Knowledge management isn't just for big companies anymore.
Want a smarter company? Too bad you can't invest some serious dough in knowledge managementsystems. But those complex disciplines are reserved for corporate monoliths with lots of tech staff, bigbudgets and real knowledge to manage. Right?
Maybe not. Shari Franey is one CEO who thinks it's time for small companies to leverage their smarts.Franey is president of Performance Personnel, a $10 million staffing company based in Ephrata, Pa. Becausethe company has six offices spread around Pennsylvania, it's a struggle to keep everyone up-to-date on the"intellectual capital" her staff amasses. "If one salesperson doesn't know what another salesperson hasdone, we're losing all that knowledge," she says.
Franey tried to fix the problem with technology, installing voice mail and E-mail to facilitate the flow ofinformation among her employees. They used those systems, but for sharing information Franey realizedthat old-fashioned methods are best. So she instituted a series of meetings. That's right: meetings. Franeyand her staff get together on a regular basis. That's her "system" for knowledge management: a simpleprocess to make sure that what one employee knows, everybody knows.
Meeting with colleagues also builds a sense of camaraderie. "This industry is tough," she says. "You getpounded by everyone. It's good for people to know they're not in this alone." Besides, she adds, staffmembers learn more when they work in a group. "When someone else asks a question I never would havethought to ask, I learn from the answer."
Even those companies that install technology-based knowledge-management systems find it necessary tomaintain some low-tech components in the process. Eric Schechter, president of Great American Events, a$3 million event-marketing company in Scottsdale, Ariz., is a big technophile. In addition to E-mail andInternet access, his employees also use Microsoft Outlook 98 software and PalmPilots to shareproject management files and engage in group scheduling. But as fond as he is of the system, he admits ithas drawbacks. "Many times information is buried in a folder, and the average employee doesn't have timeor know where to find it," he says. "A lot of it's 'bloatware' if you ask me."
When Schechter has a time-sensitive project in the works and wants to spread information around quickly,he'll throw a note up on a whiteboard in the company conference room, where staffers eat lunch. InNovember 1997, when the company was approaching the deadline for its 1998 strategic plan, Schechterposted the master list of 30 goals for the company. "We needed it in front of people's noses," he explains."We wanted the secretary or the warehouse guy, who don't get on the computer all the time, to see itevery day."
Marion McGovern also believes in high tech, but only when it can also be "high touch." McGovern is thepresident of San Francisco - based M2 Inc., an $11 million company that brokers the services of 5,000independent management consultants. "In essence, we have 5,000 products," says McGovern. "How do welearn our inventory?"
McGovern lists consultants and their expertise on the company's intranet and holds monthly new-consultantbriefings. Each participant provides a quick sound bite summarizing his or her expertise. Salespeople attendand take notes, and later follow up with individuals who may be of interest to existing clients. ForMcGovern, selling more means knowing more about what you have to sell. She also holds periodicpost-project information download breakfasts. She invites in a dozen