The objective of this paper is to examine the impact of different types of organizational culture on knowledge sharing behavior. The study notes that, the collaborative employee attitude is the complementary knowledge management culture for knowledge sharing, and in the same respect; it identifies the collectivism culture as the best complementary culture of knowledge sharing. From these facts, this study affirms that, knowledge sharing works best in a group context, or where there is a collaborative culture within organizations. Elements of individualism and uneven power structures within the organization only add to hinder knowledge sharing.
The main purpose of this proposed study is to explore the impact of organizational culture on knowledge sharing behavior in organizations; what kind of organizational culture promotes the knowledge sharing behavior; and what are the types of organizational culture that blocks that sharing.
- To review the different meanings associated with knowledge management, knowledge sharing, and organizational culture (and define them based on the common understanding among researchers).
- To establish a better understanding of the knowledge sharing behavior among employees and what can prevent employees from sharing information.
- To determine the impact organizational culture has on knowledge sharing.
- To study the different organizational culture dimensions, which were presented by scholars and examine which organizational culture dimension has more impact on knowledge sharing.
- Provide recommendations for organizations, in order to increase the ability for the employees to share their knowledge.
In the recent past, knowledge management has drawn the attention of decision makers in organizations worldwide. There are several organizations, all over the world, which implemented different knowledge management (KM) projects and initiatives, but sadly, according to records, 50% to 70% of those projects failed to meet their objectives. There are many reasons which cause the failure of KM (Ambrosio 2000). One factor is the cultural aspect of organizations. From this understanding, this literature focuses on reviewing the impact of organizational culture in knowledge sharing behavior in organizations. It explores factors which encourage employees to share their knowledge with their colleagues at the work place. The paper also explores different dimensions of organizational culture and determines, which of those dimensions best promotes the knowledge sharing behavior.
However, It is of no importance studying how to effectively ensure there is a proper framework of knowledge management if we do not understand the importance of knowledge management in the first place. Knowledge management is normally very diverse and touches on very extensive subject areas. For instance, knowledge management is nowadays applied in very many disciplines, including climate change, government activities, military operations and the likes (Tohidinia and Mosakhani 2010, p. 611). Practically, in today’s organizations, knowledge management is normally applied in very many areas, but conventionally, it has been known to be used by the private sector, public sector and institutional operations (Ambrosio 2000). Moreover, governments, the world over, and non-governmental organizations have realized the importance of knowledge management in undertaking humanitarian activities and organizing charity programs, because it has been affirmed that, through knowledge management, programs can be effectively undertaken and new ideas can be effectively nurtured as well.
It is a known fact that, organizational culture is one of the building blocks of a successful organization because it defines an organization’s shared beliefs, values, principles and policies (Palanisamy 2008, p. 100). The importance of organizational culture cannot therefore be overemphasized when attempting to achieve organizational success because it defines employee behavior when no one is there to supervise them (Liu 2007, p. 1). This is an important determinant of organizational efficiency. Alternatively, organizational culture can be perceived as what happens behind the scenes, with regards to employee performance and attitudes, especially when the managers are not there to supervise employee activities (Schein 1990). Its influence is normally felt almost across all levels of the organization because it not only determines what happens in the organization, but also, what does not happen (Lai and Lee 2007). Organizations can therefore only be successful to the extent which their organizational culture allows them (organizations which have a positive organizational culture are likely to be more successful than organizations which do not have a positive organizational culture) (Magnier-Watanabe and Senoo 2010).
Most importantly, it is vital to understand that, organizational culture may seem nothing more than an abstract concept, but in real sense, it is much deeper than it looks (Meerwarth 2008). For example, behind every new product innovation or excellent service delivery (and such like organizational success stories); there is a driving force, which is organizational culture. In terms of knowledge management therefore, we can affirm that, organizational culture significantly affects knowledge sharing (Li 2010). In other words, organizations which have a complementary organizational culture are likely to experience extensive knowledge sharing, while organizations which do not have a complementary organizational culture are likely to lack a knowledge sharing behavior (Mcevily, Das and Mccabe 2000, p. 294).
