Exploration of Knowledge Sharing Challenges in Value Networks: a Case Study in the Finnish Grocery Industry pp505-514
Business activities are increasingly organized through networks. This article considers the value network of the Finnish grocery industry, a network where the web of relationships between two or more companies creates tangible and intangible value through the complex and dynamic exchanges. In value networks the relationships between the participants of the network tend to be more complex than the traditional make‑buy‑relationships, as companies create value together through different types of relationships such as deep buyer‑supplier‑relationships or strategic partnerships. This variance in the nature and level of collaborative relationships poses new challenges to knowledge sharing. Complementing previous research on the challenges to knowledge sharing in other network settings, this article explores the knowledge sharing challenges specific to value networks based on a qualitative case study about the value network of the Finnish grocery industry. The data consists of 32 thematic interviews of top and upper management representatives from 16 companies in the value network. The results show that the current collaborative relationships in the Finnish grocery industry are functional and working, but mostly just traditional "arms‑length" buyer‑supplier‑relationships. However, the challenges to knowledge sharing seem to be somewhat different to those present in other network settings. The challenges to knowledge sharing in value networks do not seem to concern so much the opportunities for knowledge sharing, but the motivational and cultural factors affecting what knowledge is shared and how much knowledge is shared. Based on these results, the knowledge sharing challenges of the value network can be crystallized under three points. First, the focus of knowledge sharing has been on information, and the organizational arrangements do not encourage the sharing of valuable know‑how. Second, the organizational cultures and top management directives do not encourage external knowledge sharing, and therefore knowledge is not shared. And third, the experiences of past abuses of trust and the retail groups renewed focus on price bargaining undermine the trust between the companies, thus inhibiting knowledge sharing.
Keywords: knowledge sharing, knowledge sharing challenges, value networks, collaboration, case studies
The past decades have witnessed the proliferation of research on knowledge work. Knowledge work has mostly been used as an antonym to manual work, to refer to specific occupations characterized by an emphasis on specialized skills and the use of theoretical knowledge. The efforts to encompass all the different contexts where knowledge plays a relevant role in work tasks has resulted in various and ambiguous definitions of what knowledge work actually is. In order to shed light on the elusive concept of knowledge work, we studied how it has appeared in the scientific discussion, and diffused from one scientific community to another. As the circulation of new ideas and concepts in scientific discussion is apparent through academic literature, we examined the emergence and diffusion of the concept of knowledge work through a citation analysis on articles from the Social Sciences Citation Index. The data set consists of 273 articles with 7,057 cited references for the 1974 to 2003 period, and we used a dense sub‑network grouping algorithm on the co‑citation network to distinguish highly cited groups of references. We distinguish three periods of diffusion of the concept of knowledge work. The results show that Drucker's In the age of discontinuity (1969) and Bell's The coming of post‑industrial society (1968) were the main influencers when the concept emerged in the scientific discussion from 1974 to 1992. After this period, we can distinguish a slow diffusion period from 1993 to 2003, when the concept started to gain attention, and a fast diffusion period from 1999 to 2003, when the research proliferated. The discussion dispersed outside the management domain already in the emergence period, but the management domain has stayed the main domain of discussion also later on. However, from 1992 to 2003 the discussion inside the management domain dispersed into different groups. One of the main influences to a new group of research that appeared at this time was Zuboff's In the age of the smart machine (1984). This group, drawing on research conducted on knowledge‑intensive firms, has recently produced highly cited articles such as Blackler's 'Knowledge, knowledge work and organizations' in Organization Studies (1995). As the current discussion on knowledge work is dispersed in different groups, there is a need to engage in a common conceptual discussion and define what is actually meant by knowledge work.