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Relevant factors for tacit knowledge

transfer within organisations


Luiz Antonio Joia and Bernardo Lemos

Abstract
Purpose This paper aims to identify the pertinent factors for tacit knowledge transfer within a major
state-owned Brazilian oil company Petrobras.

Luiz Antonio Joia is an


Associate Professor and
MBA Director at the
Brazilian School of Public
and Business
Administration of the
Getulio Vargas Foundation
and Rio de Janeiro State
University, Rio de Janeiro,
Brazil. Bernardo Lemos is a
Researcher at the Brazilian
School of Public and
Business Administration of
the Getulio Vargas
Foundation and Petrobras
SA, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Design/methodology/approach The research analyses the literature concerning tacit knowledge


transfer within organisations and, using a quantitative approach based on exploratory factorial analysis,
seeks to collect facts in order to identify relevant factors for tacit knowledge transfer within the
organisation in question.
Findings It is seen that idiosyncratic factors, the knowledge management strategy adopted by the
company, and its organisational structure are relevant elements for the success of tacit knowledge
transfer within the organisation.
Research limitations/implications The study was conducted just in the Sales and Marketing division
of Petrobras. Therefore, its external validity cannot be tested and any attempt to make a statistical
generalisation would be flawed. Another limitation is related to the acuity of perception of the employees
involved in relation to tacit knowledge transfer. These limitations are related to the possibility of many
varied interpretations of reality given by the respondents, in their attempt not necessarily conscious
to paint a good picture of the company, to limitations of information available while they answer the
questionnaire, to the epistemological model of the respondent, and to the very fact that they work in a
state-owned, rather than in a public oil company.
Originality/value Three propositions arising from the results obtained are consolidated and
presented in order that they may be tested in a future explanatory study.
Keywords Knowledge management, Tacit knowledge, Knowledge transfer, Oil industry, Brazil
Paper type Research paper

Introduction
Knowledge and management of such knowledge have been studied for some time now
within the field of Business Administration. However, in the 1990s, with the alterations in the
economic precepts from an emphasis on tangible resources to intellectual assets, it became
clear that a company with an unstructured approach to corporate knowledge management
was incapable of competing in this new environment (Davenport and Prusak, 2003). As
such, management of intangible assets, such as knowledge, came to be perceived as an
important tool for competition (Joia, 2007; Leonard and Sensiper, 1998; Nonaka and
Takeuchi, 1997). Knowledge therefore became a very valuable competitive resource, since it
fosters innovation and creates a sustainable competitive advantage for the company
(Davenport and Prusak, 2003; Leonard and Sensiper, 1998; Nonaka and Takeuchi, 1997;
Stewart, 1998).

Received 4 July 2009


Accepted 18 November 2009

PAGE 410

Knowledge may be divided into two distinct types, depending on how much it can be
structured and codified. Explicit knowledge is expressed in formal language, words,
symbols and numbers and can be stored in a database that allows the data to be

JOURNAL OF KNOWLEDGE MANAGEMENT

VOL. 14 NO. 3 2010, pp. 410-427, Q Emerald Group Publishing Limited, ISSN 1367-3270

DOI 10.1108/13673271011050139

transmitted, conventionally and easily, within the organisation. Tacit knowledge, which is
difficult to express in formal language, comes from experience, perceptions and individual
values and depends on the context in which it is generated (Davenport and Prusak, 2003;
Haldin-Herrgard, 2000; Leonard and Sensiper, 1998; Nonaka and Takeuchi, 1997). These
characteristics make tacit knowledge a source of sustainable competitive advantage
(Ambrosini and Bowman, 2001; Davenport and Prusak, 2003; Nonaka and Takeuchi, 1997;
Stewart, 1998), however these same characteristics hinder the dissemination of tacit
knowledge within the company (Bou-Llusar and Segarra-Cipres, 2006).
Thus, for it to become an effective source of sustainable competitive advantage, it is
essential that tacit knowledge be transferable within the company. Consequently,
companies are increasingly intensifying their search for ways to transfer knowledge
among their employees and prevent the loss of organisational knowledge (Bou-Llusar and
Segarra-Cipres, 2006; Murray and Peyrefitte, 2007).
Therefore, the aim of this work is to identify, in an exploratory and empirical way, therelevant
factors for tacit knowledge transfer within a large government-controlled publicly-listed
Brazilian oil company, namely Petrobras. This company was chosen for two specific
characteristics:
1. it is a Brazilian company with a well structured institutional program for knowledge
management; and
2. it adapted to a momentous change in the regulatory environment of the Brazilian oil
industry, which had a major impact on its businesses.

Bibliographical review
The literature features several definitions for knowledge. Some authors, such as Davenport
and Prusak (2003), Glazer (1998) and Roberts (2000), maintain that knowledge is derived
from information, in the same way that information is derived from data. However, the human
being plays an essential role in transforming information into knowledge and this involves a
level of understanding obtained via experience, familiarity and personal learning (Davenport
and Prusak, 2003; Grover and Davenport, 2001; Leonard and Sensiper, 1998; Roberts,
2000). According to Nonaka and Takeuchi (1997), knowledge is generated from the flow of
information, anchored in the beliefs and commitments of its possessor. This concept
stresses that knowledge is essentially related to human action (Nonaka and Takeuchi,
1997, p. 64). Still along these lines, Ancori et al. (2000) claim that knowledge depends on the
individual vision of the world that is linked to a persons framework of common sense and
includes his/her beliefs, judgments and values.
In addition to being influenced by individuals, knowledge is dependent on the social context
in which it exists or upon a specific situation (Lundvall and Johnson, 1994, cited in Roberts,
2000; Grover and Davenport, 2001). It is therefore difficult to manage it, since it originates in
and is applied to the minds of human beings.
Explicit knowledge and tacit knowledge
The dimension of tacit and explicit knowledge is one of the most discussed issues within the
field of knowledge management. Michael Polanyi is often quoted in the literature on
organisational knowledge due to his important work on personal knowledge as described in
his two books Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-critical Philosophy and The Tacit
Dimension. His study is based on the standpoint that all knowledge has a tacit and explicit
component and the degree varies along a continuum. The greater the tacit knowledge
dimension the more difficult its transfer and sharing will be.
Polanyi (cited in Grant, 2007) stresses language as being a vital tool for sharing knowledge.
However, at the same time, he claims that the more tacit the knowledge the harder it is to
transfer it. According to the author, one may know how to do something without knowing or

