posted 16 Dec 2003 in Volume 7 Issue 4
Harnessing your knowledge assets
JPMorgan Chase understands the value of a firm-wide approach to capturing and sharing knowledge. Jo Singel outlines her involvement in the firm’s organisational development through the creation of a web-based knowledge asset and the founding of a knowledge-broker network.
When I began working at Chase Manhattan in 1998, the firm was a major money-centre bank. In 2000, Chase Manhattan merged with JPMorgan to become JPMorgan Chase (JPMC) a global firm with wholesale financial services, and a strong US consumer business.
Prior to the merger, I was directly involved in several large-scale, change-management initiatives within the corporate education department, and was an internal consultant to specific business units within the firm. One of my major projects, central to the mission of the department, aimed to transform corporate education and the firm from a traditional stand-up training organisation to an effective, distributed e-learning function. The initiative would change the culture and focus of the department from a cadre of experienced course developers to a service organisation that would support business units and learners through multiple methods and media, including desktop technology.
In hindsight, there are three specific initiatives that were central to my KM journey: defining HR’s capabilities for the new environment; creating a knowledge asset to support a measurement centre of excellence; and creating and launching a firm-wide knowledge-broker network. We got the ball rolling by introducing firm-wide knowledge-sharing practices that were senior-led initiatives aligned to our business-specific strategies and objectives. Since writing this case study the firm has recognised knowledge sharing as an important and necessary capability for every leader and employee. The pilots we launched have raised required awareness and we now focus on embedding and institutionalising the concept within the organisation.
The shift from training to e-learning
The vision for corporate education’s broad-based e-learning strategy was to use distributed e-learning wherever feasible to augment traditional stand-up training. The department was moving from development and delivery to a sourcing and support function. We were early adopters of e-learning products and were committed to using innovative tools, including a learning-management system and virtual classroom.
As existing course designers and trainers did not have the necessary knowledge and skills for e-learning we defined the capabilities staff needed to move into this new environment effectively. The project was named ‘the integrated solution’ and included four broad categories of capabilities: marketing, technology, consulting and measurement.
I led the effort with the help of a cross-functional, virtual team to drive the design, creation and implementation of the integrated solution. As we did not yet have the competencies developed in-house to complete the task, I invited Carol Gorelick from Solutions, Inc. to help us. Our first job was to develop a list of the technology capabilities we would need from the people responsible for developing and delivering e-learning programmes. We identified a list of ‘exemplars’, the individuals who best represented the capabilities we wanted to engender within the corporate-education department. We created an interview protocol and individually interviewed the exemplars to develop a matrix of capabilities. While this content was specific to technology skills, we documented the process so that it could be repeated for the marketing, consulting and measurement capabilities. In retrospect, this was an early knowledge-management project for us. We made tacit knowledge explicit and shared it across the organisation. The technology-capabilities matrix was the tangible result of this project.
While working with Gorelick, she introduced me to several individuals who had been founding members of the original KM-transfer team at BP Amoco. As a result, a great deal of knowledge and KM good practice was transferred to my own team.
Creating a knowledge asset
While building the technology-capabilities matrix, our Corporate Learning Council, chaired by our senior VP of corporate education, recognised that to become an e-learning organisation, learning-measurement standards and tools would be critical components. So we formed the Measurement Center of Excellence (MCE) to guide us.
My team of seven professionals was responsible for implementing the recommendations of the MCE for approximately 2,000 HR individuals across the globe. The first step was to develop a system for capturing, analysing and distributing data and information from the feedback participants gave on our training programmes (classroom surveys). This required us to create the documentation so we could administer the system centrally and use it locally. A subsequent activity was to enhance the paper documentation by creating an electronic tool – a knowledge asset – to help HR professionals measure training programmes and the impact of learning within their business units. One component of the electronic knowledge asset, an interview with the senior VP of corporate education, set the context for the initiative. This interview was positioned to help people understand why the concept of ‘measuring learning impact’ (MLI) was important and why the system had been developed. We captured the interview on videotape and included it as a link on the knowledge asset. An extract from the interview:
“The concept for ‘measuring learning impact’ started in one of our lines of business, the retail bank. As the organisation has grown over a number of years, the old way of assessing the quality of programmes are no longer valid given the scale and scope of the organisation. We estimate that we have about 90,000 participants per year in internal programmes. Given this scale, it has become very difficult for individuals to use old methods of analysing programme effectiveness through reaction surveys and eyeballing the results to identify trends. Given the scale, it is virtually impossible to do this with any accuracy. It has become an issue of human capability.”
