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Knowledge sabotage as an extreme form of counterproductive knowledge behavior: conceptualization, typology, and empirical demonstration

Alexander Serenko (Faculty of Information, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada)

Journal of Knowledge Management

ISSN: 1367-3270

Article publication date: 15 July 2019

Issue publication date: 30 September 2019

870

Abstract

Purpose

This paper introduces the concept of knowledge sabotage as an extreme form of counterproductive knowledge behavior, presents its typology, and empirically demonstrates its existence in the contemporary organization.

Design/methodology/approach

Through the application of the critical incident technique, this study analyzes 177 knowledge sabotage incidents when employees intentionally provided others with wrong knowledge or deliberately concealed critical knowledge while clearly realizing others’ need for this knowledge and others’ ability to apply it to important work-related tasks.

Findings

Over 40% of employees engaged in knowledge sabotage, and many did so repeatedly. Knowledge saboteurs usually acted against their fellow co-workers, and one-half of all incidents were caused by interpersonal issues resulting from the target’s hostile behavior, failure to provide assistance to others, and poor performance. Knowledge sabotage was often expressed in the form of revenge against a particular individual, who, as a result, may have been reprimanded, humiliated or terminated. Knowledge saboteurs rarely regretted their behavior, which further confirmed the maliciousness of their intentions.

Practical implications

Even though knowledge saboteurs only rarely acted against their organizations purposely, approximately one-half of all incidents produced negative, unintentional consequences to their organizations, such as time waste, failed or delayed projects, lost clients, unnecessary expenses, hiring costs, products being out-of-stock, understaffing, or poor quality of products or services. Organizations should develop comprehensive knowledge sabotage prevention policies. The best way to reduce knowledge sabotage is to improve inter-personal relationships among employees and to foster a friendly and collaborative environment.

Originality/value

This is the first well-documented attempt to understand the phenomenon of knowledge sabotage.

Keywords

Citation

Serenko, A. (2019), "Knowledge sabotage as an extreme form of counterproductive knowledge behavior: conceptualization, typology, and empirical demonstration", Journal of Knowledge Management, Vol. 23 No. 7, pp. 1260-1288. https://doi.org/10.1108/JKM-01-2018-0007

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2019, Emerald Publishing Limited

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