Why do individuals resist knowledge transfer in the context of mergers
between professional service firms (PSFs)?
We know that the announcement of a merger creates a highly stressful
environment of uncertainty, fear and distrust. Even if redundancies are not
planned, individuals in both the acquired and the acquiring firms may fear loss
of status and changes to their established work norms. They may react by
resisting senior management's initiatives to encourage co-operation between the
combining firms and may ultimately resign.
We know too that there can be problems in knowledge transfer that are largely
due to the characteristics of knowledge itself. Tacit knowledge, for example,
is inherently difficult to transfer because it cannot be fully articulated
through written and verbal communication but must be learned through
experience. There can also be other impediments which are inherent in the
organisation, such as the lack of an appropriate knowledge management
A study by Professor Laura Empson, looking in depth at three cases featuring
mergers or acquisitions between professional service firms (two accounting
firms and four management consulting firms), aimed to develop a deeper and more
subtle understanding of the process of knowledge transfer in the context of
In the two accounting firms, given the code names Sun and Moon, interviewees
reported that knowledge transfer was relatively unproblematic. This may have
been partly because accountancy is a profession that requires all members to be
trained in an extensive and codified common body of technical knowledge.
Within each firm too, knowledge already existed in a codified form: it had been
articulated and depersonalised, and individuals therefore did not feel so
strongly that they had personal 'ownership' of it. Each firm had established
internal procedures for knowledge sharing and dissemination, and these served
to facilitate inter-firm knowledge transfer as well.