Proposing a case study on tacit knowledge transfer within a pharmaceutical company



Applying the principles of knowledge organization originating from library and information science, the purpose of the study is to explore how knowledge organization assists employees to share and store their tacit knowledge. An international pharmaceutical company in Taiwan, JavaMed (pseudonym), will be the case for this study. In-depth interviews will be used to uncover how employee training and knowledge transfer in JavaMed are carried out. Furthermore, the study will examine the role of knowledge organization, such as knowledge map, knowledge base, and yellow page, in facilitating knowledge transfer and achieving the goal of knowledge management. The main contribution of this study will be to identify the interrelationship among knowledge transfer, knowledge organization, and human resource management. The proposed study applies the concepts originated from library and information science to the area of business management. The researchers expect that the interdisciplinary nature of the study will shed light on both fields.


Tacit knowledge is considered the most critical intellectual capital of any enterprise (Berman, Down, & Hill, 2002 ). Therefore, how tacit knowledge can be extracted and transferred effectively becomes an area that most organizations concern about. According to Davenport and Prusak (1998) and Nonaka and Takeuchi (1995), excellent human resource management (HRM) is one of the key factors for successful knowledge management (KM). Thus when tacit knowledge is extracted, transferred, absorbed, and digested by employees, the overall value of the organization can be enhanced and innovative activities will be increased.

Bills and Hodson (2007) indicate that most market analysts believe that American workers acquire most of their job skills at the workplace. Lee, Chu, Yu, Hsu & Hu (2007) consider “on the job training” as learning by doing. Same reference indicated, according to the Adult Learning Theory, whenever possible the supervisor should encourage the staff to learn the intended skills by actually doing the task so that the effect of learning can be best achieved. On the job training can offer practical experiences to the staff and give them the opportunity to work with experienced colleagues. Sociologists generally believe that workers learn the skills they need to do their jobs either in the course of doing them or through institutionalized mechanisms of skill enhancement (Bills & Hodson, 2007). Enz and Siguaw (2000) consider that employee training and skill building have become increasingly critical areas of human resource management for firms to enhance service quality, reduce labor costs, and increase productivity. In particular, Svetlik and Stavrou-Costea (2007) believe that “innovation process could be facilitated if HRM and KM are linked within organizations.” They further state that

“The most pressing and challenging practical problem for understanding and advancing knowledge management is to give priority to human factors. If HRM is about managing people effectively and if people's most valuable resource is knowledge, then HRM and KM come closely interrelated. Even more, HRM and KM share common activities and goals when creating work units, teams, cross-functional cooperation, as well as communication flows and networks inside the organization and across its borders” (p.197-198, p. 201).

Therefore, studying how sharing and transferring of the expertise among employees can enhance the practices of bothHRM and KM.

Research Questions

According to the purpose of this study, the main research questions are as follow:

  • 1What are knowledge sources of the pharmaceutical company?
  • 2How does the pharmaceutical company carry out knowledge transfer?
  • 3How does the pharmaceutical company apply the methods of knowledge organization to knowledge transfer?
  • 3How does the pharmaceutical company share the knowledge received through employee training to others or transfer to all company?

Research Design and Method

This study seeks to demonstrate the interrelationship among knowledge transfer, knowledge organization, and human resource management. The researchers will conduct in-depth interviews with an international pharmaceutical company, JavaMed, in order to collect rich verbal data, which is considered to be the most appropriate research method for the research questions of this study. On other hand, related documents, such as training materials, will also be collected and examined. Because of the knowledge intensive nature of the pharmaceutical company in the process of producing drugs, the researchers believe it serves as an ideal candidate for the proposed study. In addition, the pharmaceutical company generally needs the latest news such as medical regulations announced by the government that is critical to the industry as well as the internal staff. The pharmaceutical company we have chosen is an international pharmaceutical company that has a branch firm in Taiwan. The rather large scale and the number of staff of the company make it a fine case for the proposed study to reveal the complicated practices of knowledge transfer, knowledge organization, and human resource management.

Through the review of the related literature, collecting and examining corporate documents, and several rounds of brief interviews, the researchers will first understand the corporate culture of the pharmaceutical company and its business units. Secondly, in-depth interviews will be carried out to identify the actual practices of employee training inside JavaMed, including the methods, goals, directions, needs, and types of knowledge required. The researchers will conduct a second round of in-depth interviews to examine JavaMed's strategies of knowledge transfer and knowledge organization in the area of HRM. The interrelationship among the three elements will be identified and a model will be constructed based on the results of the study.