posted 10 Jun 2004 in Volume 7 Issue 9
Knowledge sharing on tap
In 2001, SAB Ltd recognised the importance of collaboration among its employees and launched its knowledge-management programme. Hein van Eck explains how SAB has approached and implemented a knowledge-sharing process, and its development of a supporting KM infrastructure.
SABMiller plc, the world’s second largest brewer, was formed in 2002 when SAB acquired 100 per cent of Miller Brewing Company and changed its name from SAB plc to SABMiller plc. The company consists of four hubs: SAB Ltd, SABMiller Africa and Asia, SABMiller Europe and the Miller Brewing Company. SAB Ltd consists of seven breweries, which are located within South Africa.
The SAB KM journey
Three years ago, SAB began its knowledge-management journey to support the ever-changing business environment. SAB has six main departments: Finance, Human Resources, Corporate Affairs, Marketing, Sales and Distribution, and Manufacturing. The KM journey is limited to SAB and was introduced within the manufacturing side of the business. The KM team originally consisted of four individuals: the KM team leader and three KM consultants, who are permanent SAB employees, ensuring there is one for every functional area, which are brewing, packaging and engineering.
Some of the key issues facing our business are:
- Rapid globalisation of the company. SABMiller has grown quickly in a relatively short space of time. Whereas SAB operated in four countries 14 years ago, SABMiller now operates in over 40 countries with more than 120 breweries;
- A decentralised organisation. Breweries are taking ownership of business processes;
- No formal mechanisms existed for sharing information or learning from diverse company experiences – Previously, learning was shared informally through one-to-one discussions. This resulted in inefficient information flows between breweries and regions;
- Variations in technology, but identical equipment/similar processes. Breweries have the same equipment in their plants, but, for example, it differs in age;
- Value-adding information was not being harnessed – Pockets of excellence could be found across the breweries without any processes or mechanisms to leverage it.
KM supporting business drivers
Knowledge management is a journey with no clear end state and is an integral part of the business strategy. Although SAB is 109 years old, knowledge management is not a new concept. We have been sharing ideas and collaborating since day one. It is only recently that these informal sharing and collaboration processes have received the knowledge-management title. SAB should not approach KM as a separate initiative or project, it should be an integrated business process that supports and complements the existing manufacturing strategy by enhancing the creation and sharing of knowledge and encouraging collaboration.
The following business issues were identified as key drivers behind the KM journey as a whole at SAB:
Enhancing customer products and services;
Improving manufacturing and its supporting functional strategies;
Developing a lean manufacturing structure;
Ensuring continuous improvement and innovation;
Supporting SAB values:
Customer service and consumer focus;
Innovation and quality;
Encouraging organisational learning, collaboration and sharing to advance the cross-pollination of know-how.
These drivers were identified through the manufacturing strategy and its intents.
Addressing business drivers with KM
To support these drivers we introduced some key knowledge-management principles within the business:
Globalise shared knowledge in SABMiller – Over 300 shared learnings have been published throughout the company in the past three years;
- Move away from insularity to embrace the synergy between breweries – By promoting regional and global networking and collaboration inside and between our operations we are connecting people who are creating and sharing what they know;
- Build a knowledge organisation where our best know-how is available almost instantly – We are ensure that we learn from our experiences;
- Enable faster innovation – To learn from and act on our experiences.
In short, knowledge management at SAB is providing the right know-how, at the right time, to the right person, in the right format within the right context.
Pillars of knowledge management
As an integrated business process, knowledge management consists of people, process and technology as indicated in figure 1. Within any business, the area where all three circles overlap is where you achieve KM synergy. To be successful and realise this synergy, it is important to focus on all three circles or pillars of KM. When KM was introduced at SAB, we decided to start by improving our knowledge-sharing practices. The first knowledge-sharing activity we identified was the shared-learning process.
What is a shared learning?
A shared learning is an innovation, solution to a problem or best practice. The innovation must have a business benefit that offers financial, quality or performance (efficiency) improvements. The newly gained knowledge is shared via a formal SAB shared-learning template. The aim is to enable other breweries to replicate knowledge developed elsewhere. To achieve this we capture knowledge in such a way that it is relevant to the brewery’s priorities. The learnings identified and shared should support the manufacturing goals and strategy within SAB.
Why share knowledge?
We capture and share learning to:
Leverage ideas and innovations for the future to ensure continuous improvement;
- Interface with counterparts in other breweries to improve collaboration.
- Demonstrate the value of give and take. By helping others and making their lives easier they will help you and make your life easier in return;
- Maintain competitive advantage through world-class manufacturing;
- Deliver financial benefits by reducing costs.
