“What’s in it for me?” Employee Knowledge Sharing on Knowledge Management
Systems: Normative and Social Exchange Perspectives
Capturing and sharing individual and organisational knowledge is vital for organisational functioning. Knowledge management systems (KMS) are information technology systems which enable employees to electronically capture and distribute knowledge across the organisation. Because knowledge sharing is often a discretionary behaviour requiring time and energy on behalf of employees, the success of KMS largely relies on their motivation and willingness to share. KMS implemented within organisations have been largely ineffective with failure rates of 80% documented in the knowledge management literature. There is a need for further understanding of the barriers and facilitators for employee contributions to KMS. In particular, there is a dearth of empirical research examining the role of social and organisational factors in knowledge sharing on KMS. To this end, a programme of research was developed which utilised normative and social exchange perspectives to explain employee knowledge sharing on KMS.
A combination of research methodologies were employed across five field-based studies. The aim of Study 1 was to identify the determinants of knowledge sharing on KMS. In Study 1, qualitative data were collected through 16 in-depth interviews with employees from a medium-sized private sector organisation. While several barriers and facilitators were identified, the most prevalent themes to emerge from the content analysis were perceived benefits and management support, highlighting the central role of social exchange and normative processes in explaining employee knowledge sharing on KMS. The results of Study 1 were used in conjunction with previous research to design the subsequent quantitative studies.
Study 2 examined the mediating role of perceived benefits in the management support – knowledge sharing intentions relationship. It used a cross-sectional survey design and sampled 41 employees from a large private sector organisation. Three main findings emerged. First, management support was positively related to employees’ knowledge sharing intentions. Second, perceived benefits were positively related to employees’ knowledge sharing intentions. Third, perceived individual benefits mediated the relationship between management support and knowledge sharing intentions.
Study 3 examined the moderating role of perceived organisational support (POS) in the management support – knowledge sharing intentions relationship. Study 2 and 3 were both quantitative studies taken from the same organisational setting but with different user groups. In Study 2, the users directly contributed their knowledge onto the system. In Study 3 (N = 45), the users shared their knowledge through an intermediary person. Study 3 further extended Study 2 by investigating knowledge sharing behaviour (N = 27) in addition to knowledge sharing intentions. Study 3 had three key findings. First, consistent with Study 2, management support was positively related to employees’ knowledge sharing intentions. Second, POS was positively related to employees’ knowledge sharing intentions and knowledge sharing behaviour. Third, POS moderated the relationship between management support and knowledge sharing behaviour.
Study 4 replicated and extended the findings of the previous studies in a different organisational setting. Two separate studies were conducted in a medium-sized public sector organisation. In Study 4a (N = 295) data were collected at a single point in time. Study 4b (N = 246) extended the previous quantitative studies by examining two forms of management support for the KMS as well as collecting self-reported behavioural data (N= 130) at a second time period. Overall, the findings of these studies provided mixed support for the predictions. First, system-related management support, organisational identification, perceived individual benefit and perceived organisational benefit were directly related to employee knowledge sharing on KMS. However, contrary to prediction, POS was not found to be directly related to employee knowledge sharing across the two studies. Second, organisational identification was found to moderate the relationship between management support and knowledge sharing in Study 4a but not 4b. Third, POS moderated the relationship between management support and knowledge sharing in Study 4b, however, no such relationship was found in Study 4a. Finally, across the two studies, both perceived individual and organisational benefit were found to uniquely mediate the relationship between management support and knowledge sharing intentions.
On the basis of the findings of the research programme, several conclusions were made. First, system-related support from management is an important determinant of employee knowledge sharing on KMS. Second, employees’ perception of the benefits derived from knowledge sharing has an important influence on their contributions to KMS. Third, the extent to which employees identify with the organisation influences their decision to share knowledge on KMS. Fourth, the extent to which employees perceive support from the organisation influences their decision to share knowledge on KMS.