Why a Central Network Position Isn’t Enough

Knowledge sharing in employee networks is a complex task. From a managerial perspective, the work is not done by just establishing formal network ties. If employees are not adequately motivated or lack the ability to make use of network ties, the investments made in designing knowledge sharing mechanisms and networks may be a waste of resources.mia reinholdt

”The purpose of our paper is to address a central dilemma raised in the extant network literature on knowledge sharing, namely that network positions fostered by large and open networks provide knowledge access benefits in terms of access to new and nonredundant while at the same time entailing a knowledge sharing problem, because such networks lack the needed trust and feelings of reciprocity for knowledge sharing to thrive. We argue that while an employee’s network position represents the opportunity to engage in knowledge sharing, the employee needs adequate motivation and ability to seize that opportunity”.

The last 2011 issue of Academy of Management Journal features the article Why a Central Network Position Isn’t Enough: The Role of Motivation and Ability for Knowledge Sharing in Employee Networks, written by three SMG faculty members: Assistant Professor Mia Reinholt, Professor Torben Pedersen and Professor Nicolai J. Foss. The article explores the roles of a number of important factors on knowledge sharing in employee network. This is done by focusing on the relationship between network centrality, autonomous motivation, and ability.

The extant literature on the subject shows contrasting views regarding how specific network characteristics influences knowledge sharing. The authors of this article argue that in order to leverage the full potential of knowledge sharing, management need not only attend to network building activities, but also make sure that the employees possess adequate motivation and ability.

Nicolai FossFrom a theoretical perspective the framework presented in the paper builds on motivation-opportunity-ability theories of behavior. The challenge is to move beyond the dilemma that large, open egocentric networks provide both knowledge sharing opportunities and problems. The core argument is that while an employee’s network position creates the opportunity to engage in knowledge sharing with colleagues, employees need adequate motivation and ability to fully exploit this opportunity. The hypotheses developed through this argument are tested empirically by data collected among 705 employees in a large Danish consultancy firm.


“Our research has important implications for both network research on knowledge sharing and the management of Torben Pedersenknowledge in organizations. Future research needs to consider important contingency factors such as motivation and ability and provide nuanced analyses of their impact. Our study for instance reveals that it matters how employees are motivated if they are to take full advantage of their network positions. For managers, who wish to stimulate knowledge sharing in their organizations, an important lesson of our study is that it is not enough to focus on and invest in network building devices, which has grown increasingly popular over the last few years. They also need to invest resources into stimulating the right type of motivation and build the ability to engage in knowledge sharing”.

Reinholt, Mia; Foss, Nicolai J. & Pedersen, Torben (2011) Why a Central Network Position Isn’t Enough: The Role of Motivation and Ability for Knowledge Sharing in Employee Networks. Academy of Management Journal. Vol. 54(6)