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Knowledge Management: Does the Person Organization Fit Matter?

By Ms. Prachi Agarwal, PhD Scholar, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi & Ms Priyanka Sagar, PhD Scholar, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi

Details of Authors:
1. Author: Ms Prachi Agarwal Designation: PhD Scholar Institute: Jamia Millia Islamia Office Address: Department of Social Work, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi-110025 Permanent Address: C4/192, Sec 36, Noida- 201303 Telephone no: 9990643077 Email: prachi.amity@gmail.com


Author: Ms Priyanka Sagar Designation: PhD Scholar Institute: Jamia Millia Islamia Office Address: Department of Social Work, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi-110025 Permanent Address: BG- 7, 51, Paschim Vihar, New Delhi. Telephone no: 9990511440 Email: priyankasagar.hrm@gmail.com


Over the past two decades, organizations are facing complex challenges. The rapid pace of technological changes, deepened globalization, internationalization of business, and drive for competitive advantage has challenged organizations. Under such conditions of modern times, capital is not the only source of creating wealth for the organizations. In fact, the reliance of organizations to knowledge workers has gradually exceeded capital. Individuals and organizations have begun to appreciate the increasingly important role of knowledge in the present competitive environment. Many researchers have argued that a source of sustainable competitive advantage lies in the hand of talented and knowledge workers. For these reasons it is critical for managers to understand how tacit knowledge of the workers can be transferred so that they can sustain their organizations competitive advantage. In this paper it is argued that the success of knowledge management, in particular the creation, sharing and facilitation of tacit knowledge is influenced by person organization fit. Consequently, this paper aims at discussing the role of person-organization fit in the process of knowledge sharing and creation by proposing a model on person-organization fit and knowledge management. This model could be utilized by the practitioners and managers for making knowledge management practices more effective so as to contribute to the overall organizational performance. Key Words Person-Organization Fit; Knowledge management; Tacit Knowledge.

Todays dynamic and competitive business environment has posed constant and complex challenges in firms. The success and effectiveness of an organization depends upon various factors. Under such conditions of modern times, capital is not the only source of creating wealth for the organizations. In fact, the reliance of organizations to knowledge workers has gradually exceeded capital. Individuals and organizations have begun to appreciate the increasingly important role of knowledge in the present competitive environment because it is difficult for outsiders to copy and transfer knowledge. Competitive advantage is increasingly found in knowing how to do things, rather than in having special access to resources and markets. Thus, knowledge and intellectual capital have become both the primary bases of core competencies and the key to superior performance in todays organizations. Many researchers have viewed knowledge as the strategic asset for the success of the organization. To become the basis for a sustainable competitive advantage, knowledge must be

readily spread within the firm that has it, but not readily spread to other firms. Thus, for effective management of individual knowledge, organizations should recognise the need to institute a proper knowledge management system. The concept of knowledge management is not new and has received a good deal of attention in the academic and business literature. (Newell, Scarborough and Swan, 2002; Petersen and Poufelt, 2002). According to the World Bank (1998), knowledge management (KM) acts as a facilitator in the process of knowledge creation, acquisition and dissemination. The current advancement of information technology has made the task of capturing, storing, and sharing the organizational knowledge much easier to accomplish. However, the utilization of information technology alone does not guarantee the success of knowledge management in an organization. The management and understanding of how knowledge and tacit knowledge in particular can be transferred and leveraged throughout organisations are quite challenging issues for managers. It is known that tacit knowledge is difficult to express, communicate and transfer throughout the firm but it can be acquired through personal relationships and over time (Badaracco, 1991). It can also be shared through an apprentice-like relationship, or through socialisation (Nonaka and Takeuchi, 1995). People acquire tacit knowledge when they observe or participate in a situation and see how their actions, and the actions of others, affect the outcome. Working in groups and teams also presents a platform for sharing tacit knowledge. When people work hand in hand in teams, they get an opportunity to observe how others conceptualize situations, visualise problems, and generate solutions. The more people work together, and the more time they spend socializing and casually talking about their experiences, sharing anecdotes, and sharing impressions of each others experiences, the more tacit knowledge they share (Roy Lubit, 2001). Based on this notion, in this paper we argue that person-organisation fit, the compatibility between people and organizations (Chatman, 1988; Kristof, 1996) is important to organization. The authors like to argue that the success of knowledge management, in particular the creation and sharing of tacit knowledge is influenced by person organization fit as research has demonstrated positive relationships between P-O fit and key employee attitudes and behaviours, including increased job satisfaction, organizational commitment, turnover intentions (Bretz and Judge, 1994; Chatman, 1991; Hoffman and Woehr, 2005), and organizational citizenship behaviour OCB (OReilly and Chatman, 1986), elements which are all key to the transfer of tacit knowledge. We believe that the success of knowledge management is affected by the willingness among individuals to share knowledge, and person organization fit encourages the willingness among individuals to share tacit knowledge.

