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(originally published by Booz & Company)


When Knowledge Sharing Turns to Knowledge Hiding

The organization’s climate also affects employees’ knowledge-sharing decisions, the researchers found. In companies with stronger knowledge-sharing cultures, employees were less likely to engage in evasive hiding, the most deceptive and least socially acceptable tactic. (In contrast, rationalized hiding allows employees to preserve their relationships with co-workers by saying, for example, “I’d like to tell you, but I’m not supposed to.”)

Managers who wish to curtail knowledge hiding have several options, the researchers suggest. To increase staff members’ perceptions of their colleagues’ trustworthiness, managers can emphasize a shared identity or publicly highlight instances when an employee followed through on a promise. Managers should also try to encourage direct contact between employees and to discourage a reliance on e-mail communication. It’s also important to not offer incentives for employees to “betray” their co-workers; for instance, salespeople shouldn’t be rewarded for poaching one another’s clients.

Managers should also voice their support for knowledge sharing, the authors conclude. When instances of knowledge hiding are detected, managers should act quickly before the habits become entrenched.

“A lot of companies have jumped on the bandwagon of knowledge sharing” by investing heavily in software, according to one of the authors, David Zweig. “It was a case of, ‘If you build it, they will come.’ But they didn’t come.... 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.”

Bottom Line:
Although companies have increasingly invested in knowledge-sharing software, employees sometimes undermine the effort by deliberately concealing information from their co-workers. The culture of the organization and the level of distrust among employees are key factors in determining whether and how employees hide what they know.

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