Yours, Mine, and Ours - Knowledge Sharing Insights: No. 2 in an occasional series on KM and Social Media

Knowledge is a hot commodity in the business world. It has been identified as a competitive tool to be leveraged and capitalized for success.

However, knowledge must be shared, pooled, and managed in order to become the potent tool it is thought to be. But is sharing knowledge something your employees do easily? Is there a way to motivate knowledge sharing behavior?

According to a study entitled "Knowledge Sharing: The Effects of Incentives, Environment, and Person" by Christopher Wolfe of Texas A&M and Tina Loraas of Auburn University, it depends greatly on 3 things:

  • the perception of sufficient recognition, monetary or non-monetary;
  • the perception of the knowledge sharing behavior of peers  or the business culture; and
  • the form of competitiveness shown by an individual. 

It also made a difference whether the knowledge being shared was "proprietary" (known only to an individual) or "organizational" (known to many through a mechanism such as a class).

Sharing Proprietary Knowledge:

It turns out that motivation by incentive is related more to the worth of the incentive to someone as opposed to the type of incentive. It doesn't matter whether the incentive is money or something else as long as that person feels fairly compensated for sharing the knowledge and that everyone else also completely shared their knowledge.

However, it seems that money will encourage more complete knowledge sharing than non-monetary recognition. This is due to the difficulty of determining the actual  "worth" of a non-monetary incentive and most people will hold incentives to a high standard. Thus, most non-monetary incentives may not get the desired results.

In all cases, if the individual perceives any unfairness in the level of recognition shown across the group or feels that others are not sharing their knowledge, all bets are off. While the incentive was worth enough earlier, it loses all its value if someone feels others are hoarding knowledge.

As for individual competetiveness impacting knowledge sharing; when an individual is competes only for his own gain, he is less likely to share complete knowledge than if he competes for the good of the team. Individual competitiveness on behalf of the team is much more likely to result in complete knowledge sharing. 

Sharing Organizational Knowledge:

As in sharing proprietary knowledge, those who are more individualistic are again less likely to share information than those who are more aware of team effectiveness. Even though the knowledge would not especially differentiate them from others, knowledge sharing was still negatively impacted by individual gain rather than team oriented.

Work experience has a positive impact on organizational knowledge sharing. Maturity gives a person the tools to interact more confidently and feel less threatened by sharing organization knowledge. This maturity does not impact proprietary knowledge sharing. I guess we can only be mature up to a point. We will share as long as everyone has essentially the same toys but we won't if everyone's toys are different and that difference makes us stand out.

In a rather expected way, if knowledge sharing is part of the annual review, people are much more likely to share knowledge, possibly because the inclusion of this item signals that management feels this behavior is important. Or not. In any case, the knowledge gets shared better than if this behavior was not called out.

Take-aways:

  • Monetary incentives motivate complete knowledge sharing better than non-monetary incentives. Therefore, if non-monetary incentives are to be used they must be carefully chosen.
  • If it turns out that not everyone is sharing knowledge equally, there will be reduced sharing and increased hoarding of knowledge even if the incentive was acceptable before the disparity was discovered. "Hey, if they won't play fair, I won't play at all."
  • If someone only works for their own gain, they are much less likely to share knowledge than if they are working for the team. So team focused individuals create a better environment for knowledge sharing than those who are not.

Well, that's a lot to chew on. In my own experience, knowledge sharing was not a competition thing, it was a survival thing. However, my background work experience comes from a very team oriented, collaborative environment.

Has anyone experienced knowledge hoarding behavior in others? Has anyone had knowledge sharing be part of the annual review? Or was it simply "part of the job"?

Please share that knowledge with us.