Knowledge sharing is seen as a fundamental aspect1 of organizational knowledge management (KM). Because of this, exploring what motivates employees to share their knowledge has become a growing focus in the research literature.
A newly published paper2 documents the findings of a systematic review of research on this topic published in well-known KM journals and conference proceedings between 2016 and 2020. The systematic review focuses on the sharing of tacit/implicit knowledge, with the paper authors stating that the sharing of explicit knowledge has already been sufficiently addressed in the research literature because explicit knowledge is easier to share, store, and exchange than tacit/implicit knowledge.
The systematic review involved a keyword search of academic databases followed by the application of inclusion and exclusion criteria, leading to the identification of 45 research articles for analysis. In their analysis, the paper authors identified 34 factors affecting employees’ motivation to share their knowledge, which they then grouped into 12 main factors. The paper authors also analyzed the results statistically to find which of the 12 main factors were most commonly referred to in the 45 research articles, and then ordered them accordingly.
The 12 main factors, in the order of most to least commonly referred to in the 45 reviewed research articles, are:
- Trusting environment – Knowledge sharing is positively affected by facilitating trust at all levels of the organization. This is because mutual trust enables open reciprocity in workplace knowledge sharing, and also reduces knowledge uncertainty risks. Two types of trust are important: affect-based trust, where the baseline is the care and the concern between employees in the organization, and cognition-based trust, where the baseline is the reliability and competence between the employees in the organization. Trust and confidence between employees is affected by work location, with employees who interact face-to-face having higher levels of trust and confidence than those who work at different sites. To help facilitate trust, organizations should make time and space for employee socialization and facilitate cooperative knowledge-sharing events and activities.
- Culture – This encompasses both organizational culture and national culture. Organizational culture provides organizations a context for social communications because it determines the expectations and norms of employees’ behaviors. These cultural factors shape employees’ social networks and relationships, which has a major impact on knowledge sharing behaviors. Employees who are considered very different, for example in regard to their social, ethnic, or economic backgrounds, have highly increased challenges in tacit/implicit knowledge sharing. This diversity and difference can make individuals afraid to transfer and share their knowledge. Additionally, national culture variance may influence trust, negotiations, interactions, and cooperation among organization employees. To address the culture factor, it is suggested that it is more important to motivate employees to share their knowledge, rather than asking how the organization can make everyone contribute to developing a uniform set of behaviors. This will push the movement of knowledge sharing forward, enhancing individuals’ skills, feelings, and abilities despite the challenges of social distinction, cultural differences, team spirit clashes, etc.
- Organization encouragement – Appreciation of employee work and achievements will build a better intrinsic motivation for employees to work better and cooperate with colleagues, which increases knowledge sharing and application. Providing training and mentoring to employees makes them more qualified and knowledgeable and increases their feeling of being appreciated, leading to increased knowledge sharing.
- Rewards – Extrinsic rewards are considered a significant factor in encouraging employees and individuals to share more and higher-quality knowledge. Such rewards can include financial awards, material awards, expert power, position, status, and reputation. However, it has been found that overusing extrinsic motivations such as financial rewards or promotions will have a negative effect on knowledge sharing behavior between employees, so they need to be used wisely and according to a clear system.
- Information system – Numerous companies are enhancing KM by adopting technological tools for coding explicit knowledge in KM system (KMS) documentation and storing and sharing this explicit knowledge. It is important to make this explicit knowledge available to everyone across the organization, especially newly-hired employees. Technological tools can also be used to create enterprise social networks (ESNs), blogs, wikis, etc. which can facilitate knowledge sharing and collaboration. However, a number of studies emphasize the limitations of relying on technological tools for sharing tacit/implicit knowledge. Information security is also an important consideration in the use of technological tools.
- Intrinsic motivations – When an employee has plentiful personal resources, there will be a positive effect on their self-regard and self-worth. Personal resources include optimism, self-efficacy, and self-esteem. High self-efficacy in employees allows them to believe more in themselves, and they accordingly tend to fulfill the organization’s expectations and demands through high levels of work engagement. Furthermore, when employees are motivated intrinsically, then their desire to learn, engage their curiosity, and explore their interests will eventually lead them to spark novel ideas and views. The theory of planned behavior can provide insights into the relationships between intrinsic motivations and knowledge sharing. The theory of planned behavior originates from psychology, and explains the relationship between an individual’s intention, attitude, and behavior.
- Equal opportunities – Perceived unfairness in an organization can frustrate employees. leading them to choose to not to share their knowledge. The organization’s management needs to address this by providing employees with equal opportunities for rewards, appraisal, and development. Performing job rotations, where employees change their roles and work areas at different time intervals of time, also enables them to gain a better understanding of the organization’s different domains of knowledge. This helps to break down barriers across the organization.
- Job security – Employees’ fear of becoming obsolete if they share their knowledge leads to less knowledge sharing. Conversely, the more opportunities employees have in their organization, the greater their intention to engage in knowledge sharing processes will be. Organizational support for systems of knowledge sharing minimizes job security fears. Increasing trust in communications between employees across all levels also decreases competition between employees, which reduces employee knowledge hiding. Knowledge hiding is a protective action against the risk of competitors stealing creative ideas.
- Communities of practice (CoPs) – Managing knowledge through the use of information systems is not enough. COPs are becoming increasingly important, through which employees can socially interact to share and exchange knowledge and informally learn from one another. COPs can be seen as having three characteristics: mutual engagement, joint enterprise, and shared repertoire. COPs can also assist the development of cultural intelligence (CI), which can be defined as people’s capability to effectively deal with situations characterized by cultural diversity.
- Time pressure – When employees are put under pressure to gain results and finish work in a short period of time, they are hindered in their knowledge sharing and dissemination (editor’s note: this factor is especially critical in project-based and temporary organizations). A lack of resources can compound this problem. Organizations can address this through facilitated working spaces, and standards for knowledge retrieval to support knowledge application. For example, standards that explicitly require employees to interact with coworkers and colleagues when they encounter any problem they couldn’t solve by themselves. Time pressure also leads to employee resistance to documentation. Creating documentation is an important knowledge sharing process (editor’s note: and, to the extent possible, transforms tacit/implicit knowledge into explicit knowledge). However, writing documentation, designing graphics, organizing content, and embedding these documents within a structured database costs both time and effort. When the time and effort cost becomes too high, then the motivation of employees to carry out these tasks declines.
- Knowledge confidence and accuracy – Employees who are not confident about their knowledge efficacy, correctness, usefulness, preciseness, or accuracy will be fearful of sharing their knowledge because this might lead to loss of reputation, position, or trust. This problem is worse in organizations with unclear employee roles or where there is role conflict. Corrupted knowledge is also a significant barrier to knowledge confidence and accuracy. When corrupted knowledge is shared among organization employees, they will act on this wrong information, leading to bad decisions, which in turn undermines their confidence in sharing the organization’s knowledge.
- Years of experience – Because of the emergence of online communication, younger employees have grown up in knowledge-friendly communities, making them more positive in regard to knowledge processes and learning.
Header image source: iStock.
- Girard, J.P., & Girard, J.L. (2015). Defining knowledge management: Toward an applied compendium, Online Journal of Applied Knowledge Management, 3(1), 1-20. ↩
- Hejazi, H. D., & Khamees, A. A. (2022), Employees Motivational Factors toward Knowledge Sharing: A Systematic Review. International Journal of Advances in Applied Computational Intelligence (IJAACI), 1(1), 45-68. ↩
Also published on Medium.