posted 1 Feb 1998 in Volume 1 Issue 4
Knowledge Sharing Success in a
The two most frequently asked questions in the field of knowledge management at the moment seem to be: “how do I evaluate the costs and benefits of managing knowledge in my organisation?”; and “how do I establish a culture in my organisation which will allow and encourage knowledge sharing and collaborative creation?” Caroline Morland , Manager, Knowledge Services, Arthur Andersen illustrates some of the ways that these issues can be addressed.
As an illustration of some of the ways these issues can be addressed, this article draws on experience gained from a recent project. The organisation, for which Arthur Andersen undertook this project, is one of the largest global marketing services company, hereafter referred to as WOW. The organisation is involved in main stream advertising and marketing services, direct marketing, brand building, market research and analysis, new-media advertising and other related services. The group has 68 companies in over 200 world-wide locations.
The world of advertising is changing in a number of critical ways. The globalisations of brands, by which I mean the creation of a single brand image and identify to be used all over the world, is increasing. Examples of such brands are Nike, Sony, Microsoft and American Express. The means by which companies are reaching their target customers is increasing: the internet and interactive T.V., increasing use of sponsorship, infomercials and smart direct marketing are now all being used to complement mainstream T.V. and press campaigns.
These changes offer huge opportunities for WOW to give its clients, and account teams with access, knowledge of all key geographic markets, and experience in diverse forms of advertising. The company has all the resources within its structure, the challenge is to mobilise these resources and enable and encourage collaboration across traditional Organizational boundaries to bring them to any one client.
The key sponsors within WOW articulated their issues in terms of:
|How to connect people to other people in the organisation to bring valuable expertise to their clients?|
|How to give account teams sufficient knowledge to identify opportunities to broaden the types of work they were doing with clients, i.e. as the marketing spend of clients diversified to keep or expand WOW’s share of the marketing budget?|
|How to exploit new and emerging media markets such as interactive advertising via the web and T.V.?|
This increased collaboration needed to be achieved in a means that would adapt to individual and specific circumstances and opportunities. It needed to be achieved quickly. It needed to be achieved without damaging the strong cultures and identities of the individual companies within the group.
The organisation had the choice to undergo major structural realignment to orient around clients and or markets. However the need for flexibility, speed and retention of existing cultural strengths undermined any rational for this structural change. A more appropriate alternative was to create a supra structure of virtual communities to share knowledge and expertise.
Building a Business Case
“What is the value of knowledge management to my business?” and “How do I know that what I’m doing is working?”.
As a knowledge manager within an organisation or as a consultant these are two of the critical questions you are either asking yourself on a regular basis or equally importantly they are questions you are being asked by senior management.
The first essential lesson is to tie knowledge to business objectives. “Knowledge to do what?” Tom Stewart makes an appropriate illustration that brings home the point, the ability to drive a car is valuable knowledge to the individual but can not be considered to have value to a company making widgets. Therefore it should not be considered as Organizational knowledge.
A critical first step is to gain a common understanding of the business objectives and dynamics that drive success. Above is a simplified model of some of the dynamics that drive the profitability of relationships for an advertising business. The next step is to examine the business model and identify where and how knowledge might enhance the desired dynamics. For example, sharing lessons learnt about what ideas make a campaign appealing to a pan European market may enable creative designers to create ideas that appeal to wide audiences thus increasing the revenue generated from a given creative cost.
It is critical to make an explicit link between knowledge and business results, and to ensure that this view is commonly held among sponsors of any knowledge management initiatives and among senior management. Once these links are established it is possible to focus knowledge management activities on increasing the effectiveness or efficiency of creating, sharing and exploiting knowledge within the organisation in areas that will contribute to the achievement of business goals.
Building such models of how you believe your organisation works also enables you to monitor the progress and effectiveness of knowledge management initiatives in terms of changes in business outcomes. For example, if Arthur Andersen invested in a program to place a new trainee on every project at no cost to the client, instead of classroom effectiveness, we would expect that to enable us to put forward more experienced teams to prospective clients and therefore convert more opportunities into projects. If the percentage of opportunities converted to projects didn’t improve we would have to look for other contrary factors, question the effectiveness of the on the job training program or question our beliefs that clients value experience.
WOW’s Business Case
In the case of WOW, they had three critical business goals they wished to pursue which they believed knowledge management initiatives could significantly contribute to:
|Generating revenue from the emerging market of new media.|
|Increasing their share of existing clients marketing spend by selling in diverse services.|
|Increasing share of an industry sector spend by acquiring new clients or increasing the range of services brought by existing clients.|
WOW believed that the key to competitive advantage in new and emerging markets was to have leading edge and innovative ideas and expertise. They believed that linking small groups of individuals working in isolation of each other would increase the pace if innovation and would enable grater exploitation of ideas already created, i.e. more account teams would know about potential applications of new media and relate these to opportunities in their own clients. Another critical driver of success in this market was to provide clients unfamiliar with new media with evidence of practical success achieved with other clients.