VOL. 14 NO. 3 2010 JOURNAL OF KNOWLEDGE MANAGEMENT PAGE 411

being able to express to others why what one does works. He further suggests that some
types of knowledge have a limited capacity for being transferred.
Polanyi (cited in Grant, 2007) considers tacit knowledge to be something personal, an ability
or skill to do something or solve a problem, which is partly based on ones own experience
and learning. As long as one uses appropriate language, a good deal of knowledge can be
shared among people but not all knowledge.
Based on the works of Michael Polanyi on personal knowledge, Nonaka and Takeuchi (1997,
p. 67) proposed a new approach with respect to knowledge in an organisational
environment. The authors presented two distinct dimensions relating to the form of
organisational knowledge, namely explicit and tacit knowledge.
Explicit knowledge is that which can be codified into something that is formal, structured and
systematic, and can be shared, communicated with ease and be accessible to other people.
According to them explicit knowledge deals with past happenings and is geared towards a
theory that is independent from context. Tacit knowledge, which is highly personal and
difficult to formalise, is based on actions and experiences of an individual, that is to say
created here and now in a specific practical context (Nonaka and Takeuchi, 1997, p. 66).
From the pioneering works of Nonaka and Takeuchi, several other authors have used the
concepts of tacit knowledge and explicit knowledge in the field of Business Administration,
stressing the importance of tacit knowledge and intangible asset management by
companies (e.g. Davenport and Prusak, 2003; Haldin-Herrgard, 2000; Leonard and
Sensiper, 1998, ODell and Grayson, 1998; Stewart, 1998).
Knowledge transfer
Hansen et al. (1999) suggested two strategies for the transfer of organisational knowledge.
The first strategy was called codification and the second personalisation. In
codification, all knowledge is standardised, structured and stored in information systems.
In these systems, knowledge can be accessed via an efficient indexation system and can be
distributed to all branch offices of the company via data networks. Thus, the reutilisation of
explicit knowledge is the main objective of the company, giving scant incentive to
customisation to adapt products and services to specific client needs (Hansen et al., 1999).
On the other hand, in personalisation, the emphasis is on tacit knowledge transfer from one
person to another. In this case, the knowledge storage systems are less robust than in the
earlier strategy. The tools used are those that prioritise personal contact, so that difficulties,
solutions, methods, costs, etc. of tasks carried out for the first time can be discussed to help
employees who will be called upon to perform similar tasks later (Hansen et al., 1999).
In the day-to-day activities of organisations, signs of tacit knowledge such as intuition,
feelings, insights and personal abilities are detected. ODell and Grayson (1998) maintain
that organisations have a large amount of knowledge to be discovered, mainly tacit
knowledge in the form of know-how and best practices. Better use could be made of this
knowledge if it were transferred within the organisation. Even in bureaucratic organisations,
despite the preponderance of operational standards, the bulk of this knowledge is to be
found in people and in the interactions among them (Kim, 1993).
Some relevant indicators may be found in the scientific literature for the dissemination of tacit
knowledge. First of all, since tacit knowledge is acquired through inner individual processes
such as experience, reflection, internalisation and individual talent (Grant, 2007;
Haldin-Herrgard, 2000; Kim, 1993; Leonard and Sensiper, 1998; Nonaka and Takeuchi,
1997; Szulanski, 1996), the personal component is the determining factor for the sharing of
tacit knowledge. On the other hand, as people work and integrate within organisations,
organisational components can facilitate the spread of tacit knowledge (Disterer, 2003;
Hansen et al., 1999; Nonaka and Takeuchi, 1997; ODell and Grayson, 1998; Sun and Scott,
2005).

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This being the case, indicators associated with tacit knowledge transfer in an organisation
will be analysed in accordance with the theoretical references adopted.

Indicators associated with the transfer of tacit knowledge


Individual management of time. Nowadays, reacting to opportunities and market threats is
critical. Also, technology makes an abundance of data and information available, though
time in organisations is in increasingly short supply (Grover and Davenport, 2001).
Davenport and Prusak (2003) warn that time, as a scarce resource, should not be wasted,
unless its application brings sufficient compensation to the organisation. For
Haldin-Herrgard (2000), the dissemination of knowledge requires an availability of time
that is incompatible with todays business world.
Therefore, individual management of time becomes a prime indicator for tacit knowledge
transfer. Tacit knowledge is a direct result of experience, reflection and dialogue three
activities that require time. This knowledge transfer also requires time for the exchange to be
experienced and reflected upon (Fahey and Prusak, 1998; Haldin-Herrgard, 2000).
Primarily, the sharing of tacit knowledge requires time for contacts and personal interactions
(Leonard and Sensiper, 1998; Roberts, 2000).
Consequently, the first indicator associated with tacit knowledge transfer seeks to show
whether or not people have enough time to share tacit knowledge within the organisation.
Common language. Another significant factor for tacit knowledge transfer is language.
Szulanski (1996) maintains that during tacit knowledge transfer there cannot be a
breakdown of communication between the receiver and the source. For knowledge transfer
to take place, a prerequisite is that there is a common language, in other words, the
terminology and the jargon used are familiar by both (Davenport and Prusak, 2003; Disterer,
2003; Haldin-Herrgard, 2000).
On the other hand, as tacit knowledge is stored in a non-verbal form, people are often
unaware of the knowledge they possess or are incapable of expressing something that for
them is natural and obvious, however qualified and experienced they are (Davenport and
Prusak, 2003; Haldin-Herrgard, 2000; Leonard and Sensiper, 1998; Stenmark, 2001, cited in
Bou-Llusar and Segarra-Cipres, 2006).
Besides this, the greater the experience the more tacit this acquired knowledge becomes,
which increases the difficulty of putting it into words (Haldin-Herrgard, 2000). This difficulty
could arise from what Leonard and Sensiper (1998, p. 125) call a fear of attempting to
express the inexpressible and not being understood.
Thus, the aim of the second indicator associated with tacit knowledge transfer is to make
sure that people in the organisation have the ability to express the tacit knowledge they
possess through a common language.
Mutual trust. In order for the transfer of tacit knowledge to be successful within an
organisation, it is of paramount importance that a relationship of trust prevail between the
individuals, which must be developed within the social and cultural context in which they find
themselves (Joia, 2006; Foos et al., 2006). The greater the trust between individuals, the
lower the level of risks and uncertainties in tacit knowledge transfer will be (Davenport and
Prusak, 2003; Roberts, 2000). The establishment of a trusting relationship depends on the
sharing of a series of social and cultural values and of expectations. Roberts (2000, p.434)
maintains that:
The existence of a relationship of trust between individuals indicates the ability for a high degree
of sharing, created in a shared social and cultural context. Trust and mutual understanding
developed in a social and cultural context are prerequisites for tacit knowledge transfer.

