Firm-specific, industry-specific, and occupational human capital and the sourcing of knowledge work

Kyle J. Mayer, Deepak Somaya, Ian O. Williamson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Whereas capability differences are known to impact governance decisions, what drives heterogeneity in firm capabilities? We propose that capability differences may arise from governance choices related to the focal activity and study how firms accumulate capabilities in the firm-specific, industry-specific, and occupational human capital necessary to perform knowledge work. We theorize that prior outsourcing decisions influence the development of firm- and industryspecific human capital and that buyer-supplier differences in the management of skilled employees can produce systematic differences in capabilities based on occupational human capital. Additionally, we explore some contingencies in the development of these types of human capital and their impacts on outsourcing knowledge work. These propositions are tested with a unique data set on the outsourcing of legal work involved in filing patents (i.e., patent prosecution).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1311-1329
Number of pages19
JournalOrganization Science
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2012


  • Human capital
  • Knowledge work
  • Knowledge-based view
  • Organizational capabilities
  • Outsourcing
  • Resource-based view
  • Transaction cost economics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Strategy and Management
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management
  • Management of Technology and Innovation


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