posted 19 Jul 2004 in Volume 7 Issue 10
Creating a competent community
Kumba Resources has pioneered an internal knowledge-sharing culture, but it has not all been plain sailing. Judi Sandrock explains how successful communities of practice are the backbone of the company’s KM strategy and identifies the crucial tools for knowledge workers.
Greater sharing of knowledge has been on the cards for some time at Kumba Resources, with the organisation’s first communities of practice (CoPs) established over two years ago. With the formal establishment of a knowledge-management department in September 2003, it became apparent that the main constraint to KM was capacity – not in terms of the number of people, but the actual knowledge of KM processes and techniques.
A dilemma became clear: how could we deliver results and build capacity at the same time? An intensive three-week education programme was undertaken as strategy-development session, which took place towards the end of September 2003. This programme involved visits to other companies, such as South Africa Breweries, Eskom (electricity utility), National Electricity Regulator, Onderstepoort (animal research centre and hospital) and Sasol (petrochemicals).
In South Africa, mainstream knowledge-management initiatives began to be implemented between 1997 and 1998. Companies with extensive experience in KM are few and far between. Kumba decided to benchmark with companies that had been implementing KM from the outset so that they had more experiences to share (both good and bad). In addition, the profile of the business was important. We required highly knowledge-intensive companies but were wary of those in the business of ‘selling’ knowledge, for instance advertising agencies or consulting firms.
We found that in most knowledge-sharing initiatives, the emphasis was on linking people with experts so that problems could be solved faster. The implementation of technology had taken place, but the warning was loud and clear: people, then process, and then technology.
In the knowledge-management strategy session, a number of initiatives were identified. Teams were formed around these initiatives in order to investigate and implement them. Although team members felt overwhelmed by this task, there is only so much one can learn from visits, articles and books. Learning by doing builds experience and credibility.
Initiatives identified in the KM strategy session
Holding an annual internal knowledge-management conference
In South Africa there are a number of KM conferences, most of which are fairly generic in nature, and delegates tend to become victims of the IT solution hard-sell. At Kumba Resources, the aim was to develop a conference for knowledge workers so that they could learn about the value of knowledge sharing, as well as techniques that had been used successfully by businesses of a similar nature. The first conference was held in March 2004 and the response was terrific. The audience was made up of Kumba knowledge workers and the knowledge-management team as well as key customers and suppliers. Speakers included internal community-of-practice members and Melissie Rumizen of Buckman Laboratories. There were presentations from Marina Hiscock of Sasol, Hein van Eck of South African Breweries and Eugene Parsons of System Implementation Specialists. The presentations were followed by an interactive workshop which identified areas needing attention (helping the KM team to clarify its own goals). The conference will become an annual event, and the 2005 conference is already in the planning stages.
Developing a support infrastructure for communities of practice
This included launching new CoPs, supporting the facilitators, measuring the health and success of individual communities and diagnosing and treating problems. We decided to take a less structured approach to developing CoPs than many other South African companies, with the emphasis more on community and the human-behaviour aspect. Team members worked on building a toolkit for community facilitators, and debated the approach to be taken. A number of CoPs were initiated in 2002 to develop a consensus on core competencies. Since then, many other CoPs have emerged from the business when knowledge workers felt that a community would be beneficial. There are currently 21 communities of practice at Kumba Resources.
Conducting an information and knowledge review
The following questions were critical to this initiative: what key knowledge do we have within the business that we cannot afford to lose? What information do people need to have access to for effective decision making? The team found that knowledge workers responded incredibly well to this review. Not only have information needs been mapped, but expertise areas and human networks have also been identified. The entire research-and-development group has been interviewed, and experts at the mines are next on the list.
Building a knowledge map and populating an expert ‘yellow pages’
Kumba Resources’s corporate colours are black and orange, so we chose the name ‘orange pages’ for our expert directory. The information gathered during the information review was invaluable when it came to populating the knowledge map and compiling the orange pages. Students from the University of Pretoria will be conducting a pilot test on the technology chosen for this application and the results will be available shortly after this magazine goes to press.
Incorporating the corporate library and library services into the knowledge-management fabric
A knowledge centre, which is to be the hub of knowledge and information management, has been formed. The chief librarian has been working tirelessly with her team to develop the knowledge centre and the library is now available electronically via the intranet. Despite this, many people like to visit the knowledge centre to read, relax and interact with the team, so a comfortable reading room has been added to the knowledge centre to enable people to escape the office environment. Apart from books and journals, there are also general-interest magazines and two terminals have been installed in the reading room so that employees can undergo training on how to use the internet. Colleagues’ children can also access information for school projects and those travelling from other centres and mines can access their e-mail. The reading room is frequently used as a meeting area as it is promotes conversation without the stuffiness of a conference room. To quote Nancy Dixon, “The space in which we hold the conversation shapes the conversation.”
