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Knowledge-Sharing Earns Bonus Points

Richard Wetherall says the program "makes lives easier and helps them be more productive."

September 18, 2003
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Related Topics: Recognition, Change Management, Compensation, Benefits
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Large Company
Name: Siemens Medical Solutions
Location: Cary, North Carolina
Business: Maker of medical devices
Employees: 28,000 worldwide

Two years ago, Siemens Medical Solutions decided to change its "knowledgeis power" culture into one in which "knowledge sharing" was the norm. Thecompany wanted employees to have easy access to information and expertise acrossbusiness units so that they could do their jobs better and faster withoutreinventing the wheel, says Richard Wetherell, corporate director for quality,knowledge management, and process improvement.

The problem was that many employees associated sharing knowledge with losingpower. For example, says Wetherell, if a software engineer is the only one in adepartment who can perform a certain skill, he sees that as job security anddoesn’t want to give that knowledge away. There was also a scheduling issue.Taking the time to share information or to coach someone in a new skill can beburdensome to busy employees, he says. Employees saw no value in this sort ofcommunication.

Wetherell knew that in order to change that attitude, employees had to see animmediate and personal advantage to sharing information. "If we reward andrecognize people for sharing, then it doesn’t feel like losing power."

To support the new environment, the company built three Web-basedknowledge-sharing tools, through which employees can collect and disseminateuseful information to the rest of the company:

"People of Med" is an online database of employee profiles that includeseach member’s contact information, experience, areas of expertise, andphotograph. Now, if there’s a need for someone with a specific skill set,employees can search the database and instantly find out if there is someone inthe company who fits their requirements, Wetherell says.

"Communities of Practice" is an online meeting place where employeesvolunteer to host forums on specific topics, such as ISO 9001 certificationchallenges. Any employee interested in that topic can register and participatein conversations, and share materials that may be of value to the group.

The "Knowledge Square" is an online database filled with presentations,Web sites, technical papers, specs, and any other materials that might be ofvalue to the company. Employees can search the database to quickly findinformation related to their area of interest.

"The technology is great, but they only work if people use it," Wetherellsays.

To encourage employees to take advantage of the knowledge-sharingopportunities, they receive bonus points every time they use one of the threetools. These can be used to purchase items from a gift catalog that includeseverything from T-shirts to vacations. Whether they store their profiles inPeople of Med, participate in a community, or download information from theKnowledge Square, they get rewarded.

Community leaders are also encouraged to throw parties for their members, andWetherell regularly shares the stories of successful knowledge-tool users incompany newsletters, marketing materials, and broadcast e-mails. Last year acommunity was launched to evaluate how different business units teach members tovalidate their processes. The members discovered that each unit spent roughly$10,000 a year hiring different consultants to teach this subject. To remedythis, they chose one consultant for training across the company, creatingconsistency and reducing training costs by $100,000.

These days, employees naturally turn to the knowledge-sharing tools to gatherinformation and connect with other employees, Wetherell says. He still offersthe bonus points, but says the incentive program was intended primarily to lureemployees online and get them using the tools. "They see the intrinsic valueof knowledge-sharing now," he says. "It makes their lives easier and helpsthem be more productive."

Workforce, November 2002, p. 82 -- Subscribe Now!

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