Knowledge management and professional experience : the uneasy dynamics between tacit knowledge and performativity in organizations

Research output: Journal Publications and Reviews (RGC: 21, 22, 62)21_Publication in refereed journalpeer-review

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)872-884
Journal / PublicationJournal of Knowledge Management
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2017


Purpose – This paper interrogates the relationships between tacit knowledge (of professionals) and performance measurement regimes (of post-modern organizations). Drawing on Polanyi’s (1958, 1968) ideas about tacit knowledge and Lyotard’s (1984) theory of performativity with regard to criteria such as profit-performance the applicability and relevance of tacit, working knowledge in the internet age is assessed. The paper examines: the effects of context on knowledge management (KM); tacit knowledge and performativity around the production, validation and assessment of knowledge within organizations; KM and the mercantilization of knowledge and critical questions as to how performativity impacts tacit knowledge and KM in the digital era. 
Design/methodology/approach – The paper deconstructs popular and fashionable narratives around tacit knowledge and KM to critically appraise approaches to knowledge construction and transfer in contemporary and commercial contexts. The study draws on various specific critical incidents in commercial practice to assess where (and why) things went wrong with KM practices in the aftermath of the global financial crisis and in more recent attempts at large scale corporate fraud. 
Findings – KM should not trade exclusively in instrumentalized, performative knowledge. Tacit knowledge involves a sense of what is going on and this is not easily measured or codified. Experiential understanding of what is required when engaging with clients, colleagues, senior partners, other businesses (and cultures) and the political contexts in which employees work is central to tacit knowledge. So too are performance measures and reward systems and herein lies the “uneasy dynamic”. The nature of any transfer of tacit knowledge is problematic, but such employee know-how remains critical to organizational performance and validating the use-value of knowledge for the purposes of KM. 
Originality/value – Researchers have used the theories of Polanyi and Lyotard, but rarely combined them to investigate KM practices critically in post-modern organizations. By using the two theories, this paper critically examines the contemporary construction of tacit knowledge from perspectives that include the different discourses and localized practices through which it is produced and consumed.

Research Area(s)

  • Experiential learning, Knowledge management, Organizational performance, Performativity, Tacit knowledge, Working knowledge, tacit knowledge