In the case of increasing share of clients spend, WOW saw it as critical that account managers who had the closest relationship with the client had sufficient knowledge of a range of services to identify opportunities as clients diversified their portfolio of marketing and advertising approaches.
In the case of increasing share of a sector or industry area, the belief was that knowledge learnt on client, project and or campaign has direct relevance for companies in the same sector. For example, direct to consumer marketing is becoming a major initiative for many manufacturers, what is learnt on a campaign for Kodak developing paper can be applied to a campaign by Nescafe to get consumers to request their coffee in restaurants.
What Next? - Building Communities of Practice
Having worked with WOW, at a strategic level to determine areas where a business value could be generated from investing in knowledge sharing efforts, we identified three pilot groups to test our ideas and beliefs.
Membership of the groups was initially determined by an existing interest or experience in the area, and those identified as fulfilling these loose criteria were invited to participate in the community. Participation at any level in the community is voluntary.
To motivate individuals to voluntarily participate requires a clear belief in the value of contributing and a sense of common purpose or desired outcomes. We began to establish a belief in the practicalities and value of collaboration by conducting a workshop with those community members who could attend. The workshops were a balance of a working session to progress the knowledge management strategy for each pilot group and a “show and tell” session to demonstrate some “real” knowledge sharing.
The workshops started with teams demonstrating a number of recent projects considered to be best practice and allowed participants to explore how they might replicate these successes within their own clients and or markets.
The working session aimed to build a sense of community among the participants and to identify valuable knowledge content to create and or share among the members.
The use of the term community is not haphazard. Communities are generally loosely structured groups of individuals, with minimal hierarchy. Individuals within the community take on more or less importance according to the community’s needs at any point in time. The structures and hierarchies are as such flexible. Effective communities have a commonly recognised mutual dependence and benefit of collaboration. There is a common sense of direction or common set of goals motivated by either a common aspiration or a common threat.
For groups to effectively share knowledge and behave as a community of interest or practice it is necessary for them to display the characteristics of a community. The workshop therefore focused on building this understanding of effective communities. As facilitators we asking participants to talk about their own experiences of other communities and to reflect on those that worked well and those that worked badly or broke up and identify the causes for these dynamics. The workshop then walked participants through identifying potential benefits of collaborating and establishing a number of business goals or outcomes they could better achieve together than they could operating independently. These goals evolved into a common vision or purpose for the community.
In order to determine a number of practical interventions or steps the community could take to behave as a community of practice, we asked workshop participants to identify what knowledge would help them achieve their aims. Having brainstormed these knowledge objects we asked the community to prioritise their choices. These choices became the foundation from which we began to build processes to create and share the knowledge.
The workshop has been a first step in community building and has provided direction and progress for the project. There are a number of critical ingredients required to capitalise on this foundation.
Strong leadership is needed to keep knowledge sharing on the agenda as resource limitations begin to bring knowledge management activities into conflict with other support activities.
A committed knowledge manager is required to start the ball rolling, to represent the community and to act on their ideas and needs. This individual must have credibility in the eyes of the community either already be or have the potential to be “one of us”.
A communication infrastructure, whether it be weekly meetings, telephone calls, inter or intranet mail or other mechanisms, to allow the community to use and develop the relationships formed at the first workshop.
Community building is iterative and a reinforcing cycle of behaviours can be established if community members collaborate and find their tasks become easier or the quality of their work becomes richer they will continue to and increase their collaboration. However a vicious cycle can be as easily established if members find collaboration hard work, frustrating and of little benefit. In the initial stages members have to be encouraged to take the first step to look outside their immediate team or environment and knowledge management strategy must focus efforts on areas with the greatest opportunity for business benefit.
There are three basic tenants for an effective knowledge management approach.
|Organizations need to identify and focus on valuable knowledge. As all points organizations need to pose the question “knowledge to do what?” and the answer must contribute to the achievement of strategic business objectives. This enables organizations to make the best use of limited resources.|
|Organizations need to address the human motivation to share knowledge. Communities of interest or practice establish groups of individuals within organizations who experience a mutual benefit from sharing knowledge and or have a common goal of creating new knowledge. Focusing on establishing effective communities is a more sustainable model of promoting sharing behaviours than short-term performance measures and or rewards.|
|Organizations need to address the learning capabilities of individuals and or groups/ teams. The discipline and practice of holistic and systemic assessment, individual and group observation and reflection and of effective communication and conversation skills are lacking in many organizations. (Senge’s and others work on Learning Organizations highlighted many of these deficiencies.)|
Caroline Morland may be contacted at Arthur Andersen, 1 Surrey Street, London WC2R 2PS, UK. Tel: +44 (0) 171 438 8164, fax + 44 (0) 171 438 3400: