PODCAST: Conquering the Knowledge Sharing Challenge – Does
the Solution Lie with the Group or the Individual?
success in the digital era is driven by information;
knowledge sharing within organizations is crucial but not
easy to achieve. If knowledge is power, then what motivates
a worker to give up a source of advantage? If a worker
shares knowledge, can she trust that it will be used
correctly, or that she will be acknowledged for her
contribution? Why should she take time from her own tasks to
share information with others? In some organizations, even
admitting that you need information may be perceived as
risky. Understanding the different factors that motivate
workers to share knowledge, and the ways that those factors
interact, can help managers create an environment that
results in the greatest amount of knowledge sharing,
utilization and performance.
Researchers in the Smith School’s department of
management and organization have integrated several
different motivational mechanisms to explain and predict
what motivates someone to share knowledge and what motivates
the recipient to use that knowledge effectively. “Combining
both perspectives resulted in a theoretical model that was
more than the sum of its parts,” says Paul Tesluk, associate
professor of management and organization.
Tesluk and his colleagues found that when people are
given an incentive for sharing knowledge with colleagues,
group incentives work better than individual incentives.
Incentives had more effect when mutual norms for knowledge
sharing developed between the knowledge sender and
recipient. This suggests that companies can motivate
knowledge sharing by creating incentives that emphasize
group performance and are strongly reinforced through clear
norms for knowledge sharing.
“Rewarding individuals for knowledge sharing may send a
mixed message,” says Kay Bartol, Robert H. Smith Professor
of Management and Organization. “Group incentives that
reward cooperative behavior reinforce a culture of open
exchange.” Companies might also consider recognizing
knowledge sharing in performance appraisals, recognizing and
praising those who go out of their way to actively share
their knowledge with others, and consistently highlighting
common goals and objectives that can link potential
knowledge providers and recipients.
Bartol and Tesluk found that knowledge recipients who
were confident in their own ability to perform well on a
task were more likely to set high goals for their own
performance when they trusted their partners.
Workers must also be motivated to apply the new knowledge
they have acquired in ways that promote performance. While
both knowledge sharing and goal setting had direct effects
on performance, performance was highest only when
participants both had access to knowledge and set stretch
goals for themselves. “The higher the goals were set, the
higher the performance improvement, but only if people had
access to new knowledge as well,” says Tesluk.
The study was conducted in the Smith School’s Netcentric
Behavioral Lab, a setting that allowed the authors to
control the knowledge sharing process in a way that is not
possible in the field. “We were able to track what pieces of
information were being shared and precisely when they were
being shared,” says Tesluk. Future research might
investigate how these findings generalize to knowledge
workers in actual organizational settings.