posted 14 Mar 2005 in Volume 8 Issue 6
Burson-Marsteller: Building a knowledge-sharing platform
How Burson-Marsteller uses its corporate intranet to support the development of a dynamic, knowledge-sharing culture. By Vanessa Colomar and Andrew Sarnoff
At Burson-Marsteller, we have defined knowledge sharing as the practice of capturing and organising the company’s knowledge and expertise in order that we are able to adopt, adapt and transfer it throughout the company in a way that helps employees work more effectively and achieve both corporate and personal goals. When an organisation fully exploits the potential of its combined intellectual capital, it increases its ability to stay competitive, drive innovation and grow. We have consciously moved away from the static concept of knowledge management into this more dynamic notion of knowledge sharing as we look to overcome the ‘knowledge is power’ challenge.
Burson-Marsteller is a professional-services firm. Our success depends largely on the calibre and expertise of our executives. As a result, there are individuals who jealously guard their knowledge, believing it to be the only guarantee of professional success and job security. In other words, they believe their knowledge is their power, and they resist sharing insights and ideas due to a lack of trust, lack of time and fear of losing value within the organisation – or simply because they take pride in accomplishing things on their own.
There is therefore a certain element of psychology involved in knowledge management, as we try to understand what motivates an individual to share information – or otherwise. While the backbone of our knowledge-sharing initiative is our corporate intranet, InfoDesk, we have also encouraged executives to share information by giving seminars to colleagues (both online and in person) and writing white papers.
Unlike many organisations, we do not rely exclusively on our intranet. Billions of dollars have been spent on intranet and employee-portal technology worldwide, yet between 20 and 30 per cent of such projects fail due to ‘empty portal’ syndrome: limited employee input and interaction. Technology has evolved to make intranets capable of recognising a user and only delivering relevant information, encouraging interaction and engagement by being customised to the user’s needs. But even the most sophisticated technologies cannot guarantee that a company will turn into a knowledge-driven enterprise overnight.
We have identified and adopted seven rules for success, based on the principle that knowledge sharing goes beyond intranets and portals, and take a strategic approach to understanding what motivates employees to share good practices and exchange information.
Align knowledge strategies with business goals
InfoDesk supports Burson-Marsteller’s mission by providing access to critical business resources such as branded methodologies, marketing collateral and templates, financial-planning tools, programme-measurement tools, and industry and client reports – all of which enhance the quality of work we do for our clients. It is more than a functional tool, however; it is also the way colleagues network with each other across areas of expertise and geographical barriers thanks to the wealth of information it houses online, and a number of interactive resources on the site.
Overseen by an executive board member, InfoDesk is closely aligned with Burson-Marsteller’s strategic goals. Constant communications with employees about how those goals are being met keeps people informed and actively engaged in knowledge sharing at the firm.
For many within the organisation, submitting information to InfoDesk has become second nature. InfoDesk is rich in content. Our greater objective now is to motivate employees to read and make use of that content: in other words, we still spend considerable efforts addressing the challenge of knowledge transfer.
Create an internal culture that promotes knowledge sharing
Knowledge sharing thrives in an environment that nurtures reciprocal trust, openness and co-operation. We apply a number of strategies to develop and sustain an enlightened culture.
Instil trust and confidence
Open lines of communication and ensure that everyone understands the importance of knowledge as a key part of Burson-Marsteller’s strategy. Surveys and analyses on usage uncover problem areas and identify trends. Employees post valuable feedback on InfoDesk, are enthused with a desire for knowledge and realise its value for themselves and for Burson-Marsteller.
Provide multiple venues for people to contribute knowledge
Knowledge sharing at Burson-Marsteller is not just about what is on InfoDesk; it is encouraged at group meetings, brainstorming sessions, web conferences, conference calls, corporate training, and by internally promoting new products and points of view.
Visibly promote knowledge sharing
Our newsletter, The Link, e-mailed to worldwide staff twice a month, is positioned within the organisation as a direct connection to InfoDesk and everyone at Burson-Marsteller: the work they do and the insights that they can offer.
