Edited by Markus Reihlen and Andreas Werr
Chapter 2: Knowledge integration as heedful interrelating: towards a behavioral approach to knowledge management in professional service firms
Professional service firms (PSFs) may be conceptualized as distributed knowledge systems (Grant, 1996a, 1996b; Tsoukas, 1996), consisting of a dispersed set of professionals all possessing potentially valuable knowledge for the creative solution of a specific client problem. A central logic of the PSF is the integration and leveraging of the accumulated knowledge and experience of its professionals. It is by combining the knowledge and experience of different professionals from different assignments that PSFs create value for their clients (Hargadon, 1998). This value will typically be based on some degree of creativity, as a defining characteristic of PSFs is their involvement in non-routine, problem solving activities (Løwendahl, 2005; Swart & Kinnie, 2003). Hargadon and Bechky (2006: 487), studying different kinds of consulting firms, conclude that “arriving at a creative solution was not a deviation from expected routine but rather was the expected routine.” Bringing together and leveraging this dispersed knowledge is thus a key competitive capability of the professional service firm (Sarvary, 1999). Previous research has typically dealt with this issue under the label of “knowledge management” (KM), and especially the management consulting industry has become a showcase of knowledge management in practice (e.g. Bartlett, 1996; Perepu, 2007). There are an abundance of definitions of knowledge management, but overall it is about ensuring that knowledge, experience and skills dispersed among individuals throughout the organization are made available beyond these individuals. It is about “providing point of need knowledge” (Aaron, 2009: 35); “capturing and providing access to . . . collective experience” (Ofek & Sarvary, 2001: 1442) or “capturing, codifying, and transferring knowledge across the organization in order to create business value or achieve competitive advantages” (Deng, 2008: 175).
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