5.7 Knowledge Transfer

5.7 Knowledge Transfer

          Knowledge transfer is concerned with transferring or dissemination of knowledge from one part of the organization to another (or all other) part(s) of the organization or other organizational member (Gupta, Sharma & Hus, 2004).  Argote et.al. (2000, p. 151) define knowledge transfer as "the process through which one unit (e.g., group, department, or division) is affected by the experience of another". They further say that the transfer of organizational knowledge (i.e., routine or best practices) can be observed through changes in the knowledge or performance of recipient units. It means knowledge transfer seeks to organize, create, capture or distribute knowledge and ensure its availability for future users. However, the transfer of organizational knowledge, such as best practices, can be quite difficult to achieve.

          Knowledge transfer is similar to knowledge sharing, but knowledge transfer is focused on one way knowledge flow and interpretation of the captured knowledge. Knowledge transfer comprises two processes: communication and interpretation. The communication process is concerned with information flow through appropriate media. Whereas, the interpretation mainly focuses on applying, accepting, assimilating, and utilizing the knowledge for organizational routines (Albino, et. al., 1999).

          Lanthom Jonjoubsong (2008) discusses the two most common approaches adopted for knowledge transfer: (i) Technology centered approach, (ii) Human centered approach. The technology-centered approach focuses on the use of IT to transfer explicit knowledge. Whereas, the human-centered approach is concerned with the techniques to be used for the transfer of tacit knowledge. The technology centered approach mainly focused on the codification in which knowledge is transferred through a ‘people-to-document’ method. Whereas, the human-centered approach, on the other hand, refers to a personalization approach through which knowledge is transferred through interaction, socialization and learning processes (Carrillo, et. al., 2006; Hansen, et. al.,1999). From the indigenous knowledge perspective, knowledge transfer is focused on the human-centered or personalization approach, because indigenous knowledge is tacit, collective, experiential, subjective and holistic (Jonjoubsong, 2008).

          Nancy Dixon (2000) has identified five different types of knowledge transfer situations, called serial transfer, near transfer, far transfer, strategic transfer, and expert transfer. For each of these situations, Dixon offered “design guidelines” for successful knowledge management.

In literature many factors have been mentioned to enhance the effectiveness of knowledge transfer process including collaborative environment, learning capacity, contextual assumption addressing and embodying of knowledge in tools as tacit knowledge requires direct communication for knowledge transfer (Lam, 1997; Connell, et.al., 2003; Forstenlechner & Lettice, 2007; Jasimuddin, 2012; Jasimuddin & Zhang, 2009; 2011).  Similarly, rich transmission channel, absorptive capacity, motivation, value of knowledge (Gupta and Govindarajan, 2000), openness and trust (Wathne, et.al., 1996) are some other factors which promote the transfer of knowledge.

          Gupta and Govindarajan (2000) affirm that organization socialization mechanisms can enhance the richness of communication channels, because interpersonal familiarity and relationship can increase the openness of communication. Openness is concerned with the willingness of the giving party to share knowledge, which depends on the quality of dialogue, and the degree of interaction or knowledge  shielding.  Wathne, et.al. (1996) consider these open social contexts and face-to-face communication are the richest medium for knowledge transfer.

However, the degree of openness depends on the level of trust, which is based on beliefs about the predictability of the transfer partners’ positive response. Cohen and Levinthal (1990) discuss about another factor “Absorptive capacity” which is the ability to recognize the value of new knowledge, assimilate it and apply it to the work process. But, this capacity depends on the level of prior related knowledge or familiarity with the incoming knowledge, and the homophily of givers and receivers (Gupta & Govindarajan, 2000).

          Homophily is usually defined as the degree of similar attributes, such as beliefs, education, social status and interests (Rogers, 1995). Previous experiences and knowledge play a vital role for the interpretation process (Albino et al., 1999). This is because prior knowledge can enhance learning, which is cumulative and at its greatest when related to pre-existing concepts (Cohen & Levinthal, 1990).

Motivation is another important factor directly affecting knowledge transfer process. Motivation depends on incentive systems as rewarding and  eagerness to learning (Gupta &  Govindarajan, 2000). Motivation also linked with needed knowledge which can initiate knowledge transfer (Kwan & Cheung, 2006). As discussed in previous section, some researchers argue that extrinsic reward and incentive systems can reduce the willingness of organizational members to share their knowledge, because intrinsic motivation is derived from enjoyment in doing tasks and self-actualization (Gupta &  Govindarajan, 2000; Bartol & Srivastava, 2002; Smith & McKeen, 2005).

          Similarly, the value of knowledge also affects knowledge transfer process. The value of knowledge is concerned with perception of the benefit of knowledge gained. Gupta and Govindarajan (2000) consider the value of knowledge transferred in terms of the relative advantage and relevance of knowledge needed. In terms of knowledge transfer between organizations, the size of the knowledge source and relative economic level of parties can affect knowledge transfer effectiveness. It is arguable that if the target party realizes the relevance of knowledge and advantages for their performance, they will be eager to obtain the knowledge (Jonjoubsong, 2008).