The goal of the third indicator is thus to check the existence of a relationship of trust among
individuals that facilitates tacit knowledge transfer within the organisation.

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Relationship network. Another of the reasons for the increasing interest in knowledge in
recent years is the difficulty encountered by organisations in discovering the whereabouts of
the knowledge they need in order to be able to use it (Davenport and Prusak, 2003). Thus,
the form of communication within the company depends on the internal relationship network.
For Szulanski (1996), one of the difficulties for effective tacit knowledge transfer is identifying
both the need that one has for certain knowledge as well as what knowledge is appropriate
to attend this need. ODell and Grayson (1998) refer to this problem as ignorance, since
neither the source nor the receiver of the knowledge knows who might be interested in the
knowledge that they process or who possesses the knowledge that they need. This
ignorance may be associated with the difficulty of individuals to evaluate whether the
knowledge they possess is valuable for their colleagues or not, mainly if they are less
experienced (Disterer, 2003).
Hence, this indicator aims to find out if it is possible to identify the people in the organisation
that have the knowledge that is needed, as well as those that need such knowledge.
Hierarchy. According to Joia (2006), some organisational bureaucratic factors can hinder
the knowledge transfer process, such as: a hierarchical chain of command, job
specialisation and standard procedures for each function, as well as an inflexible
organisational structure. Environments that involve formal structures and command and
control systems clearly limit what individuals can or cannot do, create barriers that affect the
time available, flexibility and complexity required for tacit knowledge transfer (Fahey and
Prusak, 1998; Sun and Scott, 2005; Szulanski, 1996).
Hierarchical and bureaucratic organisational structures, as well as the politics
accompanying hierarchies, hinder communication, the sharing of information and
consequently the transference of knowledge (Disterer, 2003; Collison and Parcell, 2004).
In organisations of this type, each unit acts in such a way as to achieve its own results and
rewards (ODell and Grayson, 1998), hindering incentives for the exchange of experiences.
For tacit knowledge transfer to take place, people must be accessible when their knowledge
is required, irrespective of their hierarchical position in the organisation (Fahey and Prusak,
1998).
Therefore, the accessibility, in an organisation, of people who possess tacit knowledge
notwithstanding their hierarchical position, can be a pertinent indicator for tacit knowledge
transfer.
Reward. In order to encourage people to share their knowledge, they need to be adequately
rewarded (Disterer, 2003; Szulanski, 1996). For Joia (2006), it is important to develop
performance appraisal systems that take knowledge sharing into consideration. Davenport
and Prusak (2003, p. 56) maintain that:
to establish a consistent culture of knowledge sharing, the use of financial incentives such as
substantial gratuities, wage increases, promotion and so forth are necessary.

Systems for reward of those who possess considerable technical expertise, without
considering those who use their time to share knowledge, does not encourage the
dissemination of knowledge (Hansen et al., 1999; Leonard and Sensiper, 1998; ODell and
Grayson, 1998). Besides this, other forms of tacit knowledge such as know-how should be
recognised as being on a par with formal education (Haldin-Herrgard, 2000). Finally,
systems that penalise those who make mistakes discourage innovation, which is the basis
for the generation and transfer of tacit knowledge (Leonard and Sensiper, 1998).
Thus, the relevant indicator for tacit knowledge transfer proposed is one that establishes if
the organisation rewards tacit knowledge transfer among its members.
Type of training. The influx of new employees, the transfer of employees between areas and
the promotion of employees demand appropriate training, as early as possible, such that
these employees become familiarised with their new activities (Joia, 2007). Training is,
therefore, a strategic activity and can be conducted in different ways. The type of training

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applied indicates the propensity of the company towards prioritising the dissemination of
tacit knowledge.
Establishing a direct correlation between learning and training is one of the most common
mistakes made by companies (Stewart, 1998). Formal training, with classes and
presentations, facilitates the exchange of explicit knowledge (Nonaka and Takeuchi,
1997; Murray and Peyrefitte, 2007). This type of training can be given by instructors or
through distance-learning systems and is appropriate for codified knowledge transference,
such as rules and procedures (Murray and Peyrefitte, 2007). People are encouraged to read
pamphlets or manuals and tests are often given to measure the knowledge acquired (Joia,
2007).
More tailored strategies, based on personal contacts and which demand more time, such as
coaching and mentoring, are more appropriate for the transmission of tacit knowledge
(Disterer, 2003; Leonard and Sensiper, 1998). In these types of training, the more
experienced employees are encouraged to transfer their knowledge to the newer
employees. As a general rule, this type of on the job training focuses on work activities
per se (Joia, 2007).
Another relevant indicator for tacit knowledge transfer associated with the extent to which
the organisation prioritises personal training for its employees was thus created.
Knowledge transference. The organisational strategy for knowledge transference can be
focused on people or on the reutilisation of codified knowledge (Hansen et al., 1999).
In the former, the emphasis is on dialogue and on the relationships among people, since
knowledge is shared by personal contact (Joia, 2007; Hansen et al., 1999; Leonard and
Sensiper, 1998; Nonaka and Takeuchi, 1997). The strategy that focuses on the reutilisation of
codified knowledge presupposes that knowledge be stored in a database to which all those
within the organisation have access and may use (Hansen et al., 1999). In order to adopt this
strategy it is important to be able to rely on technical support for the storage and
transference of knowledge, although it should be stressed that technology does not work
without the involvement of people (Joia, 2007, ODell and Grayson, 1998).
Thus, a tacit knowledge transfer indicator to check if knowledge transference in the
company occurs mainly through the interaction of people is proposed.
Knowledge storage. When the strategy of knowledge management of a company is geared
toward explicit knowledge, the focus is on the knowledge stored in a database available to
all those in the organisation (Hansen et al., 1999). This strategy, which is mainly centred on
information technology, requires a high investment in database systems. Besides this, under
these circumstances the company also prioritises knowledge contained in manuals and
operational procedures (Joia, 2007).
However, investment in information technology is not really appropriate for the personalised
strategy, since tacit knowledge is seldom open to codification. In this strategy, most of the
time the company relies on the accumulated experience of its employees, since knowledge
is related directly to the person who developed it (Joia, 2007; Hansen et al., 1999; Leonard
and Sensiper, 1998; Nonaka and Takeuchi, 1997).
Therefore, an important indicator for tactic knowledge transfer that seeks to check if the
organisational knowledge is effectively stored in people.
Power. Knowledge can be used so that an individual or a group of individuals is empowered
within an organisation. For those who transfer knowledge they possess, it could mean a loss
of influence, superiority, professional respect and job security (Davenport and Prusak, 2003;
Disterer, 2003; Szulanski, 1996). The axiom knowledge is power is well-known, especially
in contemporary society where knowledge is a valuable asset on the work market and it often
leads to situations where people who have rare or relevant knowledge enjoy a privileged
reputation among their colleagues (Davenport and Prusak, 2003; Haldin-Herrgard, 2000).