Enlist the support of champions
InfoDesk is powered by people. Our global ‘champion network’ adds to the value users receive from InfoDesk. Champions are knowledge ambassadors who understand the value of knowledge sharing, and actively promote InfoDesk within their practices and locations. They submit case studies and client proposals, inform their peers about new items, coach employees on the use of InfoDesk, and are the liaison point with the worldwide knowledge-sharing team. We measure the success of the champion network by monitoring the number of InfoDesk log-ins per office; biographies updated; people who participate actively and regularly in communities; and, documents submitted to InfoDesk. Champions are well known and respected. A monthly conference call with a knowledge director, and often with a guest speaker, keeps the group engaged and promotes the diffusion of knowledge both in the network and within their offices.
Let the CEO lead the way
The continuous commitment and visible involvement of CEOs and senior leadership is imperative to fully realise the vision of a knowledge-sharing culture. Employees are more likely to be active participants on an intranet if they know their managers are aware of their activity. CEOs and senior executives can participate in discussion boards, host online chats and share experiences on the intranet, but must also recognise and praise active participants to affirm that the company appreciates and supports their efforts.
Burson-Marsteller’s CEO, Tom Nides, and other senior managers support all aspects of knowledge sharing. Nides uses InfoDesk as a primary communications platform, hosts an interactive ‘Meet the CEO’ section and encourages all employees to attend his open forums, where ideas are freely expressed and discussed. Nides and senior managers also acknowledge the work of the champion network and understand that a minimal time commitment from each champion delivers maximum value for Burson-Marsteller.
Collaborate in knowledge-based communities
Burson-Marsteller leverages the latest technology to encourage collaboration and information sharing among our colleagues. Virtual networks bring together colleagues who share similar interests or are working to solve a common problem. InfoDesk is intrinsic to the development of new products through its 26 interactive ‘expertise suites’. More than 300 client extranet sites allow teams to collaborate with each other and with their clients. Local intranets are another way we share information and, at the same time, build a sense of community.
Devise incentives to maintain a healthy flow of knowledge
While there is an inherent danger in rewarding people for behaviour that ideally should be a part of daily work life, incentives do play an important role in developing a knowledge-sharing culture. Burson-Marsteller’s incentives are aligned with the company’s values and people’s personal goals:
Knowledge sharing is tied to performance goals – An individual can achieve their goals in a variety of ways, for example by launching a new area of expertise or taking the lead in driving the development of innovative products. Employees who achieve knowledge goals are eligible to receive a bonus;
Team-based incentives – Distinguished industry awards raise our visibility and enhance our reputation for providing high standards of service. Teams responsible for developing and implementing award-winning campaigns share a monetary award;
Contests and internal promotions – Targeted initiatives drive intranet usage. When Burson-Marsteller recently celebrated its 50th anniversary, a year-long contest was conducted through InfoDesk that educated employees about the legacy of the firm and its vision for the future;
Public recognition – People appreciate it when their special contributions or ability to solve a business challenge is acknowledged. Recognition by one’s peers is a powerful motivator;
Spotlight talent – InfoDesk features a ‘spotlight on talent’ section that acknowledges the achievements of employees worldwide. Our consultants also take pride in authoring and updating their employee profiles, which provide details about their expertise, talents and special skills and interests – a goldmine of information that is used on a daily basis.
Make it personal – tap into tacit knowledge
The most valuable knowledge is sometimes difficult to capture. Solutions that maximise personal contact deliver powerful results. Tacit knowledge is personal and context specific – it can be hard to formalise and communicate. To get at the knowledge that resides in people’s heads, it is important to promote knowledge sharing offline as well as online.
At Burson-Marsteller, mentors and protégés are brought together in programmes that are designed to last for six months or longer. Interactions are encouraged – both inside and outside the office – that build relationships and enhance knowledge sharing. Participation in this initiative is voluntary, but is acknowledged in annual performance reviews, which demonstrates the importance that Burson-Marsteller places on the initiative and its benefits.
