Knowledge Sharing and Work Performance: A Network Perspective

Article excerpt

Based on a network perspective, in this study we argue that employees can improve their work performance if they occupy central network positions within a company where they can take advantage of knowledge made available by colleagues. We reasoned that the likelihood of knowledge sharing would be increased when employees were perceived to be trustworthy. Participants were 170 employees from 4 companies in Taiwan, and it was found that in-degree and in-closeness centralities within a knowledge-sharing network had significant and positive effects on work performance, and that employees with higher levels of perceived trust were more likely than others to experience an in-degree centrality of knowledge sharing. Our results indicate that the network perspective is a promising approach to the research issue of knowledge sharing.

Keywords: knowledge sharing, network centrality, work performance, trust.

In many previous studies related to knowledge sharing (KS) the focus has been on exploring the attributes of individuals that are useful in encouraging those who possess knowledge to share it. For example, Wu, Lin, Hsu, and Yeh (2009) pointed out that interpersonal trust is an important determinant of KS. Lin (2007) identified extrinsic and intrinsic motivations as important to KS intentions. However, employees do not work in isolation; each of them is embedded in a formal or informal social network with relational connections to coworkers (Gargiulo, Ertug, & Galunic, 2009)

Hansen (1999) defined knowledge sharing as the provision or receipt of task information, know-how, feedback, and other pertinent issues. KS involves the exchange of useful information and experience between two or more people in their day-to-day interactions. Hence, KS is related to the interactions among different employees. In this study, we considered the sharing of knowledge among different employees within a company as a KS network and the employees as actors and nodes within the KS network. Each of the employees is embedded in the KS network. Recently, the role of network connections in organizational learning and knowledge management has gained much attention (e.g., Cross & Cummings, 2004; Gargiulo et al., 2009; Tsai, 2001). Therefore, the study of personal networks and information accessibility will enrich understanding of KS.

Through networking, individuals can gain access to valuable information and knowledge. Networking promotes knowledge sharing and transfer among members, providing employees with opportunities for learning and cooperation. KS networking is a social interaction process and, through socialization and interaction, individuals share relevant information, ideas, and expertise with one another (Cross & Cummings, 2004). Within a KS network, each employee plays the part of a network node and occupies a different network position that provides different opportunities for access to new knowledge that is pertinent to his or her work. A central position in the KS network provides greater access to knowledge and innovative ideas for employees (Tsai, 2001).

Based on a network perspective on KS, in this study we examined two important concepts of network centrality - in-degree centrality, and in-closeness centrality - within a KS network. In-degree centrality of a KS network presents the total number of employees from whom a focal employee has directly received knowledge. In-closeness centrality of a KS network describes the sum of the shortest distances from all other employees to a focal employee; it is a measure of a focal employee's opportunity to receive knowledge from coworkers, both directly and indirectly. The smaller the sum of the shortest distances a focal employee has, the greater the in-closeness centrality he or she has and the more quickly he or she can access knowledge through direct and indirect connections to coworkers. In other words, the greater an employee's in-degree and in-closeness centralities, the more knowledge sources the employee has. …