It should be noted that, due to the competitive nature of the global business environment, it is almost inevitable for organizations to adopt a knowledge sharing behavior to stay afloat (Gagné 2009, p. 571). A knowledge sharing behavior or culture in an organization is an effective tool for ensuring organizations effectively achieves their organizational goals (Lam and Lambermont-Ford 2010). Even though there are many barriers to knowledge sharing in organizations (such as organizational culture), it should be understood that, knowledge sharing is an attractive concept for organizations because it can easily foster innovation by allowing for the free flow of information and ideas (Reychav and Weisberg 2010, p. 285). This is one strategy organizations which are synonymously known to develop innovative products choose to have, since employees who are nurtured in such cultures are more likely to come up with new product development strategies than those who are not (Park 2009). A free knowledge sharing culture is also likely to enable policy makers to better understand the market they are operating in, because the information flow will be outward-in (and organizations can have a better understanding of how their markets operate and also determine the future prospects of their primary or secondary markets) (King and Marks 2008). In addition to this advantage, a free knowledge sharing culture within organizations, help in the production of effective goods and services to consumers because organizations have a better understanding of what the consumers want and how best such needs can be effectively met (Yang and Chen 2007, p. 95). Moreover, a culture of knowledge sharing, if properly nurtured in an organization, helps in the development of sound goals, aims and objectives of the organization because organizations are bound to have a comprehensive understanding of the operational environment, which also enables them develop appropriate organizational goals, aims and objectives, which are complementary to the organizational environment (Chen, Chen and Kinshuk 2009).
As noted in earlier sections of this study, knowledge management is normally considered an asset by most organizations to compete in today’s competitive business environment. However, scholars do not have very diverse opinions regarding the definition of knowledge management, majorly because they acknowledge that the concept entails the exchange of information, with the aim of coming up with new ideas. This opinion is held by Chen, Huang and Hsiao (2010). Storey and Barnett (2000) also hold a similar point of view by stating that:
“Knowledge management is the chief ingredient of what we buy and sell, the raw material with which we work. Intellectual capital ± not natural resources, machinery or even financial capital ± has become the one indispensable asset of corporations” (p. 146).
Al-adaileh and Al-atawi (2011) also define knowledge management by stating that, “Knowledge management (KM) focuses on connecting people, processes and technology for the purpose of leveraging corporate knowledge” (p. 212). From these definitions, we can see that, the main outcome of defining knowledge management for the above scholars revolve around creating new knowledge.
In as much as these scholars agree that, knowledge management entails the free exchange of information, with the aim of creating new ideas, Suppiah and Sandhu’s definition of knowledge management is a little more detailed, in the sense that, they give a description of the components of knowledge management. This can be evidenced through their assertion that:
“Knowledge management involves knowledge assessment, knowledge acquisition/ absorption/assimilation, knowledge creation/processing/development/ transformation, knowledge storage/retrieval, knowledge sharing/distribution/circulation/transfer, knowledge utilization/application, active forgetting of knowledge, and the administrative process of knowledge management” (Suppiah and Sandhu 2011, p. 464).
From the above analyses, we can therefore see that, the most common definition of knowledge management stems from the management of organizational resources, such as ideas and concepts, in the creation of new knowledge or ideas (Bryant 2005). This definition means that, knowledge management is an interactive process, where there is a free interchange of concepts, aimed at improving or creating new organizational competencies. This definition is justified because from the above definitions, two elements stand out. The first element revolves around the free exchange of ideas, and the second revolves around the creation of new concepts and ideas.
Knowledge Sharing Behaviour
There are several definitions of the concept of knowledge sharing behavior, but many scholars acknowledge that, knowledge sharing is a process aimed at achieving a common objective of coming up with new ideas (Burns, Acar and Datta 2011). For example, Van den Hooff and De Ridder (cited in Vries, Hooff and Ridder 2006) note that, “Knowledge sharing is the process where individuals mutually exchange their (tacit and explicit) knowledge and jointly create new knowledge” (p. 116). However, there are scholars who still view knowledge management as an abstract concept of information exchange. For instance, Chen, Huang and Hsiao (2010) view knowledge management as the free exchange of information within a social context. The above definitions are a little different from the conventional definitions of knowledge management because knowledge management is normally perceived as an organizational concept, rather, than a social concept (Lilleoere and Hansen 2011).
From the above analyses we can see that, knowledge sharing behavior can be perceived as an interactive forum, which allows for the free exchange of information among employees, for the overall benefit of the organization, in terms of product development, improved service delivery and such like factors. This definition is justified from the point of view that the scholars cited above advocate for the free exchange of ideas as a critical component of the definition of knowledge sharing behavior.