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Thus, the possibility of loss of power also influences tacit knowledge transfer, considering
that knowledge is an important asset in the workplace (Haldin-Herrgard, 2000; Leonard and
Sensiper, 1998; Sun and Scott, 2005). Some people believe that they have more to gain by
hoarding their knowledge than by sharing it (Davenport and Prusak, 2003). However,
knowledge only has value if it is used. The value of knowledge is in its accessibility and use,
rather than its ownership and control (Glazer, 1998).
Thus, another indicator to measure tacit knowledge transfer is created, which analyses
knowledge as a source of power within the organisation.
Internal level of questioning. The absence of a safe psychological environment to express
and try out different opinions and ideas jeopardises the dissemination of tacit knowledge in
an organisation (Sun and Scott, 2005). Since tacit knowledge is obtained through personal
experience and interaction between people, this type of attitude jeopardises the emergence
of innovative ideas (Disterer, 2003).
As members of an organisation get to know each other and develop a relationship of trust
among themselves, they manage to deal with conflicts and divergent ideas better, thereby
enriching knowledge (Sun and Scott, 2005). Fahey and Prusak (1998) defend the use of open,
honest, reflective and critical dialogue with the intention of developing a new vision or
perspective. For Cross et al. (2001), an environment where people can admit that they do not
have certain knowledge and where they can also disagree with the ideas of others is important
Thus, a tacit knowledge transfer indicator associated with the level of questioning and
criticism tolerated within an organisation is proposed.
Type of valued knowledge. Several forms of tacit knowledge, such as intuition and personal
skills, are not considered of value by many organisations and their employees. In some
business areas, the more traditional forms of decision making related to logic and reason are
preferred (Haldin-Herrgard, 2000; Leonard and Sensiper, 1998). This barrier specifically
inhibits the transfer and the building up of tacit knowledge within an organisation (Leonard
and Sensiper, 1998).
Similarly, many companies value technical knowledge and the acquisition of knowledge,
instead of sharing it and disseminating it within the company (ODell and Grayson, 1998).
In view of this, a tacit knowledge transfer indicator was established to check the acceptance
by the members of the organisation of suggestions and ideas that are not supported by data
and facts.
Media. Lastly, the choice of media used within an organisation can contribute to tacit
knowledge transfer. This media depends on the nature of the knowledge or information that
is being shared (Daft and Lengel, 1986; Murray and Peyrefitte, 2007).
Research in organisational theory and organisational communication suggests that the
nature of information processing and, consequently, of knowledge transference within
organisations has two basic origins, namely uncertainty and ambiguity (Daft et al., 1987).
Organisations reduce uncertainty by acquiring information through periodical reports, rules,
operational standards, procedures and data analysis in an objective manner (Daft et al.,
1987). For uncertainties to be reduced, it is necessary for there to be a transfer of explicit
knowledge, which can be formalised and easily understood.
Ambiguity means the existence of multiple and conflicting interpretations with respect to a
given situation. A high level of ambiguity leads to confusion and a breakdown in
understanding in an organisation (Daft and Lengel, 1986). Ambiguous situations call for
suggestions, discussions and lead to the exchange of subjective opinions in order to define
the problem and resolve disagreements (Daft et al., 1987). Since it is personal and
subjective, tacit knowledge is highly ambiguous and open to different interpretations and
views.

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The organisational culture must foster debate and understanding for knowledge ambiguity
to be reduced. The type of media selected should assist in processing rich information.
Daft and Lengel (1986, p. 560) consider information richness as the ability of information
to change perception within a certain time interval. Therefore, the form of communication
used to transfer ambiguous knowledge should be rich, that is it should facilitate
understanding (Daft and Lengel, 1986; Daft et al., 1987). The richness of the media used
could be characterised by its capacity to allow sharing of visions, insights, swift
understanding and the use of a variety of languages (Daft and Lengel, 1986; Daft et al.,
1987).
For Roberts (2000), the use of rich ways of communication is important for tacit knowledge
transfer. Among these media, personal conversation can be considered the richest, since it
fosters mutual and immediate feedback and uses multiple forms of communication, such as
a demonstration of personal skills and even body language (Haldin-Herrgard, 2000;
Leonard and Sensiper, 1998). Means of communication classified as low in richness are
more appropriate for sharing information or explicit knowledge (Murray and Peyrefitte,
2007).
From these comments about the most commonly used ways of communication between
people within an organisation, another important indicator for tacit knowledge transfer can
be identified.
Table I shows in consolidated form the proposed indicators that will be used in this
research to evaluate tacit knowledge transfer in an organisation and the bibliographic
references that support the choice of indicators.

