Supervisors’ Reliance on Tacit Knowledge and Impediments to Knowledge Sharing in Trades

Priyansh Dogra and Anthony E. Sparkling, Ph.D.
Purdue University,
West Lafayette, IN

Construction field supervisors often exchange stories about how decisions they had made on previous projects have saved a substantial number of man-hours leading to improved profits. They rely on their experience-based knowledge to make day-to-day decisions in the field. The knowledge is mostly tacit in nature which is internalized over the course of experience and when asked, the supervisors are unable to codify or articulate it replicable in words. Many construction firms are incorporating knowledge management practices but still, the tacit dimension is relatively unexplored in the literature. Organizations are seeing the tacit dimension as a great competitive advantage due to its relative immobile nature. Employee retirements and knowledge loss are compelling construction firms to capture these know-hows to prepare the future workforce. The first step towards harnessing tacit knowledge is to identify it in practice. This study posits a tacit knowledge measure and identifies barriers to knowledge sharing through case studies involving specialty contactors. Findings show a clear relation between experience and tacit knowledge acquisition. Lack of time and formal procedures, and managers’ reluctance to change are identified as the key barriers to knowledge sharing. Organizations can implement the proposed methodology framework and instrument to strengthen existing knowledge harnessing strategies.

Key Words: Tacit, Impediments, Trades, Specialty Contractors

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