posted 16 May 2008 in Volume 11 Issue 8
KM Olympics: A culture transformation
If your KM programme is stalled and you feel like you need a Herculean effort to jumpstart (pun intended) the system, become a Hercules. Launch your own parallel com[petition during the Olympic Games in Beijing - the KM Olympics.
By Jerry Ash
After centuries of debate, we don’t know for sure if it were Hercules – the Roman son of Zeus, the Egyptian god Herakles, the younger Greek god Heracles or the so-called Hercules Daktyl (or dactyl, meaning the size of a finger) – who originated the world-famed Olympic Games.
But during the run-up to the October 2008 Olympics in Beijing we are pretty sure who started the ‘KM Olympics’ – Rudolf D’Souza and his knowledge management (KM) team at Eureka Forbes in Koramangala, Bangalore, India, four years ago. And given the results of those Games, the founder could be called ‘Team Dactyl’ because it was due to the KM team’s Herculean accomplishment that the far-reaching and highly effective KM event in history was carried out – Eureka Forbes’ ‘KM Olympics’.
Like MindTree’s Raj Datta, also a KM specialist in India (see IK, March 2008), Rudolf thinks KM works best when it’s fun – and he had fun in mind when he and his KM team organised a corporate competition of Olympic scale.
While KM had been an active initiative at Eureka Forbes since 1997, by 2004 people were mistakenly looking at the KM crew as service providers and problem-solvers – ?This is my problem, so you solve it.’ The petitioners weren’t themselves engaged. In just 15 days (plus the run-up, of course), they were very engaged!
An innovative pioneer
The company is now in its 27th year, starting as a joint venture between Electrolux and the Tata Group. The business model was direct sales – something new to
Nearly three decades later the company is logging annual sales of $250m based on three super brands – the Euroclean vaccum cleaner, the Aquaguard water purifier and Eureka Forbes Limited itself.
Eureka Forbes is now
All of that has been accomplished through one-to-one sales, an enigma in direct sales because no other company sells durables direct to homes in such large volumes. Because of its unique status, it is the focus of a case study recently published by the
With such an unconventional business model, the question followed whether KM could match the creativity and innovative mindset of an organisation like Eureka Forbes. In too many companies the question is different: How can KM blast management loose from the dogma of the past and move into the new world of creative and innovative enterprise?
The genesis of knowledge management at Eureka Forbes began when the managing director visited some of the world’s most successful companies in 1997 as part of a plan to enhance the company’s total quality management (TQM) mission. But instead of leading to renewed emphasis on TQM, the executive’s tour laid the foundation for the formal launch of a knowledge portal in 2002 – Euroshare.
For 18 months the portal was promoted internally through traditional methods including incentives and competitions, but participation was limited to those who had computers (a particularly difficult problem in India). While there was a presence of Eureka Forbes leaders in the field, Euroshare was limited to those few who had computers and understood the value of the portal.
The turning point came at the annual managers conference with 400 managers from throughout India in attendance. In a spot survey only six managers said Euroshare actually benefitted them. It was obvious the Euroshare portal would not succeed unless all 8,000 field people had computers or its benefits were made universally accessible through the people network of Eurochamps. All Eureka Forbes people are called Eurochamps.
“Thereafter, there has been no looking back,” D’Souza says.
Euroshare is unique in the KM field because of its creative programmes such as the ‘Knowledge Olympics’ where 2,800 participants vied for gold, silver and bronze medals in 2004; the ‘Everest Expedition’ where six winners among 3,500 competitiors won trips to Mount Everest; and the recent ‘Euro Senate’ elections which were run as a full-fledged election campaign in the company with ballot box, campaigning and voting.
The Euro Senate is the voice of the Eurochamps – a parliament used by top management to hear field concerns and get direct feedback for the decision-making process. Conversely, major field concerns are presented as ‘bills’ to management. It is a dynamic alternative to the static suggestion box.
The KM team consists of three people: D’Souza, general manager, KM, the creative genius of the group with multiple exposure to sales and marketing; Shubha Ashraf, a marketing wiz before opting for Euroshare; and P.S. Sukumar, a thoroughbred Eurochamp having completed 22 years with the company.
“The programmes actually evolved after a lot of questioning and listening to users in every function,” D’Souza says. “Therefore, the programmes have good acceptance. When programmes are executed in harmony with the culture of the company, then resonance occurs. ‘Knowledge Olympics’ was a good example.”
Background to the ‘Knowledge Olympics’
The Eurochamps in different functions were constantly challenging the KM team: “This is my problem. You are from the KM Department. Tell me how to solve this.”
Frustrated but intrigued, the KM team started writing down and collecting such challenges. The team believed the answers existed with the employees themselves . . . if only they could be reached, if their knowledge could be explored, if their solutions could be implemented.
The Olympic Games of Athen, Greece were the brainwave that created the first opportunity. In 2004, at the June quarterly review meeting of the Euroshare team, leaders explored the idea of using the forthcoming Olympic Games as a model for a KM programme. They talked about the famed Olympic Games as a “feast of sporting challenges, conducted in a short time (15 days), where champions give their best, compete against each other in their specialised disciplines for the glory of their country and the overall improvement in the standards of their sport.”
Then why not the ‘Knowledge Olympics’? They thought of it as “a feast of knowledge challenges, held over 15 days, where Eurochamps compete against each other in their specialised disciplines for the overall improvement in standards, leading to the benefit of the customer, improvement in personal competence and thereby the organisation.”