This article attempts to discuss the influence of person organization fit on knowledge management in particular on tacit knowledge creation and sharing. Nonakas (1994) knowledge creation model is being applied in order to understand the relationship between P-O fit and knowledge management. A conceptual framework is proposed to examine the relationships between knowledge sharing and P-O fit. We hope that this paper can deepen our understanding on how to leverage the organizational performance through integrating the role of person organization fit in the process of knowledge acquisition, sharing and application.

Knowledge is human creation that is embodied in mind (Lang, 2001). It can be thought of as information in action. Knowledge is the combination of data and information, which can result in a valuable asset by addition of expert opinion, skills and experience which can be used to aid decision-making. Knowledge can take several forms. Drawing on the work of Polanyi (1966), Nonaka (1994) individual knowledge can be classified into two forms: explicit knowledge and tacit knowledge. A. EXPLICIT KNOWLEDGE Explicit knowledge refers to codified knowledge that can be transmitted and communicated in formal, systematic language. Explicit knowledge can be recorded in documentation (Choi and Lee, 2003), is readable and transferable through technologies or formal communication among the organizational units (Keskin, 2005; Choi and Lee, 2003). This means that it can be written down, encoded, explained, or understood (Sobol and Lei, 1994) and such knowledge is not specific or idiosyncratic to the firm or person possessing it (Sobol and Lei, 1994). It can be thought of as book knowledge that is available in a spoken or written form. An example of explicit knowledge is a work manual, which contains knowledge on the appropriate procedures to perform a task. B. TACIT KNOWLEDGE Tacit knowledge is concerned with knowledge in organisations that is known to exist, but which is difficult to codify, i.e. write down and explain. It is rooted in individuals mindset and

its articulation is applicable and transferable in the form of doing and watching through learning process (Choi and Lee, 2003). Tacit knowledge is unconsciously acquired from the experiences one has in his life time. It develops when unconscious, inductive mental processes create a representation of the structure of the environment showing the relationship between important variables. In other words, tacit knowledge is hard to formalize and communicate and it resides within the people of the organization and is not formalized into written or documented forms. An individual experiences tacit knowledge as intuition, rather than as a body of facts or instruction sets. An example of tacit knowledge is the ability to ride a bicycle. We know how to do it, but trying to explain to someone is practically impossible. Tacit knowledge entails information that is difficult to express, formalize, and share. It stands in contrast to explicit knowledge, which is conscious and can be put into words. Tacit knowledge is knowing how while explicit knowledge is knowing that .It is best transferred through rich communication media such as observation rather than through more explicit media (Nadler et al. 2003). Thus, most of the organizations consider the tacit knowledge to be the primary source of sustainable competitive edge over their competitors (Chen and Edgington, 2005; Jashapara, 2003; Lopez, 2005). In totality, organizations knowledge refers to a collection of individual knowledge that is generated and stored (Brown and Duguid, 1998).