Methodological procedures
In order to conduct this investigation, the case research method was adopted. This method
is suited to analysing contemporary events that cannot be controlled by the researcher (Yin,
2005).
A single exploratory case study was used. According to Yin (2005), exploratory case studies
are used to generate propositions to be tested in future research, in an explanatory way,
about very recent knowledge areas, as the case under scrutiny.
Besides, for Yin (2005), the use of a single case study is supported when it is representative,
typical or revelatory of the problem under investigation. On the other hand, Stake (2003, p.
86) argues that the case study is not a methodological choice, but rather the choice of the
object to be studied. As such, it was decided to investigate the knowledge transfer
processes in Petrobras the government-controlled publicly-listed Brazilian oil company
as it is a big player in a very dynamic environment and recently experienced a major
upheaval due to deregulation of the oil market in Brazil. In addition to this, the company did
not hire any new employees for over 12 years. All these characteristics, give Petrobras the
attributes necessary for it to be considered a revelatory case study (Yin, 2005), in relation to
the need to deploy tacit knowledge management transfer processes that enable old and
new employees to transfer their tacit knowledge. Regarding the methodological procedures,
the first stage involved a bibliographical review to survey the features that might influence
tacit knowledge transfer in the company.
Through this bibliographical review, 13 indicators that might influence tacit knowledge
transfer were identified and consolidated in Table I.
A questionnaire was then developed to be used in the field study. This questionnaire was
based on an ordinal scale to measure the perception of the respondent (Malhotra, 2006).
The questionnaire developed to collect data has three sections (Almeida and Botelho,
2006). In the first section, the type of research being undertaken was presented to the
respondent. The second section was composed of 13 questions related to the tacit
knowledge transfer indicators already unveiled. These questions used a Likert scale of five

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Table I Indicators associated with tacit knowledge transfer


Indicators

Bibliographical references

Individual management of time (I1)

Leonard and Sensiper (1998), Roberts (2000),


Fahey and Prusak (1998), Haldin-Herrgard
(2000), Grover and Davenport (2001), Davenport
and Prusak (2003)
Reber (1989), Segarra-Cipres (2006), Stenmark
(2001), Leonard and Sensiper (1998,
Haldin-Herrgard (2000), Disterer (2003),
Davenport and Prusak (2003)
Davenport and Prusak (2003), Joia (2006), Foos
et al. (2006)
Disterer (2003), ODell and Grayson (1998),
Szulanski (1996), Davenport and Prusak (2003)
Joia (2006), ODell and Grayson (1998), Disterer
(2003), Fahey and Prusak (1998), Szulanski
(1996), Sun and Scott (2005)
Haldin-Herrgard (2000), ODell and Grayson
(1998), Leonard and Sensiper (1998), Hansen
et al. (1999), Szulanski (1996), Davenport and
Prusak (2003), Joia (2006), Disterer (2003)
Leonard and Sensiper (1998), Disterer (2003),
Joia (2007), Stewart (1998), Murray and Peyrefitte
(2007), Nonaka and Takeuchi (1997)
ODell and Grayson (1998), Nonaka and Takeuchi
(1997), Joia (2007), Leonard and Sensiper
(1998), Hansen et al. (1999)
Leonard and Sensiper (1998), Joia (2007),
Hansen et al. (1999), Nonaka and Takeuchi
(1997), Disterer (2003), Cross et al. (2001), Sun
and Scott (2005), Fahey and Prusak (1998)
Davenport and Prusak (2003), Disterer (2003),
Szulanski (1996), Drucker (1993),
Haldin-Herrgard (2000), Sun and Scott (2005),
Haldin-Herrgard (2000), Leonard and Sensiper
(1998), Glazer (1998)
Sun and Scott (2005), Disterer (2003), Fahey and
Prusak (1998), Cross et al. (2001)
Haldin-Herrgard (2000), Leonard and Sensiper
(1998), ODell and Grayson (1998)
Daft and Lengel (1986), Roberts (2000), Leonard
and Sensiper (1998), Murray and Peyrefitte
(2007), Haldin-Herrgard (2000), Daft et al.
(1987)

Common language (I2)

Mutual trust (I3)


Relationship network (I4)

Reward (I6)

Type of training (I7)

Knowledge transference (I8)

Knowledge storage (I9)

Power (I10)

Favourable environment for questioning (I11)


Type of valued knowledge (I12)
Media (I13)

Source: Authors

points ranging from I Totally Disagree to I Fully Agree seeking to measure the impact of
the indicators proposed in the bibliographic review section on the tacit knowledge transfer
process (Almeida and Botelho, 2006; Malhotra, 2006). In the third section, demographic
questions were asked (see the Appendix, Figure A1).
The unit of analysis chosen to collect data was the Marketing and Sales division of Petrobras,
as this unit suffered a huge impact resulting from the deregulation of the Brazilian oil industry
in the 1990s. Besides, as already mentioned, for 12 years this divisions personnel remained
unchanged as it hired no new employees, which led the division to implement a knowledge
management program to transfer knowledge between the old and new employees.
In line with this, a sample of 139 employees encompassing both old and new employees of
the division was chosen (Malhotra, 2006). A proportion test was undertaken in order to verify
whether the sample adequately represented the personnel allocated in the Marketing and
Sales division of Petrobras.

