HR is notoriously absent when it comes to taking the lead in creating a knowledge
management culture in their organisations, when it should have a key role in
creating the right cultural conditions for knowledge to be shared. But we have tracked down four HR managers
who have taken control.
Organisations are becoming increasingly aware of the advantages knowledge
management can bring to their business, both in terms of profitability and
Roffey Park Management Institute’s research into knowledge management,
called The Management Agenda 2001, shows that these are perceived as the main
benefits of knowledge management.
Having said that, the actual practice is still in its infancy. Only 17 per
cent of the respondents in Roffey Park’s research said they have a knowledge
management system in place, and few have a clear understanding of what it
In a world where the working population is increasingly fluid and business
decisions are becoming more complex, the sharing and retention of knowledge in
an organisation is vital.
Helen Watts, training technology manager of The Unicorn Training
Partnership, says, "From our perspective, knowledge management in general
is the means by which an organisation deliberately gathers, organises, shares
and analyses its pool of corporate knowledge."
But this cannot be achieved simply by getting the IT department to install a
high-specification intranet, says David Welham, director of training technology
"Knowledge management is not about storage, but about holding
information in such a way that people can access it easily and use it as part
of a forward-looking process."
Benefits of a well-functioning system and company culture can include the
generation of new business and new product ideas.
It should be HR departments that lead the way in developing a culture and
system that can support a knowledge management process. But often it isn’t.
Linda Holbeche, director of research at Roffey Park, says, "It is an
ideal opportunity for HR to make a strategic difference to a company if it gets
the human dynamics right, such as a culture of trust, in order to make it
But she adds, "HR is notoriously absent from the scene because it often
doesn’t understand the information needs of the people doing the job."
There are a number of ways in which HR could become more involved in the
knowledge management process, particularly by tackling issues that prevent the
sharing of knowledge. "Get people to work across different teams and train
people in generating ideas," says Holbeche. "Fundamentally,
individuals have to feel it’s in their interest to get involved."
Fenella Galpin, e-learning consultant with e-learningsolutions, adds,
"Rewards and incentives may need to be introduced to encourage employees
to share knowledge. People like to be seen as experts. Employees must be
empowered to share and use knowledge, and realise that knowledge and learning
are crucial to the success of the business."
Getting it right can bring huge benefits. Watts says, "A good solution
will lead to a workforce with the skills and flexibility to adapt and develop
to support changes in the business.
"Competency management and skills-gap analysis will help review the
knowledge and skills requirements of the workforce, the training needs of
individuals company-wide and the qualifications and examination these are
"A successful system will draw all these issues and information
The four profiles follow.
BT’s technical advances give it a significant advantage in the process of
sharing information electronically.
as its manager of intellectual capacity, Steve Lakin, points out,
"Knowledge management is a three-legged stool – people, process and
Lakin works in the HR department at BT, which has been closely involved in
bringing these strands together.
He says, "BT took a decision some time ago to use HR as a strategic
partner in the business. HR has been very involved in developing the knowledge
management culture, and one aspect of that is the BT Ideas programme."
Some five years ago, BT decided to centralise its suggestion scheme using
the new system, BT Ideas, which provides a more structured approach to
assessing and developing employees’ ideas. Suggestions are posted on the site,
part of BT’s intranet, and assessed centrally, and any ideas with potential are
The company will also use BT Ideas to highlight "hot topics" where
it is actively seeking suggestions for improvement. For example, a recent
campaign called "What’s Bugging You?" asked people in the
organisation to report things that annoyed them about BT. This was circulated
alongside an internal employee satisfaction survey, so as well as responding to
the survey, staff had a chance to suggest improvements.
Lakin says, "We try to help people to express their ideas in terms of
the business and to learn about what’s important to the business in the
process. We are helping people to articulate their ideas and if it is a good
idea, we find people in the business to help them work it through."
This may also mean finding a "champion" in the business to support
As well as the training and development this allows, BT has a more concrete
reward system in place for individuals, and pays employees for ideas that are
used and which help generate or save the organisation money.
This, and the full-time team of eight staff which manages the system, gives
some idea of the investment BT has been prepared to make in developing a
knowledge management system. But there are concrete rewards for the business,
too – during 2000 BT Ideas saved the organisation some £85m.
Lakin adds, "We have an enormous database of individual ideas with our
knowledge management system. Anyone in BT can access that and pull up all sorts
"So we are not just getting information for the present, but capturing
information for some point in the future."
