacit knowledge as well. It is therefore necessary to determine the relationship that these knowledge types have and to determine how this understanding is beneficial to the organization.

It is important to reiterate that both tacit knowledge and concrete knowledge have a direct impact on the ability of an organization to succeed. These factors increase both product and service development, which results in overall profitability of the company. Although the concrete knowledge that exists within a company is better understood than tacit knowledge, there is a need to continuously improve the application of these skills. The ability to apply tacit knowledge to these practices is one way that this application can approve. Since we cannot accurately define the transfer of tacit knowledge, it is essential to build the communication of employees. At the management level, this involves building a positive organizational culture that influences communication and storytelling. By observing communication, managers and researchers can potentially determine ways to detect the passage of tacit knowledge from employee to employee and quantify this transfer in order to continue developing the company culture.

There is a need to encourage continued research in this field. An application of tacit knowledge in the workplace will continue to appear to be an abstract concept if we remain at our current understanding of this term. However, as managers continue to recognize the value of tacit knowledge management, our understanding of the relationship between tacit and concrete knowledge will improve. It is important for employers to work closely with human resources and directly with the employees to determine ways to enhance the transfer of all types of knowledge. Incorporating these understandings will help further the field as a whole, which will help companies enhance progress to benefit both themselves and consumers.

References

Holste JS, Fields D. (2010). Trust and tacit knowledge sharing and use. Journal of Knowledge  Management, 14(1): 128-140.

Lopez-Nicolas C, Merono-Cerdan AL. (2011). Strategic knowledge management, innovation and performance. International Journal of Information Management, 31(6): 502-509.

Suppiah V, Sandhu MS. (2011). Organisational culture’s influence on tacit knowledge-sharing behavior. Journal of Knowledge Management, 15(3): 462-477.

Venkitachalam K, Busch P. (2012). Tacit knowledge: review and possible research directions.  Journal of Knowledge Management, 16(2): 357-372.

Whyte G, Classen S. (2012). Using storytelling to elicit tacit knowledge from SMEs. Journal of  Knowledge Management, 16(6): 950-962.

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