Employees don't always share well with others, says new paper exposing 'knowledge hiding'

May 16, 2011

Why isn't knowledge transfer happening more often in companies spending money on it?

Maybe it's because their staff don't always want to share.

"We've had years of research in organizations about the benefits of knowledge-sharing but an important issue is the fact that people don't necessarily want to share their knowledge," says David Zweig, a professor of and human resources management at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management and the University of Toronto at Scarborough.

His paper, co-authored with Catherine Connelly of McMaster University, Jane Webster of Queen's University, as well as John Trougakos of the Rotman School and the University of Toronto at Scarborough, is the first to name this behaviour, " hiding."

"A lot of companies have jumped on the bandwagon of knowledge-sharing," such as on developing knowledge-sharing software, says Prof. Zweig. "It was a case of, 'If you build it they will come.' But they didn't come."

The paper identifies three ways employees hide what they know from co-workers: being evasive, rationalized hiding - such as saying a report is confidential -- and playing dumb.

Why do they do it? Two big predictors are basic distrust and a poor knowledge-sharing climate within the . Companies may be able to overcome that through strategies such as more direct contact and less communication, highlighting examples of trustworthiness, and avoiding "betrayal" incentives, like rewards for salespeople who poach each other's clients.

"If you don't work on creating that climate and establishing trust, it doesn't matter how great the software is, people aren't going to use it," says Prof. Zweig.

Explore further: Study: Co-workers hide their best ideas

Related Stories

Study: Co-workers hide their best ideas

May 1, 2006

Canadian scientists say if you ever asked colleagues for information and then suspected they pretended to be ignorant, you might have been right.

Recommended for you

Metacognition training boosts gen chem exam scores

October 20, 2017

It's a lesson in scholastic humility: You waltz into an exam, confident that you've got a good enough grip on the class material to swing an 80 percent or so, maybe a 90 if some of the questions go your way.

Scientists see order in complex patterns of river deltas

October 19, 2017

River deltas, with their intricate networks of waterways, coastal barrier islands, wetlands and estuaries, often appear to have been formed by random processes, but scientists at the University of California, Irvine and other ...

Six degrees of separation: Why it is a small world after all

October 19, 2017

It's a small world after all - and now science has explained why. A study conducted by the University of Leicester and KU Leuven, Belgium, examined how small worlds emerge spontaneously in all kinds of networks, including ...

Ancient DNA offers new view on saber-toothed cats' past

October 19, 2017

Researchers who've analyzed the complete mitochondrial genomes from ancient samples representing two species of saber-toothed cats have a new take on the animals' history over the last 50,000 years. The data suggest that ...

2 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Bigbobswinden
not rated yet May 17, 2011
Go to any meeting and you will see knowledge is power and is used to forward the position held by the speaker in the company. It is only shown off if there is an advantage to be gained. When I was young, a man said to me "if I tell you what I know it will take the bread out of my children's mouths."
codesuidae
not rated yet May 17, 2011
There is also an attitude of 'if I tell anybody how to do my job, than anybody can'. 'Sharing of knowledge' can easily be seen as 'training my replacement'.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.