How did you get into the HR field?
I started out in sales, but my background is actually in chemical engineering. I was a salesman in the coating and plastics division for five years. Then I wanted to come into the lab and [generate] new product development. I got that opportunity while working as lab manager for a while before moving into research and development. After a little shake up in the organization, I got a phone call from the chairman asking if I wanted to be vice president of HR. I said, "Really?" I’ve only been in HR for three years.
What’s the greatest challenge in getting people to share?
Getting everyone to recognize that knowledge is power only when it makes things happen at the point of generating cash flow. There are obviously some technical challenges, but the biggest ones are attitudinal.
So how do you combat resistance?
By highlighting the "wins" associated with sharing. We’ve done this by promoting and publishing examples of how the system can be very beneficial. Also, by keeping the issue in front of all of us through proactive top management support.
Do you think this concept is doable for organizations of all sizes and industries?
Yes. The key thing to remember is to focus your attention on the point in the organization where the cash flow is generated. In our case, this was with our field associates who work with our customers. In other companies, there may be some other critical point at which the value of having the complete power of the organization available would be preferred. So the ability of a company to effectively put knowledge sharing in place would start with its ability to identify where the greatest impact would be.
How much time does this take for HR to set up?
HR’s role as culture guardian is to make sure that as these changes are being made, the people issues (new roles, responsibilities, expectations) are attended to in alignment with our core values. It wasn’t just in the set up of the Knowledge Transfer Department, but in the definition of roles for job descriptions such as the section leaders.
What advice do you have for colleagues who want to shift into a knowledge-sharing system?
Make sure that you work on the culture first. If you make the big investment in technology and the culture isn’t there, somebody will question why you spent the money.
Workforce, March 1999, Vol. 78, No. 3, p. 34.