PAGE 418 JOURNAL OF KNOWLEDGE MANAGEMENT VOL. 14 NO. 3 2010

A pre-test involving 15 persons belonging to the sample was performed in order to identify
and eliminate problems in the questionnaire (Almeida and Botelho, 2006). An online survey
tool on the Internet known as Question Pro (www.questionpro.com) was used. Once the data
of the 139 respondents were collected between January-February 2008, the reliability of the
results was verified via the Cronbachs alpha (Hair et al., 2005; Kline, 1998).
Afterwards, exploratory factorial analysis was carried out (Hair et al., 2005). This technique
studies the relationship between the variables in such a way as to allow data reduction by
grouping them into factors (Malhotra, 2006). Thus, using the potentially relevant 13
indicators for tacit knowledge transfer within organisations, it became possible to diagnose
the factors that effectively influence this phenomenon.
Initially Bartletts test of sphericity and the Kaiser-Meyer-Olkin (KMO) measure of sampling
adequacy were applied. Both confirmed the adequacy of the data for factorial analysis.
Bartletts test of sphericity assessed the hypothesis that the variables are not correlated
within the population and thus cannot be represented by factors that group them. A high
score in the test favours the rejection of the null hypothesis, indicating that the data can
probably be treated for factorial analysis. On the other hand, KMO compared the magnitude
of coefficients of the correlations observed, with the magnitude of coefficients of partial
correlation. Statistically low KMO scores indicate that the correlation between pairs of
variables cannot be explained by other variables, such that the use of factorial analysis is
inappropriate (Johnson and Wichern, 2002).
Subsequently, the principal component analysis (PCA) method was applied based on the
correlation matrix. This analytical method was chosen to find the minimum number of factors
responsible for maximum data variation.
The minimum number of factors was established on the basis of the eigenvalues. Only
factors with eigenvalues greater than 1 were maintained, in line with the latent root criterion
(Hair et al., 2005). Furthermore, it was considered desirable that the factors extracted should
be responsible for at least 60 percent of the total variation (Malhotra, 2006).
In this study, the VARIMAX orthogonal rotation method was used in order to simplify the
factorial matrix columns, giving a clearer separation of the factors (Hair et al., 2005).
Afterwards, the relevant factors were identified and a nomological network was set up to be
tested in future works (Trochim, 2004).
Following the recommendations of Hair et al. (2005), the discriminant validity test was
performed to see if the factors differed among themselves at an adequate level of statistical
significance. In other words, the test was carried out to ensure that the indicators of a given
factor did not correlate with the other factors.
Based on the results obtained, propositions were prepared for future tests by means of
confirmatory factorial analysis.

Data analysis and results


First of all, a proportion test supported at a 5 percent level of significance the hypothesis
that the sample used represented the personnel allocated in the Marketing and Sales
division of Petrobras.
Besides, as mentioned above, factorial analysis of data was conducted to find the structure
of relevant factors for tacit knowledge transfer.
The reliability among the multiple measures of the variables that comprise this study was
measured using Cronbachs alpha coefficient. Cronbachs alpha is a measure of
consistency and checks if the questions of the questionnaire were understood and if the
data are minimally reliable (Hair et al., 2005). When conducting this test, the Media
indicator (I13) influenced the global result negatively and was therefore removed from the

VOL. 14 NO. 3 2010 JOURNAL OF KNOWLEDGE MANAGEMENT PAGE 419

study. After this, Cronbachs alpha of the 12 indicators became acceptable (0.739), since it
was higher than 0.7 (Hair et al., 2005).
As stated above, besides ensuring the reliability of the data, it must be ascertained, via
Bartletts test of sphericity and the KMO measure of sampling adequacy (Hair et al., 2005),
that the data matrix has sufficient correlations to justify the application of the Factorial
Analysis. In both cases, use of the factorial analysis method proved to be adequate (Table II).
Once it has been applied, the Factorial Analysis procedure allows the commonalities to be
analysed. Commonality is understood to be the proportion of variance of each variable
explained by the factors taken in conjunction (Hair et al., 2005). The Favourable
Environment for Questioning (I11) and Knowledge Storage (I9) indicators revealed
commonalities less than 0.5 and were consequently removed (Hair et al., 2005; Kline, 1998).
Frequently the factors revealed are difficult to interpret. Factorial rotation should therefore be
carried out to assist in the interpretation of the factors. The final objective of rotating the
factorial matrix is to redistribute the variance of the first factors to the last, in order to obtain a
simpler and theoretically more significant factorial standard (Hair et al., 2005). As stated
above, the Varimax orthogonal rotation method was used in this study with a view to
simplifying the factorial matrix columns, thereby providing a clearer separation of the factors
(Hair et al., 2005).
The latent root method was used to determine the number of factors to be taken from the
model. Thus, factors with eigenvalues greater than 1 were considered significant (Hair et al.,
2005). In this manner, three factors were selected for later analysis. The factors selected
accounted for around 61 percent of the variance of the ten variables (Table III).
Table IV shows how the items associated in accordance with a latent structure of loading
factors. From this association, the relevant factors can be identified, as follows:
B

Factor 1 represents 26.9 percent of total variance. It is composed of 4 positively related


variables: Mutual Trust (I3); Type of Valued Knowledge (I12); Common Language

Table II Factorial analysis adequacy tests


KMO measure of sampling adequacy
Bartletts test of sphericity
Approximate Chi-square
Df
Sig.

0.632
198.224
45
0.000

Source: Authors

Table III Explained auto values and variance

Variable

Total

1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10

2.693
2.050
1.322
0.891
0.713
0.632
0.505
0.403
0.379
0.245

Initial auto values


% of
%
variance
Accumulated
26.933
20.500
13.217
10.581
7.134
6.317
5.051
4.028
3.785
2.455

26.933
47.432
60.649
71.231
78.365
84.682
89.733
93.760
97.545
100.000

Sum of the square of the loads


% of
%
Total
variance
Accumulated

Rotation of the sum of the


square of the loads
% of
%
Total
variance
accumulated

2.693
2.050
1.322

2.310
2.038
1.559

Source: Authors

PAGE 420 JOURNAL OF KNOWLEDGE MANAGEMENT VOL. 14 NO. 3 2010

26.933
20.500
13.217

26.933
47.432
60.649

23.100
20.382
15.589

23.100
43.481
59.070

Table IV Final factorial analysis


Indicators
I3
I12
I2
I1
I7
I8
I6
I4
I5
I10

Loading factors
0.857
0.740
0.730
0.597
0.846
0.817
0.702
0.874
0.818
0.810

(I2) and Individual Management of Time (I1). Note that all these indicators depend more
on personal characteristics than on organisational ones. Therefore factor 1 can be
referred to as the Idiosyncratic Factor.
B

Factor 2, representing 20.5 percent of total variance, is composed of the following


indicators: Type of Training (I7); Knowledge Transfer (I8) and Recognition and
Reward (I6). All these indicators are related to how the company deals with its
knowledge management strategy. Therefore this factor is referred to as Knowledge
Management Strategy.

Factor 3, which represents13.2 percent of the total variance, is composed of three


variables: Relationship Network (I4), Hierarchy (I5) and Power (I10). These
indicators are related to the structure of the organisation, i.e. to its chain of command and
to its architecture. Therefore, this factor is referred to as Organisational Structure.

In the following section, some final observations from these results suggest a new
nomological network (Trochim, 2004) and the respective propositions to be tested in future
studies.

