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Promoting tacit knowledge application and integration through guanxi and structural holes

Jiayuan Liu (School of International Pharmaceutical Business, China Pharmaceutical University, Nanjing, China)
Yilin Zhu (Department of Human Resource, China Pharmaceutical University, Nanjing, China)

Journal of Knowledge Management

ISSN: 1367-3270

Article publication date: 9 September 2020

Issue publication date: 21 June 2021

425

Abstract

Purpose

This study aims to explore the impacts of structural holes (SH) and guanxi and their interaction on the application and integration of tacit knowledge among co-workers in inter-organizational arrangements.

Design/methodology/approach

The relationships were examined using a mixed-methods research approach through 305 questionnaires and 50 interviews collected from a university and a pharmaceutical company in China.

Findings

SH hinders the application and integration of tacit knowledge, while guanxi promotes these latter. In addition, guanxi moderates the negative impact of SH on tacit knowledge application (TKA) and tacit knowledge integration (TKI).

Research limitations/implications

By developing a framework to identify how co-workers strategically leverage their guanxi and SH to facilitate TKA and TKI, this study identifies the key factors that drive these latter in complex inter-organizational arrangements, contributing to the literature on knowledge management. In addition, the study makes a contribution to the advancement of SH theory by comparing guanxi with other social relationships in terms of their application to SH in different cultures, and recognizing the cultural contingencies that condition the effect of SH on knowledge management performance, thereby generating an important implication for the identification of the different roles that structural-hole owners play in brokerage situations. Finally, by comparing the difference between guanxi and interpersonal relationships in Chinese culture, this study provides a reasonable explanation for guanxi’s moderating effect on SH.

Practical implications

By uncovering the significance of guanxi cultivation with individuals who occupy yet-to-be-filled SH to make them more committed to the network, this study seeks to provide organizational leaders with helpful suggestions for the creation of incentives to fill SH.

Originality/value

By developing a framework to identify how co-workers strategically leverage their guanxi and SH to facilitate TKA and TKI, this study provides a theoretically defensible and empirically supported solution to the problems experienced by co-workers in applying and integrating tacit knowledge effectively in complex inter-organizational arrangements.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

Funding: The Natural Science Foundation of Jiangsu Province (Grant No. BK20190550).

Citation

Liu, J. and Zhu, Y. (2021), "Promoting tacit knowledge application and integration through guanxi and structural holes", Journal of Knowledge Management, Vol. 25 No. 5, pp. 1027-1058. https://doi.org/10.1108/JKM-02-2020-0090

Publisher

:

Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2020, Emerald Publishing Limited

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