Knowledge sharing as a daily business process
To support the knowledge-sharing process (see figure 2), we developed a model to include these main steps:
Identify and create – Knowledge workers are encouraged to come up with innovations to support and improve their daily activities. Line managers, functional teams or forums offer further support. Our senior management has been creating the environment and excitement for the knowledge worker to do this.
Capture – Once a lesson is identified and approved as a potential shared learning, it is captured on a template. In every learning, the messages aims to identify:
- The problem or opportunity;
- What was done to correct or overcome it;
- The benefits realised. Supporting information can also be added here such as the cost of implementation, trends on key performance measures and any additional information required to make the learning complete.
Validation – To ensure that the knowledge shared is correct and of business value, it is validated by the brewery of origin. The purpose of the internal validation process is to ensure:
Knowledge is of value to the business;
Any unanswered issues in the learning are resolved;
Relevant questions have been asked;
Further work is proposed;
The message is clear.
Once the brewery has received the learning it is published immediately. No more reviewing or validation is required.
Store – A newly created learning is published on our SAP enterprise portal – a database of shared learnings with web-based access and search. These lessons are stored with keywords to enable users to find them easily.
Communication – We employ a push/pull system for communications. We push an e-mail message with a link to the learning on the portal to all users within a specific community. In addition we pull users in by enabling them to easily find relevant information by searching.
Feedback – Once published, users are encouraged to review all the learnings, to both rate and comment on them. Users also provide feedback on the content and format of the learnings, which also gives recognition to the originator of the knowledge.
Leverage – Another important aim of this process is to not only share knowledge, but also benefit from it. The breweries evaluate the learning to determine, based on the relevance and regional priorities, whether it will be implemented. Once published, a brewery may implement the learning and take it one step further with additional enhancements, and then publish it as a follow-up learning. This demonstrates that people are using the lessons as well as maintaining continuous improvement.
Specific KM targets support the leveraging phase of this process. The following metrics were identified to measure:
- The number of learnings published by a brewery;
- How many learnings were reviewed (comments and ratings) on the portal;
- How the receiving brewery implemented the learnings;
- Published and the roll out’s effectiveness.
In addition we evaluate the quality of shared learnings. These measures will also be incorporated into the overall monthly performance measures of the brewery.
Benefits from knowledge sharing
We have several success stories from our KM journey to date. One of the best known examples within the company occurred when a knowledge worker optimised the filling process at one of the packaging lines, which resulted in saving the brewery R5m. This learning was shared with all the breweries and similar benefits were achieved at some of them. The benefits we have realised include:
- Capturing and sharing our best know-how among the breweries across the globe;
- Improving performance in terms of cost, quality and performance;
- Spending less time re-inventing the wheel;
- Enhancing corporate memory and retaining skills;
- Building a culture that encourages knowledge sharing;
- Creating a richer and more stimulating workplace;
- Supporting quicker decision making by ensuring knowledge is available to support the individual;
- Improving networking among the breweries (see figure 3).
The implementation of this process has not been plain sailing. It is an ongoing experience, and we have learnt a number of lessons during the implementation and anchoring phases of the knowledge-sharing process:
- The importance of senior-management support – Gaining the buy-in of executive sponsors and business owners is essential;
- KM should be integrated into the manufacturing strategy, brewery charters and goals;
- Every brewery should have super-users, which are seen as the knowledge-management champions in their breweries;
- Knowledge sharing should form part of every individual’s goals;
- Keep the capturing process simple – Knowledge workers at SAB are more accustomed to holding a spanner in their hand than a mouse. Technology is not their forte.
The biggest challenges for this process are:
Creating a knowledge-sharing environment – It is important to view the bigger picture and understand why it is necessary and important to share technical know-how through the capturing process;
Capturing and sharing knowledge while it is still fresh;
Appreciating that shared learnings are about quality and not quantity. Employees should not be encouraged to submit experiences merely for the sake of
Addressing the ‘not invented here’ syndrome and being open to other methods and knowledge assets;
Establishing the capturing process, developing the necessary writing skills and minimising how labour intensive the process is;
Closing the loop, i.e. leveraging published shared learnings by discovering which learnings were implemented by the receiving brewery and the benefits they generated;
Creating a reward and recognition structure to recognise the contributor for the knowledge shared;
Finalising and implementing the knowledge-sharing metrics.
Reward and recognition
Within the people pillar of KM, the need to develop a reward and recognition structure is important. Rewards recognise people for what they share and their collaborative efforts. We have found that KM should be linked to performance-appraisal structures within our breweries. The perception exists that reward and recognition solely involve money and gifts. There is, however, much more to it. Giving money or other benefits is a short-term recognition and is normally only between the individual and the company. Sharing and collaboration efforts should be marketed as a long-term transaction between the individual and the company. Typical ways of rewarding and recognising employees are to:
Write articles about great successes;
Talk about and tell stories;
Nominate the firm’s ‘star’ of the month;
Make individuals visible;
Create heroes of individuals and their achievements.
