Why workers share or do not share knowledge: A case study
Keng-Soon Soo, Indiana University, United States
Indiana University . Awarded
Knowledge is regarded as the most valuable resource we have today because it is the only sustainable source of competitive advantage for firms in the knowledge economy. To remain competitive, firms depend on their workers to create new knowledge continuously which resides only in their workers' minds. The workers' dilemma is: To create new knowledge workers must first share their own stock of hard-won knowledge with other workers who are potential competitors in a precarious workplace with little job security. Given its value and tacit nature, why would workers share their hard-won knowledge and risk destroying their own competitive edge? The motivation of knowledge workers to share knowledge has not been investigated in depth. The knowledge management literature by-and-large assumes workers altruistically and willingly share knowledge. Wisdom in the field on this topic is mostly anecdotal. Combining knowledge management, motivation, culture, and information systems theories, this qualitative study described and explained in rich detail why workers share knowledge in an insecure environment. An interview study with 43 knowledge workers revealed a list of intrinsic and extrinsic motivators for knowledge sharing in the workplace. Equally important, this study was also able to compile a list of 'demotivators'---reasons why knowledge workers refused to share knowledge in the workplace. A prime reason for sharing one's knowledge is to trade it for other knowledge or unspoken future obligations. Social ties and the trust they create are important motivators too. Other important modifying factors are age, culture, and the characteristics of the industry in which the workers are working. Besides being an important enabler, technology can be intrinsically motivating if it is easy to use. Many of the motivators and demotivators were influenced by the prevalent insecurity in the work environment particularly during the 2001 technology recession. Together, these formed a rich picture of the kind of organizational environment that must exist before knowledge sharing and creating can take place. Practical and theoretical implications for knowledge sharing in the workplace are discussed.
Soo, K.S. Why workers share or do not share knowledge: A case study. Ph.D. thesis, Indiana University.
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