Final observations
The aim of this work is to identify in an exploratory way in the Marketing and Sales sector of
Petrobras, which factors are relevant to tacit knowledge transfer among its employees.
Initially, by means of analysis of the factorial loading obtained (Table IV), the study showed
that the idiosyncratic characteristics of the employees have a positive influence on tacit
knowledge transfer among them. That is to say, in Petrobras there is a good level of trust
among the employees, which can be explained by the internal regime of a state-owned
company, with a standard of human resources management that is different to that of a
public company. In addition to this, this statement corroborates the ideas of Davenport and
Prusak (2003), Joia (2006), Foos et al. (2006) and Roberts (2000), who affirm the importance
of this variable in the process of tacit knowledge transfer in a company.
In addition to this, experiences, heuristics, insights etc. are prized in Petrobras, that is to say
tacit knowledge that cannot be explained logically. This corroborates the view of ODell and
Grayson (1998), Haldin-Herrgard (2000) and Leonard and Sensiper (1998), who affirm the
importance of this variable in the process of tacit knowledge transfer in a company.
The employees also showed an adequate level of common language (or specific
institutionalized jargon), a sine qua non condition for tacit knowledge transfer within an
organisation (Szulanski, 1996; Davenport and Prusak, 2003; Disterer, 2003;
Haldin-Herrgard, 2000).
Finally, the individual management of time also indicated some relevance albeit with a
factor loading lower than the other variables (0.597) for tacit knowledge transfer in the
company, as asserted by Leonard and Sensiper (1998), Roberts (2000), Fahey and Prusak

VOL. 14 NO. 3 2010 JOURNAL OF KNOWLEDGE MANAGEMENT PAGE 421

(1998), Haldin-Herrgard (2000), Davenport and Prusak (2003) and Grover and Davenport
(2001) among others. However, this indicator is the least correlated with the tacit knowledge
transfer factor, posing some possible problems. In other words, it is only to be expected that
different professionals manage their time distinctly. Furthermore, this variable should
perhaps not be attributed only to idiosyncratic characteristics, since the companys specific
managerial style might influence this item (Grover and Davenport, 2001; Haldin-Herrgard,
2000). As this study is exploratory, the indicator was maintained, though in-depth
investigation will be needed in future works.
Thus, it transpires that the greater the idiosyncratic characteristic of the professionals being
open to colleagues, the greater their inclinations for tacit knowledge transfer will be. This is
due to giving more time to their colleagues, more trust, greater value given to insights and
heuristics of colleagues and a greater interest in developing a common language with them.
In terms of the second factor revealed in the factorial analysis Knowledge Management
Strategy it was noted that it is aligned with the personalisation strategy, as defined by
Hansen et al. (1999). In other words, all the factor loading was high and positive,
demonstrating the importance of training based on mentoring or coaching (Leonard and
Sensiper, 1998), a system of rewards for sharing tacit knowledge (Glazer, 1998; Disterer,
2003; Szulanski, 1996; Joia;, 2006) and knowledge transfer through personal contact rather
than through Information Technology (Joia, 2007; Hansen et al., 1999; Leonard and
Sensiper, 1998; Nonaka and Takeuchi, 1997).
Thus, the more personalisation-orientated the knowledge management strategy of the
organisation is, the greater the willingness of the professional to transfer tacit knowledge.
With respect to Organisational Structure, it becomes apparent that it influences the transfer
of tacit knowledge through a relationship network of professionals that allows them to locate
rapidly who knows what (ODell and Grayson, 1998 and Szulanski, 1996) and through a
hierarchical structure that fosters the accessibility of people, irrespective of their hierarchical
position within the organisation, when their knowledge is needed (Fahey and Prusak, 1998).
Thus, the more flexible an organisational structure is, the greater the tendency of its
professionals towards tacit knowledge transfer will be.
Once these observations have been made, the study makes it possible to propose a
nomological network (Trochim, 2004), such as that presented in Figure 1. Similarly, based on
Figure 1 Nomological network for tacit knowledge transfer
I1
I2
I3

Idiosyncratic
Traits of
Professionals

P1

I12
I6
I7
I8

Knowledge
Management
Strategy

P2

Organisational
Structure

P3

I4
I5
I10

Note: See Table 1 to identify the indicators I1


Source: Authors

PAGE 422 JOURNAL OF KNOWLEDGE MANAGEMENT VOL. 14 NO. 3 2010

Willingness to transfer
tacit knowledge

this network, propositions such as those presented in Table V can be made, which can then
be tested in future works through confirmatory factorial analysis.
Limitations of the study
This study has various limitations of sundry types, duly itemized below:
First and foremost, this is a study that was conducted in a single company, namely
Petrobras. Therefore, its external validity (Yin, 2005) cannot be tested and any attempt to
make a statistical generalisation would be flawed. Since it is a study of an exploratory nature,
it is preferable to attempt to make an analytical generalisation (Yin, 2005). Besides this, a
single division within Petrobras the Marketing and Sales sector was chosen for analysis
since it was obliged to adapt under a new regulatory regime. In addition to this, Petrobras is
a government-controlled publicly-listed company, consequently a company with some
characteristics that are distinct from those of a private sector company.
Another limitation is related to the acuity of perception of the employees involved in relation
to tacit knowledge transfer. According to Scandura and Williams (2000) and Bertucci (2005),
these limitations are related to the possibility of many varied interpretations of reality given by
the respondents, in their attempt not necessarily conscious to paint a good picture of the
company, to limitations of information available while they answer the questionnaire and to
the epistemological model of the respondent.
Further steps
Since this is a highly exploratory work, further steps will definitely be required.
Initially, the nomological network (Trochim, 2004) presented in Figure 1 must be ratified, with
the use of the same indicators already used in this work. Based on that, two new samples
should be sought. The first sample should test the measuring model through confirmatory
factorial analysis and the second sample should verify the causality among the factors,
using for example SEM Structural Equation Modelling (Kline, 1998) or multiple regressions
(see, e.g. Carter and Belanger, 2005).
Besides, the tacit knowledge management transfer processes in other divisions within
Petrobras, such as Exploration, Finance, Research and Development, must be addressed
so as to allow comparisons with the results already obtained. Furthermore, the tacit
knowledge management transfer processes in private sector oil companies must also be
investigated to verify whether the model of corporate governance has any influence on the
transfer of tacit knowledge management within a company.
Finally, this work was not concerned with evaluating the impact of tacit knowledge transfer on
learning or on company performance. Future research could be carried out to see how tacit
knowledge transfer is used within an organisation and its influence on corporate
performance.
Table V Propositions generated for future tests
Pi