As a supplier of HR and payroll services, Ceridian Europe was already
familiar with the processes of installing knowledge management systems when it
decided to take a closer look at its own internal systems for managing
HR director Jan Wohlman says, "We recognised that we needed to retain
knowledge within the organisation and that it was linked to our own key
performance indicator of decreasing staff turnover."
The company looked at a number of key areas related to training and staff
development. "Until that stage, we were going through a typical
performance appraisal-type scenario, while training was very much dependent on
line managers," says Wohlman.
Ceridian decided on a number of initiatives to develop skills and encourage
knowledge sharing in the company. One of the first was the establishment of a
Ceridian university, a virtual organisation which allows staff to self-manage
their professional development – relevant board members assess and advise staff
on their applications for training support.
A new personal development programme that linked performance with reward,
called Motivate, was also introduced. This brought separate processes –
performance appraisal, personal development plans and incentive schemes –
together with the aim of linking individual objectives to business objectives
and to link recognition and reward to job performance.
Mentoring was also introduced, whereby staff at different levels and from
different sectors of the business provide a source of information for the less
On a day-to-day level, information is shared through five separate business
Each board is responsible for one market sector of Ceridian’s business and
is headed by a director, with middle-managers from different functional roles across
the business, so experience can be shared while focusing on one business or
There have been several benefits to the schemes, including a 59 per cent
drop in staff turnover – down to 10 per cent – improved staff morale and
Wohlman says, "We have stopped knowledge walking out of the door and as
a result, we are retaining a higher percentage of our customers.
"We are in the service industry, and we need to retain qualified people
to deliver that service."
The knowledge management system at ICL has been championed by its corporate
HR and technical departments.
Manager of HR policies Deirdre Murphy says, "Many of our strategies are
based around sharing information, largely via our corporate intranet, but we have
also had to consider the cultural side of the organisation. For example, the
focus here is on e-business, and looking at how we could develop a culture of
Last year, the company initiated a Conversations of Change programme,
supported by business learning organisation Celemi. The interactive programme
was designed to show all employees how the company has moved away from
manufacturing to a more service-based organisation, but also introduced them to
working together via the intranet. "This brought people together at group
level and at local level to discuss how these changes affected them," says
The programme was critical to encouraging active sharing of knowledge across
different groups. The intranet supports "professional communities",
where specific departments can share information. For example, an HR area
provides information on employment policies or development opportunities. And
there are "knowledge communities" where the HR team can share
knowledge on a wider level – such as training and development.
Murphy says, "That has taken off so much that we have hundreds of
communities which can be pulled up from the home page. Making this information
available has been key to helping build up the momentum around knowledge
management. It gives it a structure, but also motivates individuals to become
involved by setting up their own communities."
The company has also developed "chatlines" whereby people can chat
to senior executives. "Anybody can go online and ask questions, and that is
helping to build open communications."
Because a lot of people also work off site, frameworks have been put in
place to enable remote team briefings.
The success of the scheme is reflected in the level of traffic on the site,
says Murphy. "The development of the system is not seen as an HR strategy,
but an integral, company-wide strategy. To achieve that, you have to get the
top level to support it."
Jones Lang LaSalle
Jones Lang LaSalle, a global provider of real estate and investment
management services, started looking at knowledge management as a way to enable
its staff to share information more readily.
someone goes out and wins new business, or trials a new initiative with
established clients, then there is a mechanism in place for sharing that
information with the business," says HR director Ruth Mundy.
She adds, "HR’s role in knowledge management is to provide people with
some of the skills to share information, using the mechanisms available."
The company used its established intranet, called Delphi, but its focus was
switched to knowledge management. A series of lunchtime workshops with staff
were used to identify the business’s knowledge management requirements. People
asked for information on case studies, skills information and market
information, which could be delivered via the intranet in a user-friendly
Information provided on the site ranges from corporate information to
updates on business initiatives. Core corporate content includes the staff
handbook, business codes and easy access to administrative detail, such as
But the system is also a business tool, says Mundy. "We want to use the
intranet to provide an easier mechanism for some of our business processes.
"It can be used as a business tool to help manage our performance
management programme. For example, line managers can set objectives and cascade
them down to colleagues. So people can go into the system and use that to
assess how they are meeting their objectives.
"We can expand it to other areas of HR, such as performance planning,
development planning, skills training and so on.
"Some people see knowledge management as an issue for the IT
department, but we have to be involved because it’s about training and development
and we are an integral part of that. But it is also about the way business gets
The company has also created "break-out space" on two different
floors – relaxing areas with coffee machines and plasma screens for
presentations – where people can meet formally or informally to exchange ideas.