Knowledge transfer and retention : the case of a public water utility in South Africa

Phaladi, Malefetjane Phineas (2011-03)

Thesis (MPhil (Information Science))--University of Stellenbosch, 2011.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: This thesis focuses on the problem of knowledge retention and transfer in the face of the imminent retirement of experts, who are hard to replace for demographic or skill shortage reasons. Distinctions between technical, social and structural knowledge are made, and the theory on what makes knowledge “sticky” for transfer between generations of workers is reviewed. Thereafter, a case study of the knowledge retention situation at a public water utility is presented. In this regard, a large number of technical experts are due to retire within the next five years. Knowledge audit interviews were conducted with fifteen experts that have been with the organisation for most of their career and are due to retire soon. They were asked about what they considered to be their ‘hard to replace’ knowledge and professional networks, to what extent this could be captured or transferred, and what they considered to be the difficulties in terms of retaining this knowledge and these networks after their retirement. It was found that the motivation of experts to contribute to knowledge transfer and retention was low. This had to do with the perception that more junior members of the organisation are in any case likely to leave and with an organisational culture that was not supportive of knowledge transfer and retention activities. Moreover, a lack of knowledge leadership and formal knowledge management systems hindered knowledge transfer and retention practices. This study concludes that as far as the case in question is concerned, there is a need for a formal knowledge management system and strategy, and that top management commitment is critical for the success of knowledge transfer and retention. With regard to the theory of the stickiness of knowledge, the case study highlighted the importance of organisational culture and trust when it comes to the motivation of retiring experts to transfer their knowledge. It also emphasised that a silo-type organisational structure limits absorptive capacity, and that the social knowledge of professional networks, rather than technical knowledge, are the most difficult to retain.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Die tesis fokus op die problem van kennisbehoud en –oordrag teen die agtergrond van diensverlatende spesialiste wat moeilik vervangbaar is vanweë redes van demografie of vaardigheidtekort. Onderskeidinge word getref tussen tegniese, sosiale en strukturele kennis en ʼn oorsig word gegee van die teorie oor “klewende kennis” in die oordrag van kennis tussen generasies van werkers. Daarna word ʼ n gevallestudie van die kennisbehoudsituasie in ʼ n publieke waterverskaffer ondersoek. In hierdie geval sal ʼn groot getal tegniese spesialiste binne die volgende vyf jaar die organisasie se diens verlaat. ʼ n Kennis-oudit is met behulp van onderhoude met vyftien sulke spesialiste, wat die grootste deel van hulle loopbane by die onderneming werksaam was, onderneem. Hulle is uitgevra oor wat hulle sien as die kennis wat met hulle diensverlating vir die organisasie verlore sou gaan en omtrent die professionele netwerke wat hulle onderhou. Hulle is gevra tot watter mate hierdie twee kategorieë van kennis oordraagbaar is om so vir die organisasie behou te kan word en wat hulle reken die probleme is wat in die pad van kennisbehoud na hulle aftrede staan. Daar is bevind dat die spesialiste se motivering om by te dra tot kennisbehoud en –oordrag laag was. Dit het te make met die siening dat die jonger lede van die organisasie in elk geval die organisasie sou verlaat en met ʼn organisasie-kultuur wat nie kennisbehoud en –oordrag ondersteun nie. Verder is dit toe te skryf aan ʼn gebrek aan kennisleierskap en formele kennisbestuursisteme. Die gevolgtrekking word gemaak dat sover dit die gevallestudie aangaan, ʼn formele kennisbestuurstelsel en –strategie krities is vir die sukses van kennisbehoud en –oordrag. Met betrekking tot die teorie oor klewende kennis het die gevallestudie die belang van organisasie kultuur en vertroue wanneer dit kom by die motivering van spesialiste om hulle kennis te deel belig. Dit het ook beklemtoon dat ʼn silo-gebaseerde organisasie kultuur die kennis absorpsie vermoë verlaag en dat die sosiale kennis van professionele netwerke moeiliker is as tegniese kennis om te behou.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/6571
This item appears in the following collections: