How to Create a Know-it-all Company

In the current cost-focused climate, plenty of organizations are calling on competitive intelligence to help reach educated strategic decisions.

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Competitive intelligence manager Denise O'Shaughnessy says bringing together the telco's primary market research and customer database capability, as well as learnings from each of those areas, is giving Telecom NZ an integrated view of competitive activities in the market. "We brought together the customer database team and the market research team and the market intelligence team," she says. "They all now work out of the one group."

As a team, this group can now answer questions for customers based on information from different sources, such as market research, market intelligence and databases. O'Shaughnessy says bringing different skill sets together lets the team put together a comprehensive "single story" for any internal customer. "So rather than focus in on assorted disciplines that we might have rather than a functional structure, we focus in on what it is that our internal customers need from us, which is information from various sources in various guises, and adding some value to that information. And the way we add that value is the way we bring that together," she says.

Putting It in the Right Hands

When Astrazeneca was pondering its desired CI function, it considered hiring someone quite senior to take on the role of CI associate. Instead, it decided to hire an associated product manager three years out of university with some commercial experience. Ooi says it was the right decision to make, because that person spends their time running around the company "like a headless chook" sitting in meetings.

"So instead of having a manager who tries to implement something but isn't there for it, this person is more than happy to sit in on the campaign group meeting and flag CI issues or go out in the field with the sales representative and implement it that way and try to 'culturalize' it from the bottom up," he says. "And that works better for us. In fact we actually had a business intelligence manager at one point, and he was struggling with the fact that although he was trying to implement things at a certain level, he was too senior to actually get down into the business and be involved, and consequently wasn't getting any buy-in." Ooi admits the approach leaves a gap, because the associate is not best equipped to interpret or analyze some of the intelligence coming through. Instead this is done by a different group of people. On the other hand she is definitely the best person to inculcate that CI culture. Being young, enthusiastic and highly motivated has left her well placed to achieve buy-in at the same rate as CI is growing in the company.

Ooi has found an even more radical way to achieve buy-in. Reasoning that sales and marketing, for instance, are better sources of information than other areas of the company, Ooi felt the ideal model would be for sales and marketing to be the major source, and senior managers the main recipients of CI. The only trouble is, implementing such a model would mean the people who were giving the most information would be getting nothing back.

"So what we spent most of the first two years on was using their information to actually help them with their own processes in relation to either market research requirements or information dissemination across sales representatives in different states, as opposed to helping the senior managers," he says. "That didn't initially go down all that well with the directors, but at the end of the day we had to get buy-in first."

Ooi says one of the best ways to achieve quick wins was to never say "No" to any request, even those that were not strictly related to CI. "The more you say 'No', the less likely they are to come to you at a later stage," he says.

What Not to Do

Don't make the following missteps when instituting knowledge management in your organization

  • Don't call it knowledge management. Employees don't get it, don't care about it and would rather ignore the whole thing.
  • Don't sweat the definitions. It doesn't matter how people define "knowledge", "competitive", "management" and intelligence. Let them create their own definitions.
  • Don't offer carrots. Resist the temptation to give payment - a few dollars or points in a reward system - for each knowledge contribution. Such a system is designed to be abused and will result in low-quality content.
  • Don't wave sticks. Even worse, some companies threaten punishment for failing to contribute. Knowledge shared under threat of negative consequences is likely to be worthless.
  • Don't bother unless there's trust. Most companies meet the minimum interpersonal trust threshold required to make a go of KM or CI. Most, but not all. If your company prizes competition to the exclusion of all else, best put the knowledge management effort aside.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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