Since the 80s, when the concept of organizational culture was very prominent, there has been a varied definition of the concept (Tripathi and Tripathi 2009). However, like many other descriptions of organizational culture identified in this study, scholars have not deviated much from their conceptual definition of the term. The only variables evidenced in the definition of the concept of organizational culture, lie in semantics. The similarity in the definition of the concept of organizational culture can be evidenced from Guptara’s definition of organizational culture because he notes that, organizational culture defines the unspoken rules of doing things in the organization (Guptara 1999, p. 27). McDermott and O’Dell (2001) define organizational culture as the “the shared values, beliefs and practices of the people in the organization” (p. 101). From this analysis, we see that, both scholars define the same thing; because the unwritten rules of an organization, is the beliefs, values and practices of an organization. To further affirm the commonality of different scholars’ definition of organizational culture; we can see that, in social psychology, organizational culture has not been defined any different from the above definitions. For example, Bellot (2011) ascertains that:
“organizational culture is a pattern of shared basic assumptions, invented, discovered, or developed by a given group, as it learns to cope with its problems of external adaptation and internal integration that has worked well enough to be considered valid, and, therefore, is to be taught to new members of the group as the correct way to perceive, think, and feel in relation to those problems reframing” (p. 31).
This definition defines organizational culture as a system, which is passed down from one group to another, and conventionally, it incorporates organizational rules, policies, beliefs and cultures regarding the operations of the organization.
From the above analyses, we can therefore agree that, the most common definition of organizational culture stems from the commonality factor shared in all the definitions cited above (Aydin and Ceylan 2009). In other words, there is a strong depiction of a commonality in shared values, beliefs and practices, which encompasses the components of organizational culture, and in the perspective of Bellot (2011), the organization’s system. This analysis is factual because all the definitions described above, point out to a set of common values and beliefs among organizational employees.
Knowledge Management enablers
Knowledge management enablers are normally used to transcend organizational problems envisioned when trying to overcome knowledge management problems. From this understanding, we can attest to the fact that, knowledge management enablers are tools used to fine-tune the process of knowledge management. In other words, these tools are normally used to facilitate knowledge management activities which are normally adopted by organizational managers in ensuring the knowledge management process is successful in the long-term (Brown and Woodland 1999). Over the years, many knowledge management enablers have been developed, and several are information based, say, information systems, knowledge enablers and management strategies; however, there are other types of knowledge management enablers, such as organizational culture, which this study uses as its basis of study (Hupfeld 1997). Organizational culture is an effective knowledge enabler because it defines the norms and values of the organization, which directly have an impact of knowledge sharing (Huysman and Wulf 2006). Since many scholars have noted that, organizational cultures play a vital role in knowledge management, it is therefore not any strange to note that, organizational cultures can play a vital role in the integration of people, relationships and technology, to improve knowledge management processes (Hansen, Nohria and Tieney 1999). For instance, through organizational culture, employees can be able to trust other employees or their managers and consequently influence knowledge sharing within the organization (Su and Chow 2010). Organizations which perform well at adopting a knowledge sharing behavior are therefore likely to perform better than organizations which do not adopt this strategy. Similarly, such organizations are also likely to have a poor knowledge management strategy.
The Impact of Organizational on Knowledge Sharing Behaviour in Organizations
Explaining the knowledge sharing behaviour within organizations
In the collaborative knowledge sharing behavior, a rich discussion of ideas is normally fostered within the organization, to come up with an outlay of productive information for the organization (Yang 2004, p. 118). This information sharing behavior is only a representation for employee behavior within organizations, which in this case is also subject to organizational culture. A collaborative employee environment is often synonymous to teamwork, where employees do not concentrate on individual achievement, but rather, on group achievement. The same also goes for organizational managers, in that; they do not focus on individual accomplishment, but rather, on organizational or group success. This kind of employee behavior is complementary to knowledge sharing behavior because knowledge sharing thrives on group efforts and an integration of individuals (Endres, Endres and Chowdhury 2007). In other words, knowledge sharing is a group or collaborative strategy, and not an individual strategy (Arling & Chun 2011, p. 231).
This is the reason why a collaborative employee behavior is the preferable employee behavior for knowledge sharing, as opposed to other types of employee attitudes, such as the competitive employee behavior. In the competitive employee behavior, a sense of individual achievement is encouraged because success is measured in the same way. In a competitive environment, employees will be out to outshine each other and with such an attitude, they cannot be able to freely exchange information because any useful piece of information will be withheld in the aim of gaining leverage over other employees. The same kind of scenario can be said to hold true for private employee behavior, where employees operate in an individualistic manner because in the same scenario, information exchange will be free and knowledge sharing will be highly limited. The opposite scenario (collaborative knowledge sharing behavior) is conducive for knowledge sharing because it is more engaging and complements the free exchange of ideas.
