Exploring the Multi-Focality of Knowledge Sharing in Professional Service Firms

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bath
Department Name: School of Management


My doctoral thesis will draw on qualitative data to address the following research question: 'How does multiple foci of commitment impact employee knowledge sharing in Professional Services Firms (PSFs)?' For knowledge-intensive firms such as PSFs, knowledge assets lie at the heart of their competitive advantage. These knowledge assets take one of two forms: explicit knowledge ('know-what') or tacit knowledge ('know-how'). I focus on the latter, the personally-owned, experience-based intangible assets, which, combined with tangible assets, create products and services that comprise value in the marketplace. PSFs depend on the expertise of their workforce to competently execute projects and solve business problems; such capabilities are rooted in the firm's human capital, which, I argue, is socially situated and therefore shaped by the social interactions in which it is embedded. However, such knowledge is insufficient on its own to create competitive advantage; it is only once it is shared, at the collective level, that the organisation can reap the synergistic benefits. Since knowledge sharing is directed and controlled by the individual, it is a highly interpersonal process; contingent upon intellectual and emotional recognition, and intertwined with employee commitment.

This is further complicated since professional work now takes place within as well as across organisational boundaries, necessitating a shift away from the traditional dyadic employer-employee relationship. These workers interact with a myriad of entities; both internal and external to the employing organisation, opening up the opportunity for multiple foci of commitment, which respectively exert influence over an employee and with whom they share their knowledge. Arguably, the personal nature of knowledge sharing has now become the most valuable form of capital for PSFs, which calls into question individual agency in the knowledge sharing process, as influenced by multiple foci of commitment.

Although research has begun to include foci other than the organisation, it can be argued that the maturity of organisational commitment in the field has left other commitment foci (the client, the team, the profession, inter alia) significantly under-developed, thereby giving an unrepresentative view of the reality of employee commitment. In addition, the current measure for knowledge sharing; that is, knowledge obtained and provided within the organisation, understates the complex knowledge sharing dilemmas that characterise PSFs. Accordingly, this calls for an alternative method that goes beyond the boundaries of the organisation not only to include external foci of commitment; but also to capture how and why multiple foci of commitment impact employee knowledge sharing. With the current dominance of quantitative methods, and the narrow scope of both knowledge sharing measures and the range of commitment foci employed, this inquiry will produce new insights into the multi-focality of knowledge sharing in PSFs. In doing so, it will contribute directly to our understanding of: (a) bi-directional knowledge sharing in relation to multiple commitment foci, and (b) the drivers and consequences of multi-focal knowledge sharing behaviour in contemporary cross-boundary environments.
This study entails travel to interview firms incorporated abroad and MNEs.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000630/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2027
1935093 Studentship ES/P000630/1 01/10/2017 01/05/2023 Melissa Chloe Treen
Description Santander Postgraduate Mobility Award
Amount £1,450 (GBP)
Organisation Santander Universities 
Sector Private
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2020 
End 07/2020
Description Lund University, Sweden - International PhD Course 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Attended the one-week Reflexive and Creative Methodology PhD course at Lund University (taught by renowned scholars in my field: Mats Alvesson and Dan Karreman). In class activities involved presenting my research to, and collaborating with, PhD students from all over the world, in a variety of disciplines and at various stages of their research. I made valuable international connections to be nurtured in the future.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018