Knowledge management is like an umbrella term that encompasses many unique but related facets of knowledge exchange, transfer and uptake among them. It is based on the idea that an organizations most valuable resource is the knowledge of its people. Knowledge management is the systematic process by which knowledge needed for an organization to succeed is created, captured, shared and leveraged. Knowledge management generally refers to the efficient management of using knowledge and knowledge worker with the ability to establish strong collaborations among workers in the process of knowledge creation, knowledge integration, knowledge sharing and knowledge application (Rowley, 1999; Shanks and Tay, 2001). Knowledge management can also be defined as an effort to capture explicit information and the tacit knowledge that exist in an organization in order to advance the organizations objective (Davenport and Prusak, 1998). Most organizations have a large pool of explicit and tacit knowledge. Capturing explicit knowledge is easier as it is factual in nature. However, since

tacit knowledge resides in the minds of employees, it is more difficult to capture. Thus an organization needs to institute a more effective knowledge management system. A successful knowledge management system is deemed as the primary foundation for organizations to attain competitive advantage. Knowledge management refers to knowledge development, application and sharing within the organization to gain sustainable competitive advantage (Cepeda-Carrion, 2006; Petersen and Poulfelt, 2002; and Grant, 1996). The application of KM within the organizations provides better decision making, increased productivity and profitability (Edvardsson, 2006). Chong, Holden, Wilhelmij, and Schmidt (2000) stated that knowledge management is the ability to recognize and manage the system of core competencies required for knowledge-intensive businesses. Since all companies use and sell knowledge in some form or other, knowledge management is a crucial component of corporate strategies (Wikstrom and Normann, 1994), therefore organizations should be determined to acquire, create, develop and share new knowledge among its employees so as to improve the already available knowledge in the organization (Labich and Graves, 1993; Maccoby, 1996; Stewart and Curry, 1997).


One of the most common model often cited and credited as a foundational model for knowledge management was developed by Nonaka & Takeuchi in 1995. This model describes the interaction between tacit and explicit knowledge and is termed as SECI model as depicted in figure 1. It focuses on four different areas of knowledge conversion: socialization, externalization, combination and internalization (Nonaka & Takeuchi, 1995).

Socialization (Tacit Knowledge to Tacit Knowledge)

Externalization (Tacit Knowledge to Explicit Knowledge)

Internalization (Explicit Knowledge to Tacit Knowledge)

Combination (Explicit Knowledge to Explicit Knowledge)

Figure 1: Modes of the knowledge creation (Nonaka, 1994) Socialization refers to a process of sharing experiences where tacit knowledge is transferred from one person to another (Nonaka, 1994). During the process of socialization, one acquires the tacit knowledge from another through observation, imitation and practice. This knowledge transfer relies on direct interaction between two or more people. For example, a new service centre employee might pick up how to relate to customers by sitting next to and listening to an experienced person do the job. This sharing is mostly happens between people who have shared understanding and similar culture. The process is very useful in an organization as it allows individuals to share the tacit knowledge among them. In addition, the socialization process might help in generating new ideas and creating new tacit knowledge. In order for the organizational knowledge creation to take place, the tacit knowledge accumulated at the individual level needs to be socialized with other organization members (Nonaka and Takeuchi, 1995). Externalization is the conversion of tacit into explicit knowledge through articulation (Nonaka, 1994). An individual might take several approaches in understanding the tacit knowledge and converting them to the explicit concepts. The concepts can be created and elaborated through deduction, induction, analogy, and metaphor. It is just like turning the tacit knowledge (e.g., experience from workshops) into explicit form (e.g., written report). Process of externalization, similes and analogy between experts in a dialogue are useful for creating a network of new explicit concepts from tacit knowledge (Nonaka and Takeuchi, 1995). Combination is a process of systemizing concepts into a knowledge system (Nonaka, 1994). This process aims at creating new knowledge by grouping and exchanging explicit knowledge gained through conversations, meetings, or documents. The process involves sorting, adding, combining and categorizing the explicit knowledge. Formal education and training are two important factors that enhance an individuals ability to combine the knowledge (Nonaka,

1994). Combination involves various knowledge management tools, information systems, databases, emails, expert systems, meetings etc. Information system plays an important role in this process. Internalization is the process of converting explicit knowledge into tacit knowledge. It is learning by doing. Individuals here internalize the knowledge gained through socialization, externalization and combination. It is similar to the process of learning where conscious competence becomes unconscious competence. A good example is learning how to drive. At some point the learner begins to operate car and no longer thinks about pressing the clutch, break, accelerator or looking in the mirrors, all happens automatically.


