Novice resident physicians’ advice seeking and error making: A social network approach

Tal Katz-Navon, Eitan Naveh


Employee errors, which are potentially avoidable unintended deviations from goals or standards of behavior or truth, harm organizational performance. The problem of employee errors is magnified in the case of novice employees who lack skills, experience, knowledge, and information, and particularly in knowledge-intensive jobs, in which the acquisition, sharing, and use of knowledge are crucial. In the process of sense making, novices seek and receive advice from others. They informally and proactively solicit instrumental assistance (either a solution or a process) from different sources, such as colleagues and peers, to cope with ambiguity and the shortfall of knowledge. A novice employee’s access to experienced employees results from the organizational structure and social networks. The person initiating the social relationship does so proactively and with the specific goal of obtaining benefits, which include also advice in all its forms. In the case of novices’ advice-seeking behavior, the network is asymmetrized since the novice asks for instrumental help from the expert and not vice versa. The main issue is that between novices and experts, there are information asymmetries that create knowledge gaps, which in turn are the knowledge transfer drivers: the novice can learn something from the expert who provides new knowledge or information to the novice. The present study focuses on novices resident physicians’ purposeful creation of advice ties with senior physicians to increase knowledge and gain information, which in turn may reduce novice error making. By integrating current research on employee errors, and advice and network theories, we explored whether residents should seek advice from few or many senior physicians and whether advice from all senior physicals is equally useful. The sample included 142 novice resident physicians. The results demonstrated that when novices sought advice from a few senior physicians, the more frequently they sought advice from focal senior physicians (those from whom many other advice seekers frequently ask for advice), the lower was their number of errors. However, when novices sought advice from many senior physicians, the frequency with which they sought advice from focal senior physicians was not associated with their number of errors. The results also demonstrated that these effects were more pronounced for the less, as compared to the more, experienced novices. Implications for how organizations can guide novices in creating social networks to reduce error rates are discussed.

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