KM Review, Volume 4 Issue 4 September/October 2001
Change is the ultimate challenge for knowledge management. In 1998, complex organizational change was the order of the day at Bezeq. The telecommunications market in Israel was about to open for free competition and this was affecting Bezeq’s business in the following ways: in the Engineering & Planning Division around 50 percent of employees were laid off, all units were moved within the division, a lot of knowledge left or went missing, and the 280 remaining employees changed roles, their positions and their hierarchy. Prior to the changes, the Engineering & Planning Division had seen its knowledge as an insurance policy. During the transition, many knowledge holes appeared and the price to “fill” those holes was high and painful.
Maintaining market leadership
The business case for KM was clear: Bezeq needed to maintain its position as the leading telecommunications company in Israel and the Engineering & Planning Division wanted to maintain its position as the best place for telecoms professionals. The two areas were united in the need to support the corporate vision and maximize profit to stockholders. To achieve its goals, Bezeq’s Deputy CEO & VP of Engineering & Planning chose knowledge management as the platform to support the cultural change he wanted to generate within his division. Bezeq began the KM program plan by hiring a consulting firm and appointing a knowledge manager to achieve the mission. The deputy CEO set the main goals for the program: to change the culture, to develop and implement proper processes, and to support it with the necessary infrastructure. These goals aimed to re-use current and existing knowledge as well as foster the
creation of new knowledge.
Leadership and management roles were emphasized and a tremendous effort emerged to transform the way Engineering and Planning Division managers saw themselves – as team leaders, not only as talented professionals. All divisions acted top-down to create the vision, mission, objectives and ethics code together. After a few months of preparations, the program was on the move.
The Engineering and Planning management set a detailed KM program that consisted of division activities and departmental activities.
• holding organizational development programs, seminars and outdoor training to motivate managers on a day-to-day basis;
• developing leadership in all mid-level managers;
• communicating the vision and ethics code to all division employees;
• establishing a survey of who knows what;
• documenting what we need to know – learning methods vary from internal and self-directed learning to formal and outside training;
• establishing communities of best practices for core issues, led by section managers – the focal point for each discipline;
• establishing “knowledge labs” – to deal with core issues in a way that delivers and demonstrates the new culture;
• acknowledging, respecting and rewarding concept, processes and mechanisms to motivate people to share, use and cooperate;
• setting up a corporate university to mentor each employee, newcomers and seniors in a threelevel program: basic orientation program, technical training, and niche training;
• debriefing processes to learn not to make the same mistakes every morning.
Departmental activities focus on management development, but differ among departments since each manager initiaties his or hers independently. Generally, the department managers match the vision and mission to their scope and interpret local versions of “the big picture” on a regular basis.
Frustrations and under-estimations
So where should knowledge managers turn to find information on how to lead through a transformation?During my service as the knowledge manager within the Engineering & Planning Division, I learned that there’s no approved and developed methodology for the job. Rather, I’d like to share my experience with the hope it will aid other practitioners with similar challenges.
In our case, KM deals with two major issues:
1. It allows the organization to act, function and perform better and more efficiently; therefore, managing knowledge increases the profit of the organization.
2. It shows the organization the hidden competencies and abilities to do things that were latent; therefore, it increases the value and the intellectual capital of the organization.
In addition to overseeing the divisional and departmental activities, the knowledge manager facilitated the KM program’s progression. All frustrations, under-estimations and general organizational chaos were thrown at me from other managers and workers. Many issues undermined the program, such as the discomfort and fears of people that do not believe in their power to change. If people are just trying to survive, it’s difficult to motivate them to act and share knowledge.
The most complex part of the program was the need to describe an abstract concept. For most managers and workers, KM is a new way of thinking that must be operationalized carefully and step-by-step. During this period, leadership from senior management had to be dominant; the knowledge manager needed to feel the leader’s spirit pervading the entire project.
How will I know where I am?
During our work, I identified three key phases for successful KM implementation. The next sections describe the stages and corresponding roles for a knowledge manager.
Phase one – finding the need
Identifying the need for KM is easy in times of crisis, but less so when the organizational landscape is smooth. Organizations that haven’t experienced a crisis event or don’t have stiff competition in the business field may not see the need for KM. Many organizations in this position see the picture mistakenly: they are waiting for a “negative” crisis event to make an organizational change. Clever leaders don’t hesitate, however. When they analyze the big picture, they act by moving to the next phase of leveraging innovation and organizational excellence through KM.
Phase two – establishing a KM program
When initiating a KM program, leaders must be solving a problem. It’s critical to focus and set a proper rationale to address specific business issues. The leader should serve as a mentor to subordinates and communicate a brave and admirable vision within the organization. The route must be to tackle culture and process, then tools. If you don’t have a cultural infrastructure to support processes, no tool can deliver true benefits.
Leaders must fully understand the risks, the personal efforts, and the amount of management attention and time required. For us, this was the time to go to a specialist. We called in a consultant suitable to help the leader deliver the change needed. The outside view of a consultant was vital to raise and interpret cultural and procedural issues that can’t be seen from within the organization.
It makes sense at this stage to set a KM and organizational learning program consisting of a conceptual design and detailed planning that all contribute to proper execution. This is a dramatic point on the whole journey.
The leader now focuses on taking the company through the natural waves and barriers while the consultant focuses on organizational development activities with all managers. The leader may also nominate a Knowledge manager at this time. It must be a full-time job because dedicated attention is needed to successfully facilitate the organizational shift. A steering committee could also be established at this juncture to guide the KM program team through three to four meetings per year.
The knowledge manager needs to have an intimate knowledge of the organization and the experience to understand who knows what as well as in-depth knowledge about the subject of KM.
Many organizations fail to nominate such a unique person. In my view it’s only a matter of understanding the whole issue: once the leader acknowledges that people and their intellectual capital are in the center, the decision is clear.
Phase three – successful integration
During the third phase, the need for a formal KM program has dissipated because all people and units are working as a team towards achieving business goals. Managers and workers deliver knowledge and innovate. Organizational efforts are focused on creativity, invention and innovation. It’s now time that each manager sees the opportunity to “upgrade” him or herself on a regular basis to create and innovate.
Leadership must still be visible and people must feel it to continually improve the processes. The knowledge manager now often nominates a chief knowledge officer. By this time tools and infrastructures are set: tools support business needs in order to do things better and create new developments. The consultant helps the organization assess the program, define its deliverables and help chart the road ahead.
Bezeq’s KM plan progressed through the stages in a similar manner and after almost two years of strenuous efforts led by managers from all units, we are not ready to rest yet. Still concentrating on Stage 3 activities, we are focusing on integrating knowledge assets across our division and attempting to establish knowledge management as its own business unit. The HR division at Bezeq has taken on the lessons learned and best practice from KM and now leads the knowledge management program within Bezeq. And as recognition of our leadership in the KM area in Israel, we often serve as advisors to other organizations. This has placed us as leaders in service development.
KM is embedded in many of our business processes, such as marketing and engineering. People use KM mechanisms and processes on a daily basis, creating more seamless teamwork, more frequent and deeper knowledge sharing and distribution, and more efficiencies that have led to value for the company. We have also noticed an increase in knowledge-related initiatives – all expressions of the cultural change we have worked hard to enable.