At the time there were 22 training organisations with over 300 course facilitators. The purpose was to allow individual training departments to evaluate their offerings and allow the corporate-education department to leverage training resources by:
Avoiding duplication of efforts;
- Not re-inventing programmes and retaining the best (such as sales training);
- Evaluating measures for similar programmes within the firm;
- Analysing trends;
- Managing facilitator performance against benchmarks;
- Providing feedback on programmes that need to be ‘fixed’, improved or eliminated.
I was asked to prepare an overview of the project for the knowledge asset. We recorded my response on video and included it as a link on the electronic tool:
“A couple of years ago, a learning council comprised of senior HR leaders (line and corporate) was brought together to talk about our overall learning strategy. It asked, what would a learning strategy be for the firm? What does a learning strategy mean for us? How would we measure its effectiveness? How would we know that the organisation was getting the right learning products, in the right way and quantity? What could we do collaboratively to give us important feedback on our collective efforts and leverage the results? To help answer these questions the learning council created several centres of excellence. These centres have become the key to understanding whether our learning strategy is having an impact or not. The measurement centre of excellence, in particular, has helped us accomplish our goal.
The conversation then became more tactical. We recognised that we needed to create a system to capture data via reaction surveys to determine how people view the products and services we were providing. We faced a significant challenge: how to capture data across 22 separate training organisations and compile the feedback so that people can use it to make informed decisions about their products.
To ensure that we would ‘walk the talk’, the MCE established a set of standards. We created a benchmark to help answer a number of questions: what kind of reactions do we wanted from our employees? Do our training events meet their personal and business needs? Are we on target on both the corporate and business side? Do we have synergy? Can we get this feedback and look at it honestly? As a result of this dialogue, we created the ‘measuring learning impact’ tool to collect the feedback we needed to address these questions. We needed to automate the process and use measurement tools to analyse our effectiveness across geographies and programmes. We needed to identify where we had issues, where we had high-quality programmes, and where our programmes were meeting and failing to meet the needs of the business and individual.”
One of the first tasks that my team accomplished was to create a procedure manual and introduce the key stakeholders to the objectives of the new system and goals of the MCE. The ‘measuring learning impact’ tool was completed and introduced to all business units through a community of practice focused on implementing the procedures and ensuring that quality, the philosophy and approach were all maintained. The team acted as the liaison between the outside vendor, who processed the documents for each training course, and the co-ordinators in business units who used the reports generated by the MLI system to analyse their training effectiveness. My concern at this point was how the system would remain operational since my team was to be disbanded. We built an electronic tool to document the process so that it was less dependent on staff members to maintain. It emphasised ‘ease of use’ by lines of business co-ordinators as well as training organisations that would be responsible for implementing the process bank-wide.
Creating the MLI knowledge asset
We created a knowledge asset that captured the process, knowledge and experiences of the corporate HR group managing the MLI process firm-wide. While we were capturing the information, we documented the methodology so that each line of business could create its own section of the knowledge asset to describe its unique processes and how it administers and utilises the MLI system locally. Our goal was to create a sustainable product and develop a process that would allow the knowledge asset to be updated periodically as people used the results of the system to increase training effectiveness. It would be a living system.
The project began with a working session to understand, through a repetitive-questioning process, the tasks involved, the approaches utilised, and the tacit knowledge held by various team members who worked closely with the MLI process. As a result, the MLI process was mapped against a quarterly measurement cycle of tasks and activity steps to form a process diagram. This provided users with a repeatable process for gathering data and accessing reports to give feedback on how well our training programmes were doing against our benchmarks.
Activities that helped us achieve success:
- We conducted meetings with individual members of the broader MLI team to verify the process from the initial diagram. We identified the tacit knowledge about the process we had failed to capture. We were then able to incorporate it into the knowledge asset;
- Many adjustments had to be made to the original process diagram. We learnt that flexibility was critical to success;
- By specifically asking individuals about their feelings and experiences, we were able to augment the hard data with stories and insights that we might not have collected otherwise;
- The sessions were recorded and later transcribed so that we could include representative quotes in the knowledge asset. This made the asset come alive for individuals who were going to use the content on a daily basis. It also created credibility within the broader HR community for the team members involved;
- The outcome of the working sessions was a high-level process diagram with detailed process descriptions at the task level;
- We invited feedback from a new team member, who was to assume responsibility for the knowledge asset for the next quarter. As she was able to follow the flowchart and descriptions with fresh eyes she helped ensure the information was clear and understandable to new users.
A by-product of this process review, and a significant outcome of the project, was the realisation that the spreadsheet-based system that we were using for collecting and submitting the data to the external vendor for processing, was time consuming and created potential errors. As a result, a parallel project was conducted to convert the system to a Lotus Notes shared database system at about the same time that the knowledge asset was introduced to the community.