Identifying knowledge-rich documents and linking tacit and explicit knowledge sources
Within Kumba Resources there are many documents, such as research reports and feasibility studies, which are extremely valuable. The problem is that only very few people (other than the author) are aware that they exist and know where to find them. In cases where the decision has been made not to go ahead with a project, the original feasibility study needs to be available when the project is reassessed a few years later. These valuable documents are being sought so that they can be added to the virtual library and linked to the experts who were involved in their creation.
The development of a business-process approach to document management
Document-management-solution (DMS) implementation needs to support knowledge management and sharing. The KM team has taken business-process ownership and holds workshops with those in the business who wish to implement a document-management system. These workshops stress the business processes involved and do not touch on technology until the very end to ensure that systems are implemented for the right reasons and with user requirements in mind. The positive spin-off has been that user buy-in is much improved and document management has dispelled the need for flamboyant change-management interventions.
The most significant change has been that, for the first time, knowledge workers are being approached to determine their needs and to participate in knowledge-sharing communities. For a long time knowledge workers at one mine were sure that someone, somewhere else in the company must have tackled the same problem. But finding that person and being able to contact them easily was always the stumbling block. The formation of communities of practice has overcome this to a large extent, as knowledge workers have been able to meet others with similar expertise face to face. In addition, the knowledge-management team has a list of CoPs that is soon to be published on the intranet to enable people to find out who makes up the particular community they are interested in. Once the orange pages is up and running (the technology pilot takes place in July 2004, and we hope the implementation will be completed by the end of 2004) it will be much easier to find those in the know.
To support the communities of practice, the knowledge-management team provides the following:
- Promotion of the value of CoPs to encourage new CoPs and members for existing CoPs, including articles in internal Kumba publications, presentations and road shows taking in the various mines and business units;
- Workshops to launch CoPs. These workshops are arranged and facilitated by the KM team in order to take members through the nature of a community of practice, to set their goals and to determine who will take on the specific roles required to build a successful community;
- Training of CoP facilitators. The training workshop is a full-day, interactive session that covers the various roles in a CoP, techniques for community facilitation and an opportunity for facilitators to network and build relationships so that they can assist each other in the future;
- Support for leaders, facilitators and members of CoPs in terms of their roles, community responsibilities, activities and success reporting. From time to time, leaders and facilitators request assistance with their communities, and this support is supplied via an internal consulting model;
- Design of a shared repository in the document-management system. Kumba Resources has chosen Microsoft SharePoint to support its virtual communities. The KM team assists with system design as well as with the training of users and administrators. This intervention only takes place if the community requests assistance, so CoPs do not feel forced to use the technology, and regard it rather as an enabling tool;
- Assistance with community problem diagnosis and treatment. A problem-diagnosis tool is part of the toolkit. Facilitators and members of the KM team use the tools to determine the health of the community, and to identify knowledge-sharing barriers that could impede the success of the community;
- Connecting different CoPs at points of overlap and intersection. The KM team is aware that the formation of many specialised CoPs can result in knowledge silos and thereby exacerbate the usual silo mentality that exists in large organisations. Members of the KM team attend the CoP meetings so that they are aware of the knowledge domains first hand, enabling any overlaps to be detected. On a number of occasions the KM team has facilitated discussion across CoPs to create awareness of the overlaps to prevent duplication.
A Kumba Resources CoP Toolkit has been developed and. Rumizen of Buckman Laboratories was of tremendous help in this regard. Her book The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Knowledge Management was used as a reference for the written content of the toolkit, and Rumizen assisted with the development of the training-workshop materials. During March 2004, while Rumizen was visiting South Africa, she a key member of the facilitation team for the first CoP training workshop. The CoP Toolkit is a physical toolbox, which contains a facilitator’s handbook, CDs with presentations, checklists, articles, icebreakers and interaction tools for establishing values for the community.
The knowledge-management group could not rush headlong into its projects and needed to balance speed of execution with perception management. Knowledge workers are rather unforgiving, and the team knew that with most of the people in the business, it only had one chance: fail, and you don’t get to try again.
For Kumba, the future goals are to complete the information and knowledge review, build the orange pages, map explicit knowledge and, above all, to continue to build and support the organisation’s communities of practice.
The Kumba Resources Knowledge Management Team would like to thank Kumba Resources Management for unwavering backing; Kumba Resources knowledge workers for their willingness to share and learn; Melissie Rumizen of Buckman Laboratories for her unending friendship and support; Hein van Eck of South African Breweries Ltd for teaching us about practical shared learning; Marina Hiscock of Sasol for her openness to share its ‘blue pages’ and KM-development framework; Correy Sutherland of the National Electricity Regulator for helping us to understand the evolution from library to knowledge centre; and Sean King of Capital Performance for transforming the thinking within the team.
1. Rumizen, M., The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Knowledge Management (Pearson Education, 2002)
Judi Sandrock, manager of knowledge management, Kumba Resources