Media Releases

Employees don’t always share well with others, says new paper exposing “knowledge hiding”

May 17, 2011

TORONTO, ON — Why isn’t knowl­edge trans­fer hap­pen­ing more often in com­pa­nies spend­ing mon­ey on it?

Maybe it’s because their staff don’t always want to share.

“We’ve had years of research in orga­ni­za­tions about the ben­e­fits of knowl­edge-shar­ing but an impor­tant issue is the fact that peo­ple don’t nec­es­sar­i­ly want to share their knowl­edge,” says David Zweig, a pro­fes­sor of orga­ni­za­tion­al behav­iour and human resources man­age­ment at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to’s Rot­man School of Man­age­ment and the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to at Scar­bor­ough.

His paper, co-authored with Cather­ine Con­nel­ly of McMas­ter Uni­ver­si­ty, Jane Web­ster of Queen’s Uni­ver­si­ty, as well as John Trougakos of the Rot­man School and the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to at Scar­bor­ough, is the first to name this behav­iour, “knowl­edge hid­ing.”
“A lot of com­pa­nies have jumped on the band­wag­on of knowl­edge-shar­ing,” such as spend­ing mon­ey on devel­op­ing knowl­edge-shar­ing soft­ware, says Prof. Zweig. “It was a case of, ‘If you build it they will come.’ But they did­n’t come.”

The paper iden­ti­fies three ways employ­ees hide what they know from co-work­ers: being eva­sive, ratio­nal­ized hid­ing — such as say­ing a report is con­fi­den­tial — and play­ing dumb.

Why do they do it? Two big pre­dic­tors are basic dis­trust and a poor knowl­edge-shar­ing cli­mate with­in the com­pa­ny. Com­pa­nies may be able to over­come that through strate­gies such as more direct con­tact and less e‑mail com­mu­ni­ca­tion, high­light­ing exam­ples of trust­wor­thi­ness, and avoid­ing “betray­al” incen­tives, like rewards for sales­peo­ple who poach each oth­er’s clients.

“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,” says Prof. Zweig.

The paper is online at

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Rot­man School of Man­age­ment
Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to
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