Trust, knowledge sharing and organizational commitment in SMEs

Published date02 September 2019
Date02 September 2019
AuthorCarla Curado,Sílvia Vieira
Trust, knowledge sharing
and organizational
commitment in SMEs
Carla Curado
Department of Management,
Universidade de Lisboa Instituto Superior de Economia e Gestao,
Lisboa, Portugal, and
Sílvia Vieira
Universidade de Lisboa Instituto Superior de Economia e Gestao, Lisboa, Portugal
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to extend the knowledge on the underlying relation between trust,
knowledge sharing (KS) and organizational commitment (OC) in small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs),
by testing the mediator role of KS between trust and OC dimensions.
Design/methodology/approach The paper addresses a sample of 582 top exporting Portuguese SMEs
and it tests an original model using structural equation modeling following a partial least square approach.
Findings Results show that trust positively and significantly influences KS and affective and normative
OCs. KS partially mediates the relation between trust and affective OC.
Research limitations/implications This study contributes to both the knowledge management and human
resource development literatures, showing the relationship between variables from both bodies of literature. Some
limitations apply, the study uses cross-sectional data that limit the conclusions about causality and some
restrictions on the generalization of the results also apply due to the used sample.
Practical implications Results show the importance of encouraginga trustful environment in SMEs on
behalfof KS and OC dimensions. Humanresource managers could profitfrom stimulating KS amongemployees
that results in affectiveOC.
Originality/value Findings show the relevancy of trust in SMEs and the role of KS that contributes to OC.
Keywords Knowledge sharing, Commitment, Trust, SMEs, Human resource development
Paper type Research paper
The literature on human resource development (HRD) has explored the contribution of trust
to organizational commitment (OC) (Song et al., 2009) and knowledge sharing (KS). The
quality of work relationships fosters employeestrust and commitment and thus develops
their willingness to create and share knowledge (Thomson and Heron, 2006). Developing an
organizational culture based on mutual trust is a way to promote KS and to shape strategic
HRD activities (Wang et al., 2009), considering HRD is a multidisciplinary field that gathers
contributions from several disciplines (Swanson and Holton, 2009; Werner, 2014).
When employees trust each other, they feel safe and more comfortable with sharing their
knowledge( Bakkeret al., 2006). Further, trust(Searle and Dietz, 2012)contributes to OC. Trust
fosters stronger relationships among the employees and between the employees and the
organization(Ferres et al., 2004). High levels oftrust in the workplace are essentialto ensuring
that employeesact in accordance with organizational interests( Bussing,2002), therefore, trust
engenders higher cooperation and commitment (Lewicka, 2015). An organizational learning
culture mediates the relationship between interpersonal trust and OC (Song et al., 2009), thus
KS enhances OC because it encourages active social interaction to achieve mutual benefits
(Syed-Ikhsan and Rowland, 2004; King, 2007). KS requires frequent interactions that lead to Personnel Review
Vol. 48 No. 6, 2019
pp. 1449-1468
© Emerald PublishingLimited
DOI 10.1108/PR-03-2018-0094
Received 18 March 2018
Revised 20 May 2018
8 January 2019
Accepted 21 February 2019
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
The authors gratefully acknowledge financial support from FCT-Fundação para a Ciencia e Tecnologia
(Portugal) national funding through research grant UID/SOC/04521/2013.
sharing and
the developmentof common beliefs and opinions among theemployees (Nonaka, 1994) and it
can promote effective relationships as well as employee satisfaction and attitudes that affect
OC. According to Cheng and Ho (2001), motivational factors like OC affect how employees
apply what they have learned. Therefore, OC is closely linked to HRD.
This study contributes to the body of knowledge on knowledge management (KM) and HRD
by examining Portuguese small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and offering an original
model that involves trust, KS and OC. The model follows the organizational k nowledge creation
theory (Nonaka, 1994; Nonaka and Konno, 1998) that specifically addresses tacit knowledge as
being rooted in action, commitment and context (Polanyi, 1962). The process of knowledge
creation is a self-transcending, continuous process (Yang et al., 2010), an enduring dialogue
between tacit and explicit knowledge (Nonaka, 1994). Knowledge is created through permanent
knowledge conversion between tacit and explicit forms, and for that to happen it needs to be
shared (Nonaka, 1994; Curado and Bontis, 2011). In order to start the process of knowledge
creation, there must be mutual trust among individuals (Nonaka, 1994).
KS is at the heart of the socialization, externalization, combination and internalization
(SECI) model,often called as the spiralmodel in the knowledge creationtheory. Socializationis
the process of creating tacit knowledge through shared experience without using language.
Externalization regards the conversion of tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge. For
example, a metaphor can be used to share knowledge in the externalization process.
Combination involves sharing and combining explicit knowledge that leads to new
knowledge.Internalization is the conversionof explicit knowledge into tacit knowledge,which
is similar to theKS phenomenon typically associated with learning(Nonaka, 1994). Along the
endless movement in the spiral, there is a continuous transformation of tacit knowledge into
explicit knowledge and then back to tacit again.
This study differs from previous works in two ways: first, it explores the mediating role of
KS by emphasizing the contribution of KM (Curado and Bontis, 2006) to HRD; and second, it
offers evidence from Portuguese SMEs. Typically, SMEs have less formal HRD than large
corporations, consequently, informal and idiosyncratic HRD prevails in SMEs (Marlow et al.,
2010; Saridakis et al., 2013; Nolan and Garavan, 2016). Yet, the literature has given insufficient
attention to the social nature of HRD in SMEs (Nolan and Garavan, 2016), and that is why
addressing the contribution of trust and KS to the OC in SMEs seems so relevant.
Despite the recognizable link between issues from organizational culture, HRD and KM,
there are few empirical studies that simultaneously address these topics. Since knowledge is
a powerful resource it may not be simple to get people to share their knowledge. Considering
KM is the basis for HRD (Werner, 2014), it is critical for SMEs (Petrakis and Kostis, 2015),
and since there are few empirical studies that simultaneously address both topics, there is a
gap we propose to fill in. The scope of this study is to contribute to close such breach in the
literature and offer evidence on the relationship between KM and HRD.
Literature review and hypotheses
Organizational commitment
OC is a widely studied topic, and most definitions describe a link between the employee and
the organization.According to Allen and Meyer(1990), OC is a psychologic al state that binds
an employee to the organiz ationthat affects his or her decision to continue in the same
organization. Following the Three-Component Model of organizational commitment
(Allen and Meyer, 1990; Meyer et al., 1993) OC gathers three components: affective,
continuanceand normative. Affective organizational commitment(AOC) concerns employees
emotional attachment and identification with organizational values. Employees with a strong
AOC have a strong emotional attachment to the organization and are willing to focus on
helping the organization achieve its goals. Continuance commitment (COC) refers to the
employeesidentification of the costs involved in leaving the organization. Thus, employees

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