How To Create A Know-It-All Company

Even in the best of times, it's a battle to convince employees to participate in knowledge management programs. But in tough times, the tendency is for employees to horde what they know. Here's how some companies convinced individuals to share best practices.

1 2 3 4 Page 2
Page 2 of 4

To drive KM at Russell Reynolds, the company circulates a document every afternoon throughout its 32 offices worldwide that shows all outstanding proposals and projects. All employees are expected to read it carefully and respond immediately if they can share a contact or industry background. Recruiters with positions to fill see instant benefits when they get on-the-spot help from people they've never met but who work for the same company. Tapping into the vast communal network of contacts of more than 700 employees helps the company fill positions faster, driving greater client value.

It pays to start with the right people, says Saidel. "We only hire people whom we believe are interested in working this way." This can be tricky, since star recruiters are accustomed to working by themselves. When interviewing potential recruiters, Clarke Murphy, a managing director and head of U.S. operations for the company (and a recruiter himself), weeds out people who blame others. He also pays close attention to the language candidates use.

"It's hearing 'me' or 'I' all the time rather than 'we' or 'us,'" Murphy says. "You can also tell a lot about someone by looking at their writing. It shows how they're focused." And unlike the majority of head-hunting companies, Russell Reynolds does not pay its recruiters commission, to avoid the lone-wolf mentality the company eschews. With a straight salary-based compensation scheme accompanying a bonus system based in part on how many valuable contributions each employee makes to the knowledge-sharing network, people have more incentive to help each other.

Keep It Real

The KM exercise must be rooted in pressing business issues (and there should be plenty of those to go around, given the business climate). Otherwise, you'll spend unlimited time and money creating something that gets used about as much as the online help function in Microsoft Word. Before creating an online community of practice (COP), Michael Behounek, KM director for $1.25 billion oil and gas company Halliburton, identifies worst points of pain facing the business units. "I go to the business VP of a unit and I say, 'Give me your top five issues.' Then I make a determination: If people communicated better on this issue, would it have a big impact?" he says. If so, Halliburton attacks the problem in a relevant COP. "They must get a good answer for little effort."

Sometimes COPs form and then break apart once the issue is resolved-a natural cycle. They should also evolve over time. Behounek once created a community to devise performance enhancements for a particular 2,000-horsepower pump used in the company's oil refineries. While it was an urgent matter at the time, the community's activity rapidly decreased because the essential business problem had been solved. "There was nothing more to be gained from it, so we saw the usage numbers fall off," says Behounek. His group relaunched the COP to cover all equipment in that business unit. With the broader focus, usage picked right up again.

How to Reap the Rewards of KM

Consider best practices for ensuring success and reaping the rewards from your KM system. Here are some tips for making KM work for your organization despite the tough economy.

Start with the enthusiasts. The best way to get more people involved in KM is to do a pilot with the natural early adopters and let them convince everyone else-but early evangelists should bubble up in the beginning. "The worst thing you can do is put an enormous effort into finding those first adopters," says Arjan van Unnik, head of knowledge management and virtual teamworking for Shell E&P, in Rijswijk, Netherlands. When van Unnik began evangelizing KM at Shell, about 20 percent of the people he talked to gobbled up the concept with gusto. "That gave us fertile ground to kick off the community. There are too many other things to do. I don't want to focus on things that don't work, and that includes people."

In the seven years since Shell E&P began its KM effort, the number of enthusiastic users has grown exponentially. Out of a total workforce of 30,000, more than 16,000 have voluntarily registered for the SiteScape knowledge portal. Employees create on average 225 new entries in the system every day, and in 2002, the site received 1.7 million page views, a testament to the power of neural networking.

Convince the influencers. KM efforts are just as vulnerable to negative influences as any other corporate project. Unlike any other project, people can usually get around the KM system if they so wish. And with morale lower than in recent years, chat around the watercooler can do a lot of damage. To combat this, Brad DeLong, CIO for Orix Capital Markets (a division of Orix USA), seeks out the people he calls the group's "emotional leaders."

When he began his KM endeavor, DeLong made sure to win over a long-standing employee who was certain to sway others. "He knows everything about the business. We could tell he wasn't planning to use the tool. He just wanted to get through the meeting and do things his own way," says DeLong. "We included him in the process, showed him how this was going to help him do his job. He just loves it now and tells other people about it." (If you haven't already, spend the $14.95 on a copy of Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point to learn more about influencers.)

1 2 3 4 Page 2
Page 2 of 4
The CIO Fall digital issue is here! Learn how CIO100 award-winning organizations are reimagining products and services for a new era of customer and employee engagement.