An Exploration of the Perceptions of Lead Administrators about Practices Pertaining the Retention of Tacit Knowledge within their Non-Academic Units at a Medium-Sized Public University



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There is little empirical research that has explored the relationships among employee turnover, tacit knowledge, knowledge management, and the effectiveness of operations in non-academic units in universities to support student success. This study explored the issue of tacit knowledge loss due to employee turnover and the application of knowledge management processes and strategies in higher education. Four research questions were developed to explore the non-academic lead administrator’s perception of the role of tacit knowledge in the performance of their unit, the current practices that support the retention of tacit knowledge within the unit, the elements in the environment that prevent the retention of tacit knowledge, and the elements in the environment that support the retention of tacit knowledge. The institution selected for this study was a medium-sized, four-year, primarily residential, public university in the Southern United States. Participants were chosen through a purposive sampling. There was a 21% response rate; a total of 12 individuals whose roles at the institution indicated they were full-time staff members with leadership responsibilities within the unit in which they were employed agreed to participate in the study. This qualitative study was guided by the constructivist paradigm. A semi-structured interview was used as the main method of data collection. All interviews were recorded, transcribed, and analyzed using a two-level coding- open coding and axial coding. The results indicated that tacit knowledge influences the quality of the services provided and that tacit knowledge is key in fully learning to be efficient at any role in the non-academic units. Further, it was found that the practices to retain explicit knowledge are more formalized than those used to share tacit knowledge and that there is a lack of procedures to preserve tacit knowledge when employees depart. Lead administrators identified multiple factors that support the retention of tacit knowledge including communication and trust, effective communication, leadership, and culture. Factors identified as preventing the retention of tacit knowledge were information hoarding, individualized staff responsibilities within units, personalities, and lack of time to implement practices. Three recommendations to assist higher education practitioners in developing and implementing practices that strengthen and improve the sharing and retention of tacit knowledge were suggested. These recommendations are (a) ensure that specific preconditions exists within the unit, (b) gain a holistic understanding of the nature of knowledge and knowledge management, and (c) develop and implement purposeful mentoring practices.



Tacit knowledge, Knowledge management, Non-academic units, Higher education institutions, Lead administrators