Global mobility of professionals and the transfer of tacit knowledge in multinational service firms

Ying Guo, Pavlina Jasovska, Hussain Gulzar Rammal*, Elizabeth L. Rose

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

60 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose: The use of expatriates to transfer individual and organizational know-how and knowledge is a practice widely used by multinational enterprises (MNEs). However, for service firms, the mobility of employees across national borders depends on the commitments made by countries under the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS). In particular, the Mode 4 form of supply under GATS can limit the ability of professionals to enter a particular country and can restrict the intra-organizational transfer of knowledge in multinational service firms. The purpose of this paper is to investigate how MNEs attempt to overcome these barriers and transfer knowledge through their global network. Design/methodology/approach: Using Nonaka and Takeuchi’s SECI model of knowledge transfer, the authors study the intra-organizational knowledge transfer practices of an Indian multinational service firm. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 20 key informants involved with the organization. Findings: The company uses global teams to transfer tacit knowledge and facilitates inpatriation through an internship program that helps the firm overcome nationality requirement that restricts the movement of their managers to other countries, which in turn limits their ability to transfer knowledge in the intra-organizational setting. The company uses the services of a not-for-profit youth organization that helps recruit interns for the program and also facilitates the relationship with the Indian Government, which provides support for this initiative by reducing barriers to entry for the interns. Originality/value: This study takes the unique approach of studying barriers to movement of professionals and a firm’s strategic response. It identifies the pressures and barriers that companies face in the global economy and highlights the role of government agencies and other stakeholders in facilitating or restricting the transfer of knowledge within a firm’s international network. The paper articulates the implications for policy and practice, and a future research agenda.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)553-567
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Knowledge Management
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 27 May 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Inpatriation
  • Internship
  • Knowledge transfer
  • Mobility
  • Services
  • Tacit knowledge


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