The concept of fit or congruence springs from psychology. It has recurred in many theories in the social and organizational sciences (Burton et al. 2002), including theories of knowledge management (Birkinshaw et al. 2002). P-O fit is the compatibility between the person and the entire organisation, whereby one entity will provide what the other needs or at least share similar fundamental characteristics (Kristof, 1996; Sekiguchi, 2007). P-O fit has been defined in several ways, such as value congruence (OReilly et al., 1991), goal congruence (Vancouver et al., 1994), and needs-supplies and demands-abilities (Edwards, 1991), as well as personalityclimate fit (Ryan and Schmit, 1996). Due to its multiple conceptualizations and operationalizations, Rynes and Gerhart (1990) described the P-O fit concept as elusive. In this paper, we refer to P-O fit as an elusive concept and a psychological construct simply because tacit knowledge is also an elusive concept. The concept of PO fit is crucial to organizations because it suggests that if people fit well with an organization, they are likely to exhibit more positive attitudes and behaviours. P-O congruence has been described as the degree to which persons and their work environments are said to be congruent. People are likely to be satisfied and encouraged by the behaviours, values, and attitudes that are similar to their work environments and become dissatisfied when dissimilarities occur. This has lead to a shift in the way organisations choose their employees from the traditional KSA (knowledge, skills and ability) to suit the job, towards organisations selecting employees whose work values is compatible with organisations culture, norms and

values (Morley, 2007). These studies suggest that compatibility of the person to the job, organisation or the environment is important in making the employee feel comfortable in the workplace and at the same time encourages employee willingly contribute and be committed to the organisation. Good P-O fit leads to increase in comfort and informality and makes communication easier among employees.


Throughout the studies done on organizational knowledge management it is seen that a common theme persists: interaction between people is vitally important to the transfer of tacit knowledge. The three stages of the SECI model (i.e socialization, externalization, and internalization) involve tacit knowledge as it is difficult to share, express, codify and transfer. For these reasons, it can be suggested that the most effective way of learning tacit knowledge is through personal contact and discussions (Pavitt, 1991). Sobol and Lei (1994) also suggested that learning tacit knowledge and routines requires continuous day-to-day contact with the person, team or organization possessing such knowledge through an apprentice-like relationship where the routines are directly observed and practiced. For knowledge exchange of this kind, therefore, there needs to be strong personal connections, a high degree of cognitive interdependence among participants and shared sense of identity and belongingness with ones colleagues and the existence of cooperative relationships (Bate & Robert, 2002). P-O fit determines the relationship between people and organization and this relationship varies across various dimensions, including intensity of connection, communication or contact frequency, and social similarity. Each dimension of the relationship can impact the knowledge management process. This has been studied by various researchers using the concept of dyadic approach. Research characteristic of the dyadic approach has been primarily directed at understanding how the closeness or strength of a relationship between two parties is related to the effectiveness of knowledge transfer. These studies focused on the importance of direct relationships for effective knowledge transfer. For example, Uzzi and Lancaster (2003) focused on the strength of connection between a loan officer and an entrepreneur, while Song, Almeida, and Wu (2003) focused on the similarity between scientists. Uzzis (1997) ethnographic study revealed that strong ties develop relationship specific heuristics that ease the transfer of knowledge. Similarly, Hansens (1999) study of product development teams indicated that

