As the conditions in which many companies operate become increasingly complex, knowledge sharing between employees is more important now than ever. Research has left little doubt that HR practices can positively influence such knowledge sharing, although how multiple HR practices can influence knowledge sharing is less clear. A Danish study examined the effect of rewards, job design, and work climate on employees’ motivation to share knowledge. The results indicated that all three of these factors increased motivation for knowledge sharing, and these factors were found to complement each other such that the influence of reward was stronger when employees were also exposed to work climate and job design that supported knowledge sharing behavior.
Key Topics: Rewards; Job design; Work climate; Knowledge-sharing behavior
Title of Reviewed Article: Why Complementary HRM Practices Impact Performance: The Case of Rewards, Job Design, and Work Climate in a Knowledge-Sharing Context
Researchers: Nicolai J. Foss (Copenhagen Business School), Torben Pedersen (Bocconi University), Mia Reinholt Fosgaard (Copenhagen Business School), and Diego Stea (Copenhagen Business School).
Publication: Human Resource Management, 2015, Vol. 54 No. 6, p.p. 955–976.
Setting the Scene
There is a wealth of research to suggest that HR practices influence employee behavior most strongly when combined, rather than when used in isolation (e.g. Jiang et al., 2012). However, research on the mechanisms through which these HR practices interact to gain their influence on employee behavior is less prevalent. One such discretionary behavior which is central to the success of many companies is knowledge sharing between employees (e.g. Minbaeva, Mäkelä, & Rabbiosi, 2012). Knowledge sharing encourages learning (e.g., Hansen, Mors, & Løvås, 2005) and various other positive organizational outcomes, such as increased productivity (Tsai, 2001).
While rewards are often used to encourage knowledge sharing they can also be ambiguous and difficult to interpret (Deci, Koestner, & Ryan, 1999) as they are often based on knowledge sharing which itself is often highly ambiguous and intangible in nature. As such, for these rewards to be effective it is important for them to be as unambiguous as possible.
Following on from the work of Gottschalg and Zollo (2007) the current study examines the role of work climate and job design in influencing employees’ autonomous motivational responses to knowledge sharing related rewards and whether these factors help to reduce reward ambiguity. A number of studies have found that work context and the nature of the task provide the greatest support to rewards in influencing motivation (e.g. Gagné & Deci, 2005), as appropriate job design and work climate can make a job more interesting and multidimensional, which is important for motivation to develop and thrive (Gagné & Deci, 2005).
The researchers outlined one primary research hypothesis:
“There is a positive interaction among (1) rewards for knowledge sharing, (2) a noncontrolling job design, and (3) a work climate that is supportive of knowledge sharing on autonomous motivation to share knowledge, such that the presence of any two components of this system without the third is less effective than the presence of all three combined.”
How the research was conducted
Data used in this study was collected from five knowledge-intensive companies located in Denmark. These companies were from various industries, including manufacturing, engineering and IT, and ranged in size from 1000 - 5000 employees.
The departments in each company that were most relevant for knowledge sharing were identified. In 2007-2008 a questionnaire was distributed to employees in these departments, which was completed by 1,523 participants.
The researchers developed their questionnaire by adapting various existing scales. Items from the Self-Regulation Questionnaire (SRQ) (Ryan & Connell, 1989) were used to determine motivation for knowledge sharing. Items for rewards for knowledge sharing were adapted from Cabrera et al. (2006) and Maurer and Tarulli (1994). Autonomy-Promoting Job Design was assessed with measures of job characteristics that were adopted from Sims, Szilagyi, and Keller (1976). Knowledge-Sharing-Supportive Climate was assessed with measures of adapted from Husted and Michailova (2002; 2004).
Data was also collected relating to demographic information such as age, gender, tenure, and education.
Key Research Findings
Autonomous motivation levels were found to be high across the participant group, with the average score being 5.87 on a seven-point scale. Average supportive climate scores were also high, at 5.84, while the average for autonomy promoting job design was 5.52 and 3.98 for rewards for knowledge sharing.
The study hypothesis proposed a three-way interaction between an autonomy-promoting job design, rewards for knowledge sharing, and a knowledge-sharing-supportive climate, which would see autonomous motivation to share knowledge at its highest when all of these variables are high. The results found that these three variables did indeed have a positive and significant effect on autonomous motivation to share knowledge. Employees’ autonomous motivation to share knowledge was found to be highest when all three variables were high, thus supporting the hypothesis.
Under various conditions, Rewards for knowledge sharing was found to have a consistently positive relationship with autonomous motivation to share knowledge, although the strength of this relationship differed depending on levels of job autonomy or contextual support.
Employees are typically exposed to various HR practices at the same time, and while past research has examined the role of practices such as job design (Foss et al., 2009) and rewards (Pastor, Santana, & Sierra, 2010) on knowledge-sharing behavior, the research on interaction between such factors is limited. The results of this study suggest that the three variables assessed have a positive effect on autonomous motivation to share knowledge and they appear to amplify each other’s effect, suggesting that they reinforce and strengthen each other.
The results also highlight the nuanced relationship between reward and autonomous motivation to share knowledge. This study identifies other factors that can influence this relationship, namely autonomy-promoting job design and a knowledge-sharing-supportive climate. It appears that it is this combined fit of factors that can have the greatest effect on autonomous motivation to share knowledge, rather than reward alone.
Organizational and Reward Implications
This study provides insight into HR practices effecting autonomous motivation to share knowledge. The finding that an autonomy-promoting job design, rewards for knowledge sharing, and a knowledge-sharing-supportive climate positively effect this motivation to share knowledge is unsurprising, while the finding of how these factors interact is more enlightening. Often companies implement rewards alone to encourage greater sharing of knowledge, but this study’s findings suggest that a multifaceted approach is the best one for maximizing knowledge sharing, and that rewards interact in complex ways with other contextual factors.
Companies should be mindful of this when, not only endeavoring to maximize knowledge sharing, but also in generating the most efficient reward spend. What this study indicates is that if the environment in which reward is provided does not facilitate employees’ knowledge sharing then the use of rewards to encourage knowledge sharing will be inefficient, and that effective work climate and job design should minimize any potential ambiguity of rewards and therefore increase their effectiveness.
While this study identified the synergies between the HR practices assessed, companies should be equally mindful of the fact that other HR practices may work both for and against each other in encouraging knowledge sharing. As such, companies should carefully evaluate various factors that may affect the strength of knowledge sharing behavior.
This study helps broaden our understanding of the interaction between reward and various other HR practices on knowledge sharing behavior, and what the results show is that reward alone does not create the strongest knowledge sharing environment. As this study only included three HR elements, it would be interesting to see future research examine additional factors, and also how relationships may differ across employee subgroups or for certain industries.
Source Article: Foss, N. J., Pedersen, T., Fosgaard, M., & Stea, D. (2015). Why complementary HRM practices impact performance: The case of rewards, job design, and work climate in a knowledge-sharing context. Human Resource Management, 54(6), 955–976.
Published by: Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
For further details and access to the full journal article Click Here (subscription or payment may be required).
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