Elements of the knowledge asset included:
- Context: voices of the project sponsor and project manager;
- The role of corporate education: the administrative process;
- Line of business: processes and stories;
- Library: all documents related to the process categorised for easy access;
- People: everyone who works on the initiative with pictures and contact details and often a link to a video.
The knowledge asset was completed and launched on the corporate intranet in early 2000. By the end of the next quarter members from both teams had taken on other positions and I had moved to corporate HR. In a retrospect (a formal learning activity that takes place once a project is complete), new team members reported that they were able to run the system successfully, an accomplishment in itself, and had saved six working days in the process. Instead of two people managing the system, one individual was able to assume responsibility and devote about 25 per cent of their time to its upkeep.
This provided me with a documented example of the value knowledge assets bring to a KM strategy. I then went on to co-ordinate the development of several knowledge assets to support existing HR processes and systems. One of which is the JPMC poll used across the firm each year to assess employee attitudes. The executives responsible for the poll recognised the benefit of creating electronic self-service environments for HR professionals and employees. The creation of a knowledge asset was identified as a way to provide an improved service and increase the value and productivity of skilled professionals within their groups.
The knowledge-management catalyst
As we were developing and implementing the MLI knowledge asset, I learnt more about the knowledge-management architecture developed at BP. I believed we could use their processes of learning before, during and after an event. We were already creating knowledge assets and had communities of practice to transfer and share knowledge in centres of excellence. I wanted to learn more specific details and engage other people in the bank.
We delivered a training programme for my staff and a few corporate and line-of-business participants interested in knowing more about knowledge management. Nick Milton, who developed the BP training programme, facilitated the two-day experiential programme. Participants learnt about the philosophy of integrating people, process and technology, developing a knowledge-management architecture, and collecting and packaging knowledge. They also took part in a simulation, SkyReachia, which is a concrete example of learning before and during a project. During the SkyReachia activity, teams competed against themselves and each other while they learnt to build a tower from paper and rubber bands. The simulation includes benchmarks from more than 100 teams in different industries that have completed the exercise. The feedback from the training was extremely positive. One participant from an IT R&D unit at the firm recognised the significance of integrating people, process and technology components in the work he was doing on technology. This connection led to the next step in my KM journey. I worked with R&D staff to develop a strategy for using KM tools more widely at the firm. I represented the HR perspective.
The knowledge-broker network
The KM taskforce was spawned early on from the firm’s development and roll-out of an executive-led, high-level leadership programme for senior individuals. The taskforce was charged with helping a large firm feel smaller to its employees by removing some of the barriers and obstacles to sharing knowledge and information. It was made up of 63 individual business unit decision-makers and high-level communications, marketing and HR executives. The taskforce implemented several ideas that had originated in the leadership class through a project-management office (PMO), which comprised three individuals supported by a business analyst and led by a senior sponsor from our executive committee. The PMO represented human resources, IT R&D and the corporate intranet. I represented HR on the KM PMO. Our project team focused on three streams of work: behaviour and culture, awareness and the knowledge-broker network. I was responsible for the ‘behaviour and culture’ work stream that developed several initiatives including the development of key indicators to knowledge-sharing behaviour in our JPMC poll. It also
incorporated knowledge sharing as a success attribute in our 360-degree feedback instrument. We implemented a business-unit survey to measure the quality of knowledge shared across and within business units. The ‘awareness’ work stream spawned several initiatives to build an awareness of the power of the web for connecting knowledge-sharing activities and people. It also promoted a personal web page that encouraged sharing at an individual level and other web-based collaboration tools to aid senior leaders intent on building a ‘one firm – one team’ culture.
The purpose of the knowledge-broker network was to answer the client-facing questions of employees involved in potentially revenue-generating activities. The taskforce realised that a knowledge broker needed to be someone with experience in their individual business function, and be credible inside and outside the organisation. Knowledge brokers were required to have content expertise, and positional power and influence. To ensure we created a successful initiative, we came up with the following descriptions:
Roles and responsibilities: a description of what is expected from individuals;
- Measurement strategy: metrics for defining the success of the network;
- Technology: a communications system for brokers;
- Communications and marketing strategy: activities to raise awareness of the knowledge-broker network , outline how to reach brokers and the websites, and support feedback from network users;
- Community-building: a no-frills process for the knowledge brokers to communicate with each other, share lessons learnt and experiences, and provide feedback to the head business broker and PMO.
The knowledge-broker network was piloted over a three month period and contained to the Americas region. By this point, members of the taskforce began to nominate individuals to participate in the network. A knowledge broker was appointed to represent each business unit and functional area.
Nobody could predict what volume of activity there would be when the network was made available to thousands of employees. Initially, we were concerned that brokers would be inundated with messages and people would stop them in hallways with questions. To avoid this, we established a backup broker within each business unit to support the primary broker and respond to any and all employee and cross-business-broker enquiries. The backup handled times when the primary broker was on vacation or business trips, or when there was an overflow of enquiries.