strong ties are conducive to the transfer of complex knowledge, while weak ties aid in the search for new knowledge. The key outcome was that the knowledge transfer and the predictor of successful transfer were dependent upon quality of the dyadic relationship. Based on this notion, we argue that good person organization (P-O) fit can help in transfer of tacit knowledge. P-O fit emphasises the importance of compatibility between the employee and work as well as creating an organisational identity (Werbel and DeMarie, 2005). Furthermore, the type of people that are attracted to the organisation, selected and hired, will affect the psychological contract between the employees and the organisation (Sekiguchi, 2007). This psychological contract is the tacit exchange between the employee and the organisation in terms of the nature of work that is being done by the employee. This contract can affect the knowledge sharing capabilities within the organisation as it can either encourage or discourage the employee to share information with their peers (Finnegan and Willcocks, 2006). A high level of PO fit is supposed to contribute to a good long-term relationship between employees and the organisations because the congruence and similarity of goals and values increase the mutual understanding and trust between the two parties (Sekiguchi, 2007). This mutual understanding and trust in return helps in transfer and sharing of knowledge.

Anand et al (2007) cited in Han et al (2010) argues that for the success of the organization, it must be ensured that persons share tacit knowledge with each other. On the basis of previous research studies, Han et al (2010) argued that employees with sense of psychological ownership usually have altruistic spirit which is an important antecedent of knowledge sharing attitude and psychological ownership is a result of P-O fit. As sharing of knowledge is a prerequisite for organizational effectiveness (Anand et al, 2007) organizations should facilitate knowledge sharing through provision of appropriate communication channels and motivation of employees and above all if there is person organization fit, sharing of knowledge would be maximum. Muthusamy (2009) proved that P-O fit correlate positively with knowledge sharing factors. Data analysis reveals that employees with high level of Person Organization Fit are more likely to share knowledge with their colleagues. Bringing these characteristics of tacit knowledge together with the concept of personorganization fit it is suggested that where there are high levels of PO fit, tacit knowledge is

more likely to be transferred more easily. Thus this analysis of relationship between P-O fit and knowledge management leads to following propositions: P1: Higher level of person organization fit leads to higher level of knowledge management. P2: Lower level of person organization fit leads to lower level of knowledge management. The two propositions can be depicted in a model as shown in Figure 2. The model suggests that greater emphasis on the levels of person - organization fit lead to higher levels of knowledge management.

Organizational Characteristics: Values Norms (concreteness, strength, content)

Knowledge Acquisition

Person Organization Fit

Knowledge Managemen t

Knowledge Sharing

Personal Characteristics: Values (Emphasized content)

Knowledge Application

Figure 2: Proposed model on P-O fit and Knowledge Management

This study establishes a strong link between person-organization fit and knowledge management. As knowledge transfer, capture and dissemination and organisational knowledge are considered as key elements of knowledge and knowledge management (McAdam and Reid, 2000), therefore, the organizations would have to be determined to acquire, create, develop and

share new knowledge among their own employees in order to improve the knowledge already available in the organisation (Labich and Graves, 1993; Maccoby, 1996; Stewart and Curry, 1997). Employees whose values goals and norms match with that of their respective organizations feel more comfortable in the workplace and have the tendency of being more committed to their job. Thus these employees are willing to learn more, do more and share more information with their colleagues. This result in increase of knowledge base, as well as it improves the service quality of the organisation. Therefore we believe that if there is good P-O fit within the organisation, managing the knowledge of these employees would be easier as they would be more willing to participate in the KM processes within the organisation. The proposed model serves as an important framework for researchers and practitioners to understand the impact of person-organization fit on the firms level of knowledge management.

Managing the creation and sharing tacit knowledge has been a challenge to organizations. This article attempts to highlight the importance of P-O fit in knowledge management. Our research model demonstrates the association between the P-O fit and an effective knowledge management. The proposed framework is valuable to practitioners and managers so that they can be well-prepared in the efforts of improving the firms knowledge management processes. It is also suggested that this framework to be examined through empirical data so that its findings can provide more insights and deeper understanding in examining the relationship between P-O fit and knowledge management.


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