Motivating Knowledge Workers

Many of the Asian organizations in the APO study addressed the challenge of motivating knowledge workers toward knowledge-sharing and other desirable KM behaviors. The end goal stated by the organizations’ managers is to nurture an organizational culture of learning, knowledge sharing and/or continuous improvement. Many approaches were tried out: 

  • Incentives and reward schemes are often used. Airtel in India instituted the Knowledge Dollar (K$) as the unit of performance credit and the Joint President’s and CEO’s Knowledge Management Award. WIKA in Indonesia instituted ten different awards. Some of the material rewards at SCG Paper in Thailand are gift vouchers, attendance in technical symposium and study missions, free luncheons, etc. At Infosys in India, knowledge workers can earn knowledge currency units (KCUs) for desired KM behaviors such as contributing knowledge assets, and composite KCUs depending on the quality of their contributions. KCUs can be used, for example, to obtain gifts from an on-line store.
  • Unilever Indonesia set up a Learning Award for knowledge transfer directly connected with business results and an Enterprise Award for intrapreneurship. According to Purnomo, the Learning Award resulted in “new enthusiasm for learning, confidence in trainers to conduct sessions, new standards of module development... and preservation of knowledge not captured previously.” Goldsun in Vietnam gives an award to individuals and units which excelled in their “I have a new idea” movement.
  • Rewards can be non-material, such as awarding honorific titles. Bank Indonesia awards titles such as “Dr. Know,” BroSan and “begawan” (a word in Bahasa Indonesia which connotes a wise mentor). WIKA also awards “begawan” titles. At SCG Paper, the honor of being a mentor or coach is seen as a motivating element in tacit knowledge transfer processes such as the buddy system, job rotation and cross-functional group activities. Designating functional heads as the “knowledge champions” and setting up a community of experts were instrumental in gaining buy-in for KM at Airtel. WIKA also has an Innovation Award, Knowledge Award for knowledge sharing, Inspirator award for making a breakthrough and inspiring others to excellence, and Engineering Award for contributions that increase value added in products. Infosys calls their knowledge workers “infoscions.” JTC in Singapore awards titles such as “Knowledge Activist,” “Commendable Knowledge Activist” and “Outstanding Knowledge Activist” to promote and reward knowledge sharing behaviors and eventually build a knowledge-sharing culture in their organization. At Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology, proponents of new ideas or suggestions are registered as the “idea owner” so that credit as “co-inventor” can be duly awarded in case the idea matures to, or contributes to the development of a new patent. “The Great Contributor” is the title awarded by SCG Paper to the employee who shared most knowledge; “The Great Content” is the title given to one whose contribution enjoyed the most number of website hits.
  • It is not clear from the case studies which form of reward – material or non-material – is found to be the more effective motivator. Many organizations use both forms, or switch from one form to another. For example, Infosys started with monetary rewards and later they shifted towards recognition and non-monetary awards. They also converted some KM activities from voluntary to mandatory by formally incorporating them into their standard business project processes.
  • Many of the case study organizations (Qian Hu in Singapore, PTQM Foundation in the Philippines, Siriraj Hospital in Thailand, SCG Paper, Airtel, Infosys, Unilever Indonesia and WIKA) employ a combination of top-down (e.g. through management directives and instructions) with a variety of motivational approaches. The top-down approach seems to work, despite the observation from Western KM practitioners that KM or organizational learning is better suited to egalitarian or non-hierarchical organizational cultures. This is may be related to the Asian trait of respect for authority, in contrast to the Western trait of respect for the individual. Yet, many Western KM and change management practitioners also observe that executive sponsorship and quality of leadership is important for the success of a KM initiative.
  • The importance of senior management commitment or executive sponsorship was mentioned in many case studies. In a survey of more than 200 organizations in Thailand this factor was ranked highest among critical success factors for KM.  At Siriraj Hospital in Thailand, the CKO (Chief Knowledge Officer) was selected on the basis of commitment, leadership ability and recognition from other staff.  Leadership and policy was ranked second in a study in Malaysia of success factors in KM.  According to Dr. Thomas Menkhoff, JTC Corporation’s managers created “a motivational organizational culture characterized by caring leadership that supports active questioning and allows for mistakes. Employees are thus able to trust each other and to share their opinions about work-related issues more freely.”
  • An approach adopted at ASE in Taiwan is incorporation of desired KM behaviors in the employee performance appraisal system. Knowledge document outputs of the engineers are reviewed periodically and factored into their performance appraisal.
  • Infosys uses measurable returns from KM initiatives to demonstrate the benefits and rationale for engaging in KM.  Initial positive feedbacks on outputs/benefits of KM were encouraging and provided motivation for the continuing development of KM at Goldsun in Vietnam.
  • At the Department of Health in the Philippines, members of the KM Team through a workshop surfaced their personal talents and passions, life goals and preferred working modalities. Each member then clarified how he or she can optimize the convergence between personal and organizational goals. Team members reaffirmed and augmented each other’s outputs. The result is heightened commitment and energy level towards their work as part of the KM Team.
  • Management of Qian Hu in Singapore designed a mix of informal and formal communication modes to strengthen buy-in from employees and customers. This includes “floor walks”, tea sessions and informal gatherings besides more formal modes such as seminars and focus group discussions.
  • At SCG Paper in Thailand, a balance of virtual interaction and physical or face-to-face meetings is employed. Physical spaces for interactions are provided that can foster openness and trust among employees. Similarly, Bank Negara Malaysia redesigned its library environment to make it more reader friendly, using ergonomics furniture and encouraging a more cheerful mood using paintings and appropriate color scheme for walls and furniture.
  • Learning is a win-win activity for employees and the company. CAPCO in Taiwan established an on-line learning program for its employees, the Multimedia Cyber College. It has motivated its employees by including on-line training and certification as part of the employee evaluation and promotion processes.
  • The motivational value of learning through face-to-face interaction in a team or CoP is mentioned in many case studies. Unilever Indonesia, SCG Paper and Siriraj Hospital in Thailand and SAIT in Korea are examples of organizations that set up and nurture many CoPs. To sustain employee interest in KM activities, Bank Negara Malaysia initiated cross-functional teams, benchmarking projects and study visits or attachments.
  • “Praise Ground,” which is an avenue for peer-to-peer public compliments for exemplary KM behavior, is an innovative process at Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology. Knowledge sharing, collaboration, problem-solving and other desirable KM behaviors that add value to SAIT customers can be rewarded by praise from a colleague in the SAIT intranet.


According to Dr. Jung Hoon Derick Sohn, “A member identifies another employee who has done something worthy to be praised and writes a short, entertaining note about it on the website.  That member then identifies another employee to praise, and the process is repeated over and over... The Praise Ground is one of the most popular and most frequently visited website at SAIT.  Most, if not all, members at SAIT consider it a great personal honor to be mentioned at the Praise Ground.”