posted 26 Oct 2006 in Volume 10 Issue 2
Cover story: Fusion cooking
Cadbury Schweppes turned to KM and collaboration when it needed to improve team working following a series of mergers and acquisitions.
By Jerry Ash
Sure. Knowledge management (KM) is a no-brainer for consultancies, technology companies and organisations heavily engaged in research and development. But what about less obvious venues? Like, producers of consumer products? No, not electronics or automobiles but, let’s say, candy bars and soft drinks?
Let’s go there.
Cadbury Schweppes is among the world’s largest confectionery companies and has strong regional beverage businesses in the Americas and Australia, as well as Europe. The company’s history stretches back more than 200 years – before the Napoleonic wars – to 1783 when Jacob Schweppe in Geneva, Switzerland, perfected his process for manufacturing carbonated mineral water.
Much later, in 1824, John Cadbury opened a business in Birmingham, England, selling cocoa and chocolate. Both were household names by the time the two companies merged in 1969 to form Cadbury Schweppes.
Today the company’s products – including brands such as Cadbury’s Dairy Milk, Schweppes, Halls, Trident, Dr Pepper, Trebor, Dentyne, Butterkist, Snapple and Bassett’s – are enjoyed in almost every country in the world. But don’t let the heritage fool you. Cadbury Schweppes is not as old-fashioned as one of Cadbury’s cream eggs.
Since the 1969 merger, the company has expanded fast via a combination of organic growth and acquisition, a process that has intensified in the past 20 years. In the past two decades the company has acquired almost 50 brand names, including such icons as Mott’s apple juices, Canada Dry pale ginger ale, 7 Up and Snapple iced teas.
At the same time, the company judiciously disposed of several other business units, yet still managed to retain its number three status in the key soft drinks industry in the US (behind PepsiCo and Coca-Cola). All this activity meant that Cadbury Schweppes not only had to shuffle its portfolio, but its operations and workforce as well.
In the acquisition of so many competing brands, Cadbury Schweppes hoped to build collective strength by bringing the businesses closer together to increase collaboration, build relationships, provide opportunities for interaction and facilitate the exchange of ideas across former boundaries.
Science and technology
If the very presence of KM within a confectionary and soft drinks company comes as a surprise, then the fact that Science and Technology (S&T) forms one of the six global business units in the company, may also be quite a revelation, too.
Scientists and technologists are the master chefs behind the modern food industry. Their creations are usually concocted in response to what marketing departments determine that customers (retailers) and consumers really want.
The iterative process starts with a high-level brief from marketing on what products need to be invented or innovated upon in order to create the next ‘big thing’ in confectionery or beverages.
However, new product development involves a lot more than just making something that tastes good. There are issues involving food science, processing capabilities, ingredient and packaging technology, microbiology, chemistry, regulatory issues, nutrition, and consumer and ‘sensory sciences’ that all need to be resolved.
Furthermore, new ingredients and packaging designs are appearing all the time and S&T personnel need to remain abreast of all the opportunities offered by such developments – they could provide a key competitive advantage or solve an age-old headache. They also frequently propose new or adapted products back to marketing for consumer research.
Once S&T has experimented, designed and approved a new product, specifications have to be documented to enable the supply chain to match the product to the approved standards, including formula, quality standards, regulatory compliance, permitted claims or statements, as well as processing conditions, storage conditions and shelf life.
Much of that knowledge is the same in most markets, but many standards vary. For example, some familiar products do not taste the same in different parts of the world, which is often due to differences in the local palate, regulations or the environment.
So when someone bites into a candy bar, they are biting into multiple layers of knowledge. At Cadbury Schweppes, S&T is at the heart of the knowledge-exchange process, a good niche (800 employees out of 60,000) where a knowledge-sharing culture could be developed and then spread company-wide. The company began that journey just two years ago.
Initially, many of the newly acquired businesses continued to operate as they had prior to becoming part of Cadbury Schweppes. Instead of operating as a single, unified business, the ‘new’ Cadbury Schweppes operated as a loose federation of assorted cultures. Business units and people did not work in unison with shared knowledge, values and practices.
Over time a series of corporate programmes were developed to try and begin to address the development of a single global Cadbury Schweppes identity. This resulted in the appointment of David Macnair as chief science and technology officer.
The creation in 2004 of the global S&T function with a seat among the global leadership team was a significant evolutionary step for the company, one that enabled collaboration to begin across different business-unit boundaries.
Arthur Shelley, technical-knowledge manager for Cadbury Schweppes in the Science and Technology unit, was asked to develop a strategy to leverage benefits from the knowledge capital vested across S&T’s resources.
He and a small group of passionate believers proposed a specific programme that, they hoped, would increase ‘interactions’ between product scientists, enabling them to share knowledge, assist with problem solving and collaborate on development projects. They would build networks and communities that would gather people from each of the regional operating units and enable them to interact regularly.