Knowledge sharing behaviour within employees in organizations and what can prevent employees from welling to share
There are many factors affecting knowledge sharing in organizations. Some of these factors have been discussed in this study, but others have not. For example, organizational structure is one determinant to the determination of information flow within the organization (Asimakou 2009). Organizational structure refers to factors such as the organizational hierarchy structure, such as formalization, centralization, remuneration systems, and the likes, which have a direct impact in the flow of information within the organization, or determine the degree information can be freely exchanged within the organization. For instance, governments have been known to have a hierarchical structure of power, which allows for very little information exchange among the parties involved. In terms of organizational structure, it has been affirmed that a flexible organizational structure should be approved, instead of the rigid organizational structure. In other words, the organizational structure should be less formal and less centralized to provide an easy flow of information within the organization.
Kim and Lee (2004) note that, information technology is also another important aspect of study, which needs to be considered when determining the knowledge sharing behavior of an organization. Information technology is important in determining the infrastructure of information flow within the organization. Also, the information technology framework defines the communication flow within the organization (Hendriks 1999). For example, the development of e government services through information strategy is an example of how knowledge flow can be dictated by information technology. In the above example, the e government framework is defined by the information technology framework built in by the information technology experts. In this example, it can be seen that, the information technology framework determines how free or limited information can be exchanged. For instance, the e government framework can have passwords or other authorization features to limit information to only a few individuals. The other major determinant of information flow is organizational culture, but this will be discussed in later sections of this study.
However, there are other auxiliary elements in the organization, which may improve employees’ willingness or reservation to share information within the organization. For instance, the element of trust is important in determining how free employees would be willing to share information (Riege 2005). If there is some element of trust nurtured within the organization, and among employees, it would be easy for employees to uphold free information exchange (Mooradian, Renzl and Matzler 2006). However, if this element lacks in the organization, employees are bound to resist information exchange, since they would be playing safe and resisting any attempts to share information among them, to protect themselves from variable factors brought about by mistrust. For instance, if there is a competitive environment within an organization, an employee may resist information exchange, based on the fact that, if a rival employee gets the information in question, he or she may use the information to gain leverage over another employee. However, if employees trust one another and believe that, information exchange is not going to be negatively used against them (say for the overall benefit of the organization); they are likely to embrace the concept of knowledge sharing.
In upholding the concept of knowledge management within organizations, managers can also make an effort of improving knowledge sharing by offering incentives to employees who uphold the concept. The type of incentive to be offered to such employees may vary from one organization to another, but generally, they include financial incentives, employee recognition, status upgrade and such like factors. Bottom line, if there is an incentive scheme within the organization, where employees who uphold knowledge sharing are rewarded in one way or the other, it becomes easy for employees to be encouraged to uphold the concept. In the absence of an incentive scheme, an organization may experience a high resistance to knowledge sharing, or alternatively, an organization may experience less collaboration from employees in upholding their efforts to encourage knowledge sharing. The situation can be made worse when the employees do not understand the importance of upholding such a concept. The positive attribute about knowledge sharing is the fact that, even in the absence of a complete understanding of the importance of the concept, employees would try to uphold the concept to gain from it.
The different organizational culture dimensions and which dimension has more impact on knowledge sharing
Hofstede and Bond (1984) note that, organizational culture dimensions are diverse and cover several aspects of employee behavior (including their psychological processes); but similarly, they note that, organizational culture also covers certain aspects of the business environment, such as the social, political and economic functioning, to create a group synergy for success. In Hofstede and Bond (1984), organizational culture dimensions are normally categorized into four groups (although initial studies only exposed three groups, but one group was later split to form two groups).
The first type of organizational culture is the power distance structure were power is the main ranking determinant of employee relationships. In this type of organizational culture dimension, lower ranking employees acknowledge that, there is an unequal power structure in organizations, whereby, some employees are more powerful than others, and in the same respect, command a higher authority than others.
The second type of organization culture dimension is the “uncertainty avoidance organizational culture”, where employees develop a mechanism of dealing with highly uncertain situations or operating environments. This kind of environment thrives where employees or members of an organization do not want to be caught off-guard by unpredictable environmental factors. From a societal point of view, Hofstede and Bond (1984) note that, the uncertainty avoidance culture is firmly entrenched in the manner an organization deals with elements of aggression and unclear operating business environments.
