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How to foster knowledge sharing part 2: build it into jobs

In the first post of this series, we looked at the importance of intrinsic motivations in knowledge sharing. Employees have a natural drive to share knowledge when it arouses their interest, enhances their status in the workplace, or contributes to their sense of self-worth. By harnessing this drive in the workplace, you can create a knowledge management strategy that’s sustained by employees’ own motivation. That’s both more efficient and more fun than one that relies on carrots and sticks.

To achieve this, your knowledge management goals must align with your employees’ motivations. The duties required of employees must meet the needs for self-worth, recognition and stimulation that inspire knowledge sharing. In the previous post, we looked at some ways those needs could be recognized in day-to-day work. Now let’s see how they can be built into your organizational fabric.

Job design

Job design describes an employee’s duties, the systems she uses, and how her role relates to those of her coworkers. Its aim is to increase motivation and job satisfaction, as well as fulfilling the practical needs of the organization. Successful job design supports knowledge management by fostering employees’ intrinsic motivations to share knowledge (Foss, Minbaeva, Pedersen and Reinholt 2009).

  • Give employees creative autonomy and the ability to make decisions. Employees with autonomy are more motivated and more likely to share knowledge (Foss, Minbaeva, Pedersen and Reinholt 2009).
  • Ensure no person is an island. Have them interact with others, whether that’s working on joint projects, answering questions or training coworkers.
  • Make knowledge sharing a normal part of employees’ duties. It could be formal (e.g. contributing articles to a public knowledgebase) or informal (e.g. documenting work internally).

Give employees creative autonomy and the ability to make decisions. Employees with autonomy are more motivated and more likely to share knowledge.


Knowledge sharing is about people. People passing on something they know to someone who didn’t know it before. So when bringing people into the organization, seek out those whose values make them good contributors. If their attitude to knowledge is to clutch it to their chest and growl, “My preciouuus,” they might not be the best fit.

  • If a job includes contributing to common knowledge, make that clear to the candidate up front. List knowledge sharing among the expected duties in the job description.
  • In interviews, discover candidates’ attitude to knowledge sharing. Prioritize candidates whose values align with the organization’s (Gagné 2009). Candidates motivated by helping others are more likely to share knowledge than competitive people who hoard their advantage.

Culture and management

Employees absorb the norms of their workplace. The values you broadcast through workplace culture help determine how employees measure their own performance, and therefore how they strive for competence and self-worth. If you praised tea-drinkers as model employees, consumption of coffee would drop. If you foreground knowledge sharing, employees will come to see it as a natural task.

  • Value behavior that contributes to the common good. This can be expressed not just through knowledge management but through collaborative projects, charity work, etc.
  • Have managers model the behaviors desired of employees (Gagné 2009). E.g. managers should extend trust and communicate freely.
  • Encourage cooperative relationships among team members, not only on projects but informally and socially.
  • Emphasize that knowledge is the collective property of the organization.
  • Grant knowledge sharing time and resources commensurate with its importance. Don’t expect people to record information, contribute ideas or document their work in scraps of time left over.
  • Show knowledge being used. Employees need to see the result of their efforts to know what they’re doing is meaningful. Methods range from a simple “like” button on knowledge articles to success stories of knowledge improving productivity.
  • Tolerate mistakes (and give opportunity to correct them), so employees aren’t discouraged from contributing by the fear of being wrong.
  • Identify contributors. Authorship gives employees a sense of accomplishment as well as a personal stake in the quality of material (American Productivity & Quality Center 2002).
  • Provide on-the-job training that both gives practical skills for knowledge management and reinforces the organization’s criteria of excellence.


Reviews provide the opportunity to give feedback on knowledge-sharing activities and reiterate their importance.

  • Give positive feedback for contributions to knowledge (Gagné 2009). If employees have made effort beyond the call of duty, be sure to acknowledge this (American Productivity & Quality Center 2002).
  • Focus on employees’ future development as well as evaluation of their past performance.
  • Schedule reviews regularly, so feedback is ongoing.

Summing up

Knowledge management depends on company culture. To succeed, it needs a culture that values employees’ contributions, motivates employees’ desire for excellence, and models the behaviour it hopes to inspire.

While these principles take work to implement, once in place they become self-sustaining. A culture of trust and self-validation is one in which knowledge is shared freely. The alternative, to create a reward system for sharing knowledge, not only costs more but has been found less effective. The next post in this series examines the disadvantage of rewards.

Interested in learning more about how to foster knowledge in your organization? Read our four-part blog series on Knowledge Sharing:

  1. Part 1: How to foster knowledge sharing: use intrinsic motivations (or cats).
  2. Part 2: How to foster knowledge sharing: build it into jobs.
  3. Part 3: How to foster knowledge sharing: don't reward, but recognize.
  4. Part 4: How to foster knowledge sharing: remove barriers.


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American Productivity & Quality Center. 2002. "Rewards and Recognition in Knowledge Management". Teleconference proceedings.

Foss, Nicolai J., Dana B. Minbaeva, Torben Pedersen and Mia Reinholt. 2009. "Encouraging Knowledge Sharing among Employees: Why Job Design Matters", Human Resource Management 48 (6): 871-893.

Gagné, Marylène. 2009. "A Model of Knowledge-sharing Motivation", Human Resource Management 48 (4): 571-589.