Once the theme was conceived, developing the event was the next step. The challenge for the KM team was to recruit enthusiasm and involvement for the event. Two factors worked in their favour:
The fact that almost all the newspapers were devoting at least two pages to the Games of the XXVIII Olympiad;
The creative organisation of the ‘Knowledge Olympics’
The 15 geographic regions of the organisation were each designated a ‘country’. Even the corporate offices at Mumbai and Bangalore and the production factories were designated ‘countries’, bringing the number to 18 competing 'nations’.
Developing the ‘Knowledge Olympics’
Development of the ‘Knowledge Olympics’ involved two parts – organising the events themselves and marketing the programme.
All the challenges and functions that had been thrown at the KM team in the past were made into ‘Games’, then named after Olympic sports to reinforce their connection to the Olympic competition. The name itself had some connection to the event. For example, the name Decathlon was chosen for competition mapping because there were at least 10 different functions a team had to complete in the category. Pole Vault was chosen for an event where entrants had to leap over challenges using knowledge gained, and so on.
The events were divided into three main disciplines:
Managing director, Challenger Series (seven challenges) represented pressing management concerns;
Sprints (eight challenges) represented functional concerns;
Other Events (11 challenges) represented major learning areas.
Each event had an ‘Olympic Marshal’ to promote the event, encourage participation, mentor the participants, issue clarifications and do the preliminary judging. A major object of the events was to cause communities of practice to be formed with the marshal as the mentor.
As in the Olympics, the prizes were gold, silver or bronze medals, as well as certificates. Additionally, the winner would be sponsored by the company for relevant training at one of the top-10 management institutes in India.
Marketing the ‘Knowledge Olympics’
Once the events were organised, the KM team marketed internally with a fully-fledged campaign using all the elements of an Olympics: a mascot, an ‘Olympic’ oath, country flags, a special ‘Knowledge Olympics’ screensaver (in lieu of the traditional commemorative stamps), the Knowledge Torch, promotional video, an announcment poster, participant badges, participant T-shirts, a ‘Games’ rules and regulation book, and a PowerPoint presentation for the formal launch.
The ‘Knowledge Olympics’ coincided with the Athens Olympics in August, 2004. On the first day the ‘Knowledge Olympics’ was formally launched in 18 different locations. At headquarters the launch was conducted by the managing director and senior VPs. The launch was similar to the Olympics’ opening ceremonies in that it included the unveiling of the mascot and screensaver, handing the country flags and participant badges to each player, ending with taking the ‘Olympic Oath’ and the lighting of the ‘Flame of Knowledge’.
The response was overwhelming. There were 2800 participants (out of the 5,000 employees at that time) competing in the ‘Knowledge Olympics’. It was undoubtedly the single biggest KM program in the world, sustained for a consecutive period of 15 days in 157 locations. Each event more than met the original objective for which it was created.
The emotions aroused at the events were in the Olympic spirit of competition, teamwork, mutual understanding, a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play. This continues to contribute in the building of a knowledge-based organisation.
‘Decathlon’ (on competition tracking) even had two teams from the company’s advertising agency taking part. According to the senior VP marketing, “in 15 days the Knowledge Olympics helped us gather information on competition that we had been requesting for 10 years!”;
‘Discus Throw’ (on profiling key customers) received eye-opening and penetrative profiles that have become major training resources;
‘Hurdle Race’ (product service guide) was enriched by a video of the complete servicing of one of the recent top end products done entirely by a service technician. This showed that the creation of service manuals can be de-centralised;
In the ‘Marathon Race’ (updating information on the Euroshare Knowledge Exchange) the quantity doubled in 10 days above what had been collected in two years;
In ‘Heptathlon’ 1.75 million rubles of business income was recorded from ‘Recovered Customers’ – prospects whose last contact was six months or more distant;
‘Medley Race’ (a joint effort of Accounts and IT teams) was the showpiece of the Knowledge Olympics with 140 out of 149 of the organisation’s Customer Response Branches participating;
During the ‘Celebration Series’, a new range of purifiers was launched based on the winning entry in the ‘Freestyle’ event which drew employee ideas on any aspect of business or potential.
Five multi-disciplinary ‘Dream Teams’ were formed to carry forward the long-term programs launched by the ‘Knowledge Olympics’ which required multi-functional expertise. Those teams are still composed of the original ‘Knowledge Olympic’ winners. The teams also serve as a leadership development initiative.
D’Souza reports the participants overall have expressed a lasting sense of fulfillment and KM buy-in from the KM Olympics experience. It has allowed people to put on their thinking caps and to feel a part of the policy making process since so many of the initiatives were implemented following the ‘Knowledge Olympics’. And it changed the way the company works – forever.
Sales people tend to have one central strategy – more sales calls mean more sales. Outside sales is a lonely business and success seems to depend mostly on self-reliance. Time spent on something other than selling is often viewed as time wasted. “Leave manufacturing and marketing to the other guys,” salespeople are heard saying. “We are out here at the point of sale. That’s our job.”
It follows, then, that a sales-driven organisation would face a hard sell engaging field people in something as esoteric as knowledge management, much less something so silly as ‘Knowledge Olympics’.
Those are time-honored points of view and the success of Eureka Forbes in breaking through the collective barrier in such spectacular fashion is not only laudable, but eye opening. KM requires culture change and few have found the formula that would so swiftly move thousands of dispersed workers from isolation to connectivity.
And more. The run-up and the 15 days of the ‘Knowledge Olympics’ produced immediate results and changed the way the company works not just internally but in the field.
It is roughly three months from now to the Olympic Games in Beijing. Can you organise and deploy a ‘Knowledge Olympics’ event for your organisation in time to catch the excitement of the 2008 Games? Sure you can! August 8-24. Go for it!
Rudolf D’Souza can be contacted at email@example.com.