The third organizational culture dimension is the “individualism vs. collectivism” culture, where there exists a bipolar cultural understanding of taking care of one’s family members only (individualism), and taking care of other groups, as a collectivist approach. Normally, the collectivist approach works where loyalty is often awarded for group attention.
Lastly, Hofstede and Bond (1984) note that, the “masculine vs. feminist” approach is the last form of organizational culture dimension where the masculine element appeals to elements in the society (revolving around masculine elements such as power, money and other material wealth), while the feminine element of the society has a lot to do with the care of other people and the improvement of the overall quality of life.
Of all the organizational cultural approaches described above, the individualism vs. Collectivism culture is more complementary to the spirit of knowledge sharing than the others because it supports the culture of collectivism, which also embraces a group approach to undertaking various tasks within the organization. The culture of individualism should however be overlooked in this scenario because the above assertion only stands true, with respect to the culture of collectivism.
From this analysis, we can see that, organizational culture hinders knowledge sharing because if there is a spirit or attitude within an organization which supports group activities and perceives things from a collectivist approach, knowledge sharing is bound to be fostered. On the contrary, when there is an individualistic culture, a power distance culture, or a masculine vs. feminine culture, there is bound to be a preference of a few individuals, say those with power, masculine figures and the likes, who are likely to shun other groups, such as those without power, feminine groups and such like factors. This sort of organizational culture is not complementary to the spirit of knowledge sharing because it encourages division among employees, while knowledge sharing works best in a culture that nurtures equality and honesty (Spencer 2003, p. 217).
Theories that contributes to knowledge sharing behaviour and culture
Since organizations have realized the importance of knowledge management in upholding organizational success, many researchers have embarked on an effort to explain the best ways organizations can improve knowledge sharing behavior (Lin 2007). As a result, several theories have been developed to explain knowledge sharing behavior. One such theory is the organizational knowledge creation theory. This theory emphasizes two elements in knowledge sharing: epistemology and knowledge conversion, because from the two elements, the theory found its footing (Hirschfeld, Atran and Yengoyan 1982, p. 161). The two concepts note that, there ought to be several factors within the organizational context which encourage knowledge sharing. These factors are explained as: “knowledge vision, knowledge activism, organizational forms and leadership” (Nonaka, Krogh and Voelpel, 2006). The organizational knowledge creation theory therefore works by integrating several epistemologies of knowledge sharing to come up with an enriched aspect of the concept.
Another common theory, known to explain knowledge sharing within organizations, is the social exchange theory. The social exchange theory was developed on the concept of exchanges, which developed a power structure to define human interactions within organizations. This concept has been widely explained by Blau’s theory which uses demand and supply curves to further explain the relationship. In other words, in this theory, people engage in knowledge sharing, based on the rewards they are bound to receive when they do so. This theory, therefore explains that, organizations which have an incentive program for knowledge sharing, or those which have a highly supportive team, are bound to experience high levels of knowledge sharing within the organization (Liang, Liu and Wu 2008).
The Blua theory also explains knowledge sharing within organizations by stating that, there ought to be two elements present for social exchange to properly work. Sage (1967) explains that, “it must be oriented towards ends, that can only be achieved through interactions with other persons and it must seek to adopt means to further the achievement of these ends” (p. 23). In this kind of relationship, Blua explains that, knowledge sharing occurs in an environment where two parties exchange information, in the presumption that, the recipient of the information will reciprocate. He further goes ahead to explain that, this sort of information exchange structure can also be characterized by some degree of intimidation, where one part may exchange information with another, and the recipient is supposed to reciprocate the same favor, or else, he or she is bound to suffer some unpleasant consequence (Sage 1967, p. 200).
Conclusion and Recommendations
Knowledge sharing is an important element in organizational success, but there are many concepts which hinder the complete nourishment of knowledge sharing. Some of these hindrances have been discussed in this study, but the most significant is organizational culture. This study identifies the collaborative employee attitude is the complementary knowledge management culture for knowledge sharing, and in the same respect; it identifies the collectivism culture as the best complementary culture of knowledge sharing. From these facts, we can affirm that, knowledge sharing works best in a group context, or where there is a collaborative culture within organizations. Elements of individualism and uneven power structures within the organization only add to hinder knowledge sharing. From this analysis, organizations which seek to increase knowledge sharing within the organization are supposed to encourage a team working environment within the organization and attach rewards or acknowledgements, based on group results, as opposed to individual results. It is only through this strategy that, employees can be able to freely exchange information among them, since hoarding information would be of no benefit.
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