The evangelicals’ approach
Because of the large size of the organisation and limited resources, it was not thought possible to immediately drive a major change programme company-wide. The plan was to change behaviours among individuals with similar interests and then to widen the scope of the programme based on the successes of an initial small group.
Shelley and the KM team adapted the thinking of David Snowden (now at Cognitive Edge, but then working at IBM’s Cynefin Centre) but without trying to teach the theory behind it. The main strategy focused on building networks and communities, skills and capabilities, leverage and a knowledge catalogue.
The KM team adapted the Cynefin framework (see ‘Skill set’, page 19), but a highly simplified version, Shelley admits. However, it was felt to be a good way of formally initiating knowledge sharing within Cadbury Schweppes. “It involved getting people together and allowing them to interact within certain boundaries, but without applying much control. As the interactions occur, the behaviours and outputs are observed and positive trends encouraged,” says Shelley. “Activities that are not considered to be beneficial are quietly discouraged.”
Getting support was easy when the principles were being discussed and thrashed out, but became more difficult when it came to practical implementation. “Everyone will agree that collaborating more and developing better relationships is a great thing to do, a no-brainer. However, the practicalities (time and money) and benefits of putting people face to face with people on the other side of the world is actually a tough sell, especially when the outcomes are not clearly defined up front,” says Shelley.
Of course, admits Shelley, a community-builder doesn’t know exactly what the outcomes will be when he embarks on his task – that is not down to him. “True innovation comes from the interactions themselves and is unpredictable,” he says.
But the KM team had to generate support for the communities and coax people to use it. To do this, Shelley’s team had to create ‘unmissable’ opportunities for staff, which required a degree of opportunism in itself when, initially, adoption among staff proved disappointing: “There was some discontent about who got to go to the global technical conference (held in the UK only once per year and limited to just 200 of S&T’s 800 personnel). We offered to make the presentations available live on the portal and available to everyone in S&T globally as they were being presented,” says Shelley.
Such an initiative proved wildly popular and that momentum has been maintained, he says. “There was a sudden sharp increase in usage of the portal and many happier people across the world as they had immediate access to what the scientific leaders presented.” Since that potent demonstration of the communities’ potential benefits the level of portal usage has continued to increase.
This underlined a key lesson from the project: Shelley says that people ‘don’t get it’ unless the logic is clear and the tangible benefits are highlighted. There needs to be a vision aligned to the business strategy and to generating benefits for both staff and the organisation.
Of course, the initiative encountered a multiplicity of other barriers, too. “We did not attempt to address all of these for all people because it would have taken too much effort. We proposed specific projects and only addressed the barriers that applied to those projects,” says Shelley.
Barriers and resistance to knowledge sharing from staff included such claims as:
“I’m wearing too many hats already. I’m too busy, need to deliver for my boss”;
“Don’t know anyone I can benefit from”;
“Knowledge tried before without benefits”;
“Community means portal and document management”;
“Independent regions separately managed, won’t engage in interaction”;
“People have a one-page summary mentality”;
“Just common sense. I don’t need formal processes”;
“Nice idea, but too idealistic.”
To address these issues the global KM team had to be pragmatic but flexible, especially in the early stages. Barriers kept some communities from getting off the ground. Others moved forward under tender care.
Leadership was the key to overcoming many of these barriers. “[But] competent community leaders don’t grow on trees and if they did they might not be found in the top branches,” says Shelley. The KM team was looking for people with strong interpersonal skills more than technical skills. Leaders could be found anywhere in the organisation, but often the ‘perfect person’ was already engaged in too many other projects. Since finding someone available with the ideal skill set was difficult (see ‘Skill set’, opposite), community managers had to be trained and developed into the role.
Gathering together the right community members was also critical. Shelley says the KM team initially tried to push people into sharing, but quickly learned that such an approach simply didn’t work – the ‘carrot’ worked better than the ‘stick’. “The harder you push, the more resistance you generate,” says Shelley. “We adjusted by selecting those with an interest in sharing and gave them an opportunity to collaborate on projects.”
Initial meetings went well because the activity was novel, a welcome change from daily routine. The community groups were chosen with similar interests and they were enthusiastic about driving change. However, unless change could be got underway early, enthusiasm tended to wane.
“This is why it is critical to get the community membership to agree to the purpose and initial priorities early,” says Shelley. “Change programmes usually spiral. Success generates more success and increased participation. On the other hand, intervention may [sometimes] be necessary to bring the community back on point.”
Management and governance
A mix of management techniques is being used to oversee the communities. “More than anything else, actively managing the transition of how
people think and work determines the success or failure of the programme,” says Shelley.
