Being your team’s go-to person for sharing market intelligence comes at a price, according to research conducted by a Clemson University marketing researcher.

Recently published research by Ryan Mullins, associate professor of marketing in Clemson’s College of Business, examined intelligence gathering and sharing among marketing professionals at a Fortune 1000 company.

Mullins, marketing, job shirkers

Ryan Mullins
Image Credit: Clemson University Relations

The results showed that team members who tended to share more insights with their colleagues, also worked longer hours generating those insights for the others who shirked that job responsibility.

“It’s generally considered a good thing for team members to share intelligence with each other,” said Mullins. “But as we all know, some may take advantage of others who work longer and harder.

“Many people would ask: Why would I gather intelligence if I can get it from someone else? Our study aimed to test this question and we found that those who share more than others on their team also exert greater effort to generate intelligence to make up for those who shirk the responsibility. We generally find it’s one of two very important people on the team who step up. One is the team’s manager and the other is an expert peer, or someone considered an influential team member who others go to for advice.”

The study surveyed social networks of nearly 290 sales employees on 40 teams at an industrial goods and services company over a five-week period. Each team member was asked how much time they spent doing each task, and who they went to on their team for advice.

“There is clearly a divide among those who generate and share information on sales teams, and those who don’t,” Mullins said. “This is critical because it is easy to overlook the costs for those who carry the load in gathering and sharing information with team members. There is a significant amount of time they devote to doing what others should be contributing to also.”

Mullins said managers spend nearly 20 percent more time gathering information than other team members, making up for those who shirk that responsibility. And the toll is even greater for expert peers, who spend 30 percent more of their time compared to low-sharing team members, making up about 10 hours of their week. This time investment outside of their normal responsibilities is considerable given these expert peers are often the top performing team members.

“Managers and expert peers are generally burdened with a heavier workload because of others’ failure to step up. Essentially, team members are burdening their information providers with a ‘sharing tax’ for the leadership roles they play on the team. By putting 20 or 30 percent more work than their counterpart teammates, they are levied that tax and the expectation is these people who step up will continue to do so,” Mullins said.

The researchers said it is difficult to avoid this imbalance of work responsibility because people are naturally willing to avoid generating intelligence if someone is going to provide it for them. But Mullins said there are steps organizations can take to address the imbalance of work that exists.

“Recognition or incentives should be provided for these people who step up when others don’t. But if there isn’t a financial incentive, they should be recognized in some way, perhaps a title. The other thing that should be considered is restructuring their other job responsibilities to make their workload more tolerable. The extra work of generating intelligence shouldn’t be considered an additional burden that someone picks up because others won’t.”

Mullins said the imbalance of work that is often expected of a thought leader presents a dilemma for someone who wants to lead. The question becomes, “do I want to take on the workload that comes with being a go-to person on the team?”

“It’s often said that in order to be successful, you need to be a thought leader, but there are costs to bear for this title. Someone who wants to be known in that regard needs to think about both sides of the equation. The more you share, the more you’re expected to generate. You need to decide if that’s a path you want to go down.”

Mullins was joined in the study by Zachary Hall, assistant professor of marketing, Texas Christian University; Niladri Syam, associate professor of marketing, University of Missouri; and Jeffrey Boichuk, assistant professor of marketing, University of Virginia.

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