Propositions

Factor

P1

A greater level of openness of the professionals


in relation to their colleagues is positively related
to a stronger willingness to transfer tacit
knowledge
A greater level of personalisation in knowledge
management
Strategy of a company is positively related to a
stronger willingness to transfer tacit knowledge
A greater level of flexibility in the organisational
structure of a company is positively related to a
stronger willingness to transfer tacit knowledge

Idiosyncratic

P2

P3

Knowledge
Management strategy
Organisational structure

VOL. 14 NO. 3 2010 JOURNAL OF KNOWLEDGE MANAGEMENT PAGE 423

The field of knowledge management will remain high on the research agenda in Business
Administration, since intangible assets such as tacit knowledge have emerged as key
factors for competitive advantage in various industries (Disterer, 2003; Davenport and
Prusak, 1998). Thus, this work hopes to have contributed to a clearer understanding of the
tacit knowledge transfer phenomenon within organisations.

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VOL. 14 NO. 3 2010 JOURNAL OF KNOWLEDGE MANAGEMENT PAGE 425

Appendix
Figure A1 Questionnaire

I have the time and the opportunity to impart and receive know-how to/from
other people.
I Totally
I Neither Agree
I Fully
I Disagree
I Agree
Disagree
Nor Disagree
Agree

I1

I2

I am able to impart the knowledge I possess verbally.


I Totally
Disagree

I3

I Disagree

I Neither Agree
Nor Disagree

I Agree

I Fully
Agree

I feel secure when sharing information and know-how with my colleagues.


I Totally
I Neither Agree
I Fully
I Disagree
I Agree
Disagree
Nor Disagree
Agree
I know precisely who in the company has the specific know-how that can help me
with my work.
I Totally
I Neither Agree
I Fully
I Disagree
I Agree
Disagree
Nor Disagree
Agree
I have access to people who have the tacit know-how I require, irrespective of
their hierarchical level.
I Totally
I Neither Agree
I Fully
I Disagree
I Agree
Disagree
Nor Disagree
Agree

I4

I5

I6

The company rewards the results of teamwork performed.


I Totally
I Neither Agree
I Fully
I Disagree
I Agree
Disagree
Nor Disagree
Agree
When I need to obtain specific know-how, the company designates a specialist to
assist me.
I Totally
I Neither Agree
I Fully
I Disagree
I Agree
Disagree
Nor Disagree
Agree
When I need some know-how, the company encourages me to attempt to obtain it
from other employees.
I Totally
I Neither Agree
I Fully
I Disagree
I Agree
Disagree
Nor Disagree
Agree
The people involved are the bearers of the bulk of the know-how that the
company possesses.
I Totally
I Neither Agree
I Fully
I Disagree
I Agree
Disagree
Nor Disagree
Agree

I7

I8

I9

I10

Know-how is not the source of power in the company.


I Totally
Disagree

I11

I Disagree

I Neither Agree
Nor Disagree

I Agree

I Fully
Agree

The in-company culture favors questioning the work of colleagues.

I Totally
I Neither Agree
I Fully
I Disagree
I Agree
Disagree
Nor Disagree
Agree
My colleagues and superiors appreciate the suggestions and ideas that I put
I12
forward based on my own know-how, even when I dont have sufficient
information to back them up.
I Totally
I Neither Agree
I Fully
I Disagree
I Agree
Disagree
Nor Disagree
Agree
A medium that I use most to interact with people in the company whose knowI13
how is important for my work is personal conversation.
I Totally
I Neither Agree
I Fully
I Disagree
I Agree
Disagree
Nor Disagree
Agree

(Continued)

PAGE 426 JOURNAL OF KNOWLEDGE MANAGEMENT VOL. 14 NO. 3 2010

Figure A1

Name (not obligatory)


Age (not obligatory)
How many years have you worked in the company?
Less than 2 years

Between 2 and
5 years

Between 5 and
10 years

Between 10 and
20 years

More than 20
years

What is your position in the company?


Analyst

Consultant

Coordinator

Manager

How long have you been in this job position?


Between 2 and
Between 5 and
5 years
10 years
What are your educational qualifications? (not
obligatory)

Between 10 and
20 years

Less than 2 years

More than 20
years

About the authors


Luiz Antonio Joia is an Associate Professor and MBA Director at the Brazilian School of
Public and Business Administration of the Getulio Vargas Foundation. He is also an Adjunct
Professor at Rio de Janeiro State University. He has published three books and articles in
journals such as: Internet Research Electronic Networking Applications and Policy;
International Journal of Information Management; Journal of Global Information
Management; Journal of Intellectual Capital; Information Strategy The Executives
Journal; Journal of Teacher Training and Technology; Journal of Knowledge Management;
and Journal of Workplace Learning. He is a member of the Editorial Board of the Journal of
Intellectual Capital (Emerald), Electronic Government: An International Journal
(Inderscience), and is a Senior Editor of the Electronic Journal of Information Systems in
Developing Countries. He holds a BSc in Civil Engineering from the Military Institute of
Engineering, Brazil, and an MSc in Civil Engineering and a DSc in Industrial Engineering
from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. He also holds an MSc in Management Studies
from Oxford University, UK. He was a World Bank consultant in Educational Technology and
is an invited member of the Technical Board of the Working Group WG 8.5 (Informatics in
Public Administration) of the IFIP (International Federation for Information Processing). His
research focus is on IT for development in developing countries, intellectual capital and
knowledge management, and e-government.
Bernardo Lemos is a Researcher at the e:lab Research Laboratory on e-Government and
e-Business at the Brazilian School of Public and Business Administration of the Getulio
Vargas Foundation and a Sales Manager at Petrobras in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He holds a
BSc in Civil Engineering at the Federal University of Minas Gerais and an MBA from the
Brazilian School of Public and Business Administration of the Getulio Vargas Foundation. His
research focus is on intellectual capital and knowledge management. Bernardo Lemos is the
corresponding author and can be contacted at: belemos@hotmail.com

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