In addition to change management, use of programme and project management, cultural development, individual development, process development, tools and content development are also important.
KM governance is accomplished through a small international virtual team that manages the overall knowledge agenda and determines the priorities. Two team members sit on the global Science and Technology leadership team, which provides a direct link into the most senior management at the company.
An early focus of Shelley’s work was CHOCNET (the Chocolate Network) and the development of communities under this banner. Other initial priorities included:
Building content with a small team;
Building out and demonstrating the capabilities of the CHOCNET portal;
Liaising with existing communities within Cadbury Schweppes to expand and provide tools for them to operate more effectively;
The development of Packaging, Nutrition, Allergen and Ingredient Group interactions (but with limited tools);
Planning of additional networks for other parts of the business for 2007.
The medium and long-term aims were as follows:
Knowledge opportunities and issues solution development;
Collaborative culture development;
Close liaison with human resources (HR) on KM aspects of capability development;
S&T a ‘desired destination’ for knowledge across the business.
Two networks and four communities were initially established. Of the four communities in CHOCNET, three had considerable success helping staff to build relationships, but one simply did not get off the ground. Two communities generated active virtual project teams, which have delivered benefits to the participants, but the wider business is probably not yet fully aware of these.
To date, 29 communities have been established, all of which have a presence on the portal, with many receiving ‘visits’ from outside S&T. Among conservative scientists in a conservative business, this is regarded as a good step forward.
In the Technical Data Network, the second of the two main networks of communities, there are three new communities, one of which, the Ingredients Community, has already delivered some significant benefits in terms of setting standards and building common processes across the business.
The portal has also been expanded to provide a common space for information dissemination for all S&T employees globally, and as a place to collaborate through online projects and discussions. Several more networks have been launched since the initial success of CHOCNET.
These interactions have also helped several business units to overcome internal challenges with the help of people in other parts of the company who, prior to the KM programme, would not have been involved with anyone outside of ‘their’ part of the organisation.
There have even been some satisfying instances where a member of staff from one part of the business in one country has assisted in the training of people in another business unit in another part of the world, for example.
Once again, a live case demonstrates the twin opportunities for knowledge management to aid an organisation in the middle of change or in need of change and – at the same time – for that organisation to capitalise on the strategies and tools of knowledge management already developed and ready for action.
These days, there are few organisations that are not in some stage of change to meet the challenges and opportunities of a connected world community, least of all the food industry. Regional recipes are giving way to what is now known in the industry as ‘fusion cooking’, where methods and ingredients from one part of the world are married with methods and ingredients from another to produce exciting new tastes for increasingly adventurous palates.
Cadbury Schweppes shows us that these dynamics are just as important to confectionary and soft drinks as to fast foods and five-star gourmet meals. Through KM, they are changing the way Cadbury Schweppes works, changing and linking cultures, connecting knowledge workers, providing opportunities for collaboration – a sure recipe for continued success.
Jerry Ash is knowledge management coach, founder of the Association of Knowledgework, http://www.kwork.org, and special correspondent to Inside Knowledge. He is also the author of the ARK Group’s latest major report, Next Generation Knowledge Management. To order, contact Adam Scrimshire at firstname.lastname@example.org. Jerry Ash can be reached by e-mailing email@example.com.
Arthur Shelley is author of a new book about building relationships in organisations, The Organizational Zoo: A Survival Guide to Workplace Behavior. Excerpts are available at http://www.organizationalzoo.com. Join AOK to participate in a two-week e-mail discussion with Arthur, 20-30 November 2006. He can be contacted directly by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
The ideal skill set desired in a community leader indicates why they are hard to find:
Ability to facilitate a group rather than simply manage it;
A positive ‘can do’ attitude that can generate enthusiasm among others;
Ability to champion change among peers;
Good communications and interpersonal skills;
Competent at all levels:
Senior management to new recruit;
Vision down to tasks;
Prepared to take ownership when the need arises, but rapidly hand power back to the group;
They must be part of the solution, not part of the problem;
Predictive rather than reactive;
Respected by peers and recognised as a ‘go to’ person;
They must have a sense of humour, ability to speak with metaphors and tell interesting stories in context;
Should have a diverse management background;
Good process knowledge;
Technical and systems aptitude.
S&T KM strategy components
These cover the trinity of people, processes and tools.
Networks and communities
Staff to be able to interact and learn from each other and externally;
Address opportunities and resolve issues;
Collaboration and virtual projects;
Common learnings, innovation and new knowledge creation.
Easy access to knowledge and experience;
Management focus and a show of benefits;
Capability development and mentoring.
Document the experiences Cadbury Schweppes has and their applicability;
Tackle the issue of retirement and concomitant departure of knowledge;
Delivery of the strategy in entirety, then widen scope.