Interaction between Chinese Employees' Traditionality and Leader-Member Exchange in Relation to Knowledge-Sharing Behaviors

Article excerpt

Knowledge management has received much attention both academically and in practice. Because innovation and the success of knowledge management are enhanced by the transmission of knowledge, knowledge sharing (KS) has become a critical part of knowledge management (Xie & Ma, 2007). The enhancement of KS among employees is, thus, an important issue within the workplace. In this area of research, there are three perspectives: (a) the environment, (b) the individual, and (c) the interaction of these two perspectives. The environmental perspective concerns factors such as the atmosphere, culture, leadership, and relationship structure within the organization. The individual perspective concerns the influence of employee personality characteristics and other personal factors on KS within the organization. The interaction perspective concerns how environmental and individual factors jointly influence KS within the organization.

Researchers have taken the interaction perspective, which not only recognizes that individual characteristics play a role in employee KS but also emphasizes factors beyond the individual. Research in this area is relatively new and, although sparse, is promising. Previous researchers have shown that the manner in which employers relate to their employees substantially influences employee behavior (see e.g., Hui, Lee, & Rousseau, 2004), with leader-member exchange (LMX) effectively explaining how employers influence their employees. We believe that this issue deserves greater consideration and further research. In Chinese culture, in which guanxi (translating as networking or relationships) is important, the study of the impact of LMX on employee KS has practical applications, such as the role of KS in research and development of innovative firms, especially in those workplaces with a multicultural working environment.

Furthermore, the outcomes of LMX can be influenced by individual factors such as Chinese traditionality (CT; Hui et al., 2004; Yang, Yu, & Yeh, 1991). Therefore, investigations of how employee personality characteristics influence KS in the context of LMX are needed.

In this study, we examined LMX as an environmental factor and CT as an individual factor that both influence employee KS. Our focus was on (a) how LMX and CT impact KS behaviors, and (b) how these two factors interact to influence KS. We believe that increasing the understanding of these two issues will help inform decisions on human resource management among firms operating in China, or those employing people with a Chinese cultural background.

Literature Review and Hypotheses

Theories of Leader-Member Exchange and Knowledge Sharing

LMX is defined as the building of relationships between leaders and members in the workplace, and plays an important role in the organizational experience. In the early development of LMX theories, Graen and Uhl-Bien (1995) explained the construct of LMX based on role-playing theory, emphasizing that employees build relationships with leaders through three steps: role taking, role making, and role routinization. Later, Schriesheim, Castro, and Coglister (1999) explored LMX through the lens of a reciprocity continuum, highlighting that exchange is a form of reciprocity ranging from negative to generalized with balanced reciprocity at the midpoint; leaders and members form relationships depending on their place on the reciprocity continuum. Also, academics are currently focused on social exchange theory (see e.g., Hu et al., 2012; Liao, Liu, & Loi, 2010; Wayne, Shore, & Liden, 1997), in which it is stressed that the relationship between leaders and members is either an economic exchange, that is, within the contract, or a social exchange, that is, outside of the contract.

KS, is a set of behaviors through which employees share their professional knowledge, skills, experiences, values, networks, and understanding of work processes, and has been a prominent area of study since the mid-1990s (see e. …