Trust as an organizational knowledge sharing enabler – validation of the impersonal trust scale

Published date15 May 2019
Date15 May 2019
AuthorMika Vanhala
Subject MatterInformation & knowledge management
Trust as an organizational
knowledge sharing
enabler validation of the
impersonal trust scale
Mika Vanhala
LUT School of Business and Management, LUT University,
Lappeenranta, Finland
Purpose Contemporary organizationsface challenges when they have an increasing need for trust, and
yet there are decreasing opportunities for the development of interpersonal trust. Thus, the organizations
cannot rely only on that and there is a need for complementaryforms of organizational trust. Vanhala et al.
(2011) developedthe scale for measuring impersonaltrust. The purpose of this study is to validatethe scale in
terms of discriminantand nomological validity as well as to test generalizability.
Design/methodology/approach The validitiesand generalizability is tested on two samples from two
industries in Finland:a forest company (411 respondents) and ICT company(304 respondents). Conrmatory
factor analysisand structural equation modelling are used.
Findings The scale represents both discriminant and nomological validity. Furthermore, the scale is
generalizablein different industries.
Research limitations/implications A more holisticapproach to organizational trust is proposed, and
the scale for theimpersonal element of the organizational trust is validated.
Practical implications This paper validates the scale for the less studied impersonal element of
organizational trust. To manage and developorganizational trust, all of its dimensions should be measured.
The scale validatedallows the measurement of the impersonal dimension,and the more rened measure also
makes it possibleto focus development efforts on certain operational areas.
Originality/value The scale validated represents a step forward toward the reliable measurement of
organizationaltrust. To the best of the researchers knowledge, this is the rst study to show that previously
developedscale is valid and generalizable.
Keywords Knowledge sharing, Organizational trust, Scale development, Impersonal trust
Paper type Research paper
During the past 20 years, knowledge management and its role in success of the
organizations and how those can gainsustainable competitive advantage have been studied
widely (Drucker, 2001;Holsappleand Joshi, 2000). Especially the role of knowledgesharing
among members of organizations has gained wide attention within academia (Ansari and
Malik, 2017). It has been found that knowledge sharing contributes, e.g. to the formation of
© Mika Vanhala. Published by Emerald Publishing Limited. This article is published under the
Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY 4.0) licence. Anyone may reproduce, distribute, translate and
create derivative works of this article (for both commercial and non-commercial purposes), subject to
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Validation of
trust scale
Received4 December 2018
Revised23 January 2019
Accepted24 March 2019
VINEJournal of Information and
KnowledgeManagement Systems
Vol.50 No. 2, 2020
pp. 349-368
EmeraldPublishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/VJIKMS-12-2018-0119
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
novel ideas as well as to how new opportunities are developed (Lin, 2007),and different kind
of organizations are constantly trying to provide completely novel or improved goods and
services. To be successful in this, they need to create a knowledge sharing culture (Ansari
and Malik, 2017). In that, the trust within an organization plays a major role (Lin, 2007;
Vanhala and Ritala, 2016).
Within the literature on knowledge management,the role of the trust has been identied
as a crucial factor for the successof knowledge management practices (Roberts, 2000;Ford,
2004). Particularly, the role of trust in knowledge sharing has been widely studied (Ozlati,
2015) and recently also, the role of trust in knowledge protection (i.e. how to share
knowledge only to right people) has been attracting attention (Olander et al.,2015). Trust
within and between organizations both support and enable collaboration and knowledge
sharing (Politis, 2003) and, in general, trust is seen as critical in the knowledge-based
network economy, especially as it is seen as a lubricant when managing uncertainty,
complexity and relatedrisks (Arrow, 1974;Luhmann, 1979).
Previous research has suggested that knowledge sharing in different forms (e.g. intra-
organizational communication and information sharing) are essential factors, being both
antecedents and consequencesin trust building processes within organizations(Lewicki and
Bunker, 1996;Whitener et al.,1998;Usoro et al., 2007). In addition, the role of trust has been
showed also in the context of knowledge sharing in idea crowdsourcing (Kosonen et al.,
2014). Thus, it is evident that trust inuences positively on knowledge sharing by both
facilitating the effective exchange of knowledge as well as by building healthy and
supportive environmentfor knowledge sharing (Gillani et al.,2018). In other words, if people
perceive that the other party is trustworthy, they are more willingto share their knowledge
(Alge et al.,2003;Parker et al., 2006).
This other partymight be another person or even the whole employer organization.
However, the previous literaturestudying the role of trust in knowledge sharing has focused
mostly on interpersonal trust (Costa et al.,2001;Holste and Fields, 2010;Ansari and Malik,
2017;Gillani et al.,2018). Yet, to fully cover the effect of trust on knowledge sharing, trust,
and especially its impersonal elements, should also be considered as an entity in the
organization. The rst step toward thisis to develop a valid measure to capture impersonal
trust (Vanhala et al., 2011) because only what gets measured gets managed (Kianto et al.,
This kind of interpersonal approach is also common in trust research in general, and
organizational trust is usually conceptualized and measured as an interpersonal
phenomenon, that is, as an employees trust in his or her co-workers and supervisor or
manager. Modern organizations face an increasing need for trust; yet, there are fewer
opportunitiesfor the development and maintenanceof interpersonal trust so that theycannot
only rely on that. They also need complementary forms of trust to enhance knowledge
creation, innovation and cooperation. If employees are able to trust their organization, they
can trust theirfuture in the organizationeven if their co-workersand supervisor may change.
The concept of impersonal (or institutional)trust and its underpinnings are not yet clear
in research on organizations.The concept has mainly been used in sociology and economics,
and more so at the macro level. Researchers interested in organizational trust have only
recently started to focus more on the impersonal aspects of trust (Bachmann, 2006;
Möllering, 2006;Ellonenet al.,2007). The impersonal dimension refers to employeestrust in
rm structures and processes, as well as the fairness of HRM policiesand decision-making
processes (McKnight et al.,1998;Kramer, 1999;Atkinson and Butcher, 2003;Tan and Tan,
2000;Costigan et al.,1998).

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