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Intra-network knowledge roles and division performance in multi-business firms

Manuel Villasalero (based at Department of Business Administration, University of Castilla-La Mancha, Ciudad Real, Spain)

Journal of Knowledge Management

ISSN: 1367-3270

Article publication date: 7 October 2014




The purpose of this study is to deal with the performance consequences of business units that adopt varying knowledge roles within the internal multi-business network. Multi-business firms are distributed knowledge systems in which business units are extensively involved in internal knowledge transfer processes. Business units play different roles within their respective corporate knowledge networks as knowledge providers, knowledge receivers, both or neither.


Survey data from a sample of 225 business divisions were analyzed using a multivariate analysis of covariance (ANCOVA).


Results indicate that divisions which occupy knowledge roles that reveal the possession of unique knowledge (knowledge signaling) or guarantee the accumulation of new knowledge (knowledge learning) outperform those divisions that have access to spilled knowledge (knowledge depreciation) or have no access to any kind of knowledge (knowledge insulation).

Practical implications

Four knowledge roles are distinguished according to the extent to which a business division provides the rest of the corporation with knowledge or receives knowledge from the rest of the corporation, thus exploring the issue of internal knowledge transfer from an integrated perspective that takes the directionality of knowledge flows and the position within the knowledge network into account.


This study contributes to existent research on knowledge transfer and performance outcomes by demonstrating the usefulness of the knowledge role as an integrating concept within this literature. It also extends the four-role framework to the prescriptive domain and tests its normative implications in an intensive internal knowledge transfer setting which has to date gone relatively unnoticed, as is that of multi-business firms.



The author would like to thank the Editor and anonymous reviewers for their constructive and helpful comments on the paper. The author is grateful for the cooperation of the firms without which this study would not have been possible. Special thanks go to all the division managers who supported this study by filling in the questionnaires. The paper has benefited from constructive comments by Ignacio Canales and Francesco Schiavone.


Villasalero, M. (2014), "Intra-network knowledge roles and division performance in multi-business firms", Journal of Knowledge Management, Vol. 18 No. 6, pp. 1165-1183.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2014, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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