The key principle of reward and recognition is to accentuate the positive while eliminating the negative.
Role of technology
Many organisations can relate to the saying, ‘can’t live with IT; can’t live without IT’. Technology is one of the three pillars for effective knowledge management and should be seen as the foundation or an enabler. By having the best people and processes, but neglecting the technology element, we fail to gain from the support IT can provide. As shown in figure 5, our enterprise portal fulfils this role in the KM process. The technology evolved from a business intranet, via a 60-minute intranet to the existing portal. The system is web based and does not require any software to be installed on users’ computers. It will eventually be accessible worldwide with the necessary security features.
Not only does the portal serve as a formal document repository, but it also enables employees to collaborate via different applications, such as discussions. We have rolled it out to every user within manufacturing. The specific applications within the portal were developed with the input of the business by conducting user-acceptance testing sessions. The advantage from this was gain user buy-in from the outset.
The importance of technology cannot be underestimated. Our vision for the portal is for it to be the industry benchmark for portal technology, in order to support the business, promote growth, and enhance knowledge sharing and collaboration.
The main challenges facing the IT interface are:
Bridging the gap between the business needs and IT applications;
- Developing portal metrics by focusing on the quality of content, areas of high usage, areas for improvement, usage levels of the targeted users and finding out what they want more of.
Regional KM infrastructure
As mentioned earlier, SAB has decentralised most of its business processes. The Central Office team was reduced from the original four members to one. To support this, knowledge management is not centralised at the head office, but is integrated with the regional activities and processes, with Central Office giving the divisional KM leadership direction. The need for the brewery super-user concept, as illustrated in figure 4, was identified to ensure:
- Breweries, manufacturing-services department (head office) and functional centres of excellence are accountable for knowledge management and the portal (hub technical support is kept as close to the brewery as possible, giving strategic n and operational focus to the business);
- KM and portal activities are integrated into the brewery charter, goals and business processes;
- The anchoring and leveraging of KM processes and the portal within each brewery are supported;
- That the super-user acts as a knowledge management champion or co-ordinator in each brewery;
- KM opportunities are identified and escalated, and local KM capabilities are developed.
To support the need for the brewery’s KM infrastructure, the roles of the champion and the co-ordinator were established in every region. It is important to note that it is not an additional head in the business, but that the output was part of the current make up of the individuals roles and responsibilities within the brewery. The
role of the champion is to ensure the local adaptation and execution of the divisional KM strategy, to act as a conduit between the brewery and central office, providing direction and ensuring alignment across all the brewery’s functional areas. The champion should have direct access to and/or be given a place on the brewery management team.
The co-ordinator provides training and coaching on KM awareness and portal application within the functional area.
Co-ordinators also provide support to execute KM projects and activities within the functional area, ensuring good practices are shared via the knowledge sharing and collaboration processes and to execute the knowledge-management-pilot projects and activities. The co-ordinator is a service function to these functional areas.
Challenges for the super-users
It is important that the management in each brewery supports the super-user concept as it shows their commitment, not only to the super users, but to KM as a whole. Once identified, super users should see KM as an integral part of their activities and not as an add-on or side issue. This should be supported with clear roles and responsibilities and must form part of the individual’s goals. The profile of the super user is also very important and we have identified characteristics that he or she must have. For example, they must:
- Be a respected member of the organisation;
- Have an excellent grasp of the organisational structure, vision and strategy;
- Possess good interpersonal and communication skills;
- A passion for knowledge management;
- Applying knowledge management and using the portal must be part and parcel of his/her job.
- Demonstrate good leadership and influencing skills.
KM Centre of Excellence
To enhance the capability of the brewery’s super users, we created a virtual room on the portal, which is used to enhance sharing and collaboration among users. The members of the super-user community should establish themselves as the centre of excellence for KM.
The main objective of our-knowledge sharing process is to provide knowledge workers with the right know-how, at the right time, in the right format within the right context. This process forms the foundation for all the other KM activities such as peer-assist programmes, project retrospectives, after-action reviews and communities of practice.
Knowledge management at SAB must be seen as a journey with no end-state. The knowledge-sharing process must be embedded in the manufacturing and brewery strategies, charters and goals. It is part and parcel of the day-to-day activities of every individual in the company. Not only does SAB benefit from the knowledge-management processes, but individuals also enjoy similar success.
Hein van Eck is a knowledge management consultant for SAB, South Africa. He can be contacted at email@example.com