B-M University is our global training programme, where employees participate as professors, coaches and students, both online and offline, to share knowledge of the industry and exchange ideas to solve real-world client challenges. More than 500 employees from 50 markets have attended B-MU and worked in teams to complete client-simulation projects using online InfoDesk tools.
The knowledge of our experts is also captured in flash webinars, conference calls with experts and a media-insights series, published on InfoDesk, which features tricks of the trade authored by Burson-Marsteller’s senior strategists.
Integrate knowledge sharing into daily work life and processes
Over time, and with consistent effort, knowledge sharing has become embedded into all aspects of Burson-Marsteller’s operations. Knowledge sharing creates trust within the organisation as a result of colleagues helping one another. InfoDesk is tightly integrated into Burson-Marsteller’s work-flow, whether executives are working on something requiring strategic thinking or a more tactical approach.
Employees must log on to InfoDesk to gain access to the news sources available through our desktop media-monitoring service. This supports the idea that the intranet is an invaluable resource. In addition, Burson-Marsteller’s ‘Brand site’, which provides logos, branded materials and art files – for presenting and maintaining our corporate identity in a unified, high-quality style – can only be accessed through InfoDesk.InfoDesk’s ‘New business’ suite features a section that streamlines the process for responding to new business opportunities. All the pro forma background information regarding Burson-Marsteller’s business and organisational information, global capabilities, and legal and billing information is located in one place, leaving executives free to come up with creative ideas to capture the attention of prospective clients.
Several administrative and financial resources are integrated with InfoDesk. These have produced greater accountability and enhanced client service in the financial area. Ultimately, this leads to improved client satisfaction.
Building a high-performance, customisable intranet is not a panacea and will not automatically transform a company into a successful knowledge-sharing organisation. At Burson-Marsteller, we leverage technology, connect people and foster a culture that encourages sharing of good practices and innovative ideas to find greater returns on investment, maximise competitive advantage and sustain growth. A strategic approach to knowledge sharing yields measurable results and impacts our bottom line.
For our clients – Burson-Marsteller is known for its thought leadership and groundbreaking research into corporate reputations, CEO reputations and brands. Knowledge-sharing efforts support these initiatives and enhance the quality of work we do for our clients. Collaboration is the key to the firm’s unified global network. Approximately 35 per cent of our business is cross-regional or cross-practice, a trend we see increasing in the future. To a large extent, InfoDesk has facilitated this growth, as well as the ease with which employees communicate and operate worldwide. In 2004, Burson-Marsteller won 116 industry awards and honours, including a PR Society of America Bronze Anvil for InfoDesk. InfoDesk previously won a Computerworld Smithsonian Institution Award for innovation in technology.
For our shareholders – InfoDesk saves time and money, and supports new business prospecting and follow-up. Access to the right global experts and information saves valuable management time, connecting clients and resources. Burson-Marsteller has moved from expensive off-site meetings to an e-learning and teleconference platform.
For our people – The system helps to promote a unified culture. Sharing good practices and insights is part of the way the organisation operates. InfoDesk helps build teamwork and employee satisfaction. Employee surveys indicate that morale is strong, optimism runs high and InfoDesk is highly valued. InfoDesk has captured our history and plays an integral part in shaping our future.
Vanessa Colomar Moody and Andrew Sarnoff are directors, knowledge sharing, at Burson-Marsteller. They can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org.
SIDEBAR: Drivers for success
· Align knowledge strategies with business goals.
· Create an internal culture that promotes knowledge sharing.
· Let the CEO lead the way.
· Collaborate in knowledge-based communities.
· Devise incentives to maintain a healthy flow of knowledge.
· Make it personal – tap into tacit knowledge.
· Integrate knowledge sharing into daily work life and processes.
InfoDesk is Burson-Marsteller’s central knowledge-sharing platform. Launched over a decade ago, InfoDesk’s ongoing objective is to be strategically aligned with employees’ needs and the firm’s business goals. The primary audience for InfoDesk is Burson-Marsteller’s network of 1,600 professionals, located in 94 offices in 57 countries. Being web-based, InfoDesk offers global reach and 24/7 access. It is also the gateway for client-team websites and links to 9,000 global publications and media sources.