Our responsibilities at the project-management office were to manage the network’s volume and types of activity, employee-satisfaction levels, and the knowledge broker’s feedback and satisfaction with its administration. It was necessary to manage our communications and marketing while also making the network visible, available and easy for employees to understand without overwhelming brokers with enquiries. A team of HR interns helped design the measurement strategy, approach and process along with members of our PMO.
A simple Lotus Notes database and e-mail address for each business unit and functional area enabled employees to address their questions directly to the designated mailbox. Our PMO intern and network facilitator had manager rights and access to all enquiries. This approach allowed us to:
- Monitor activity to ensure employee enquiries received quick responses;
- Perform quick surveys of participants to guarantee the right things were performed and measured;
- Pull anecdotal stories for publication and feedback to executives;
- n Measure activity volumes to ensure overall enquiries remained within scope (client-facing questions only);
- Make recommendations to local communications and marketing groups on the volume and kinds of activity (e-mails, bulletins, banner ads on corporate intranets, flyers and lobby posters) that would be appropriate .
Communications and marketing
Our PMO realised that it was important to time communications and maintain consistent, simple messages on the purpose, value and business reasons for the initiative and provide guidance for local communications efforts. It was a challenge to ensure that communications were aligned to the needs of the business unit or functional area.
Local efforts produced posters for the lobbies, and laminated cards with the names, phone numbers and e-mail addresses of the brokers. Interviews with knowledge brokers and articles were posted on the corporate intranets. An e-mail explaining the purpose, value and use of the network was sent to all employees by the senior sponsor and the names of the nominees were presented to the firm’s executive team. We made the knowledge brokers visible to the organisation as well as recognise them for participating in the pilot.
A kick-off meeting was held for both primary and backup knowledge brokers where the senior sponsor, head broker facilitator and PMO were introduced. The brokers decided that responses would be made within 24 hours. We set up a weekly call-in to give the head broker the opportunity to respond to questions and concerns and monitor the volume and types of activity.
From time to time our PMO was asked to provide metrics and anecdotes to participants in the leadership class. This offered visibility into the initiative and ensured that its purpose and business values were communicated to senior leaders at the firm. Via the employee survey and weekly activity monitoring, we found that of the 300-plus enquiries made to the network, approximately 80 per cent were within the scope of the knowledge-broker initiative. The majority of these enquiries crossed business borders.
We decided that as soon as the initiative was declared successful, a more rigorous approach would be applied, which would, among other things, measure the revenues generated as a result of cross-business-unit activity. Halfway through the pilot, the head sponsor and our PMO held a check-in meeting that allowed brokers to informally network at a cocktail reception and share information about their various businesses. The meeting was a great success. It created a greater sense of community among brokers and provided a venue for them to learn about each other’s businesses and establish relationships.
The firm-wide launch
Our PMO conducted an after-action review to identify what activities worked well and what needed improving if we were to implement the initiative across the firm. The PMO, head broker and sponsor met to discuss the results of the pilot. If it did continue, we had to determine how it would be expanded. Based on employee and knowledge-broker feedback, the network was extended to Europe and Asia.
A new head broker was nominated and I became head facilitator. The knowledge broker’s role was widened to include broader participation from across the firm. Over 90 per cent of the original brokers volunteered and were re-nominated. I streamlined the measurement strategy and established closer links to new initiatives with similar goals to ensure the sustainability of the network’s purpose. An expanded infrastructure was put in place to ensure local ownership in the regions while maintaining consistent measurement, communications and strategy. Executive members are still interested and involved in the effort as the knowledge-broker network continues to be a success. My personal and professional journeys have yet to end.
The virtual classroom
The virtual classroom is a technology application that permits classroom facilitators and students to be in different locations but be connected via individual PCs. The tool allows most traditional classroom capabilities to take place. For example, students can symbolically raise a hand to ask questions and instructors can address students privately or respond and engage the entire class. The ultimate goal is to optimise the face-to-face training time for students and trainers while leveraging the learning resources of internal staff and vendors.
The measurement centre of excellence
The Measurement Center of Excellence was made up of representatives from HR departments across the firm. We identified the need to institute a formal process for analysing the value of training investments, the effect of training courses on individuals’ performance and the performance of trainers within and across the organisation. The centre sponsored a project to address these issues and develop benchmarks, standards and processes for measuring training initiatives and facilitators across the firm. The centre of excellence recommended that corporate education develop and implement a process and system to measure and provide reports to senior training executives on the impact of our education offerings to employees.
Jo Singel is vice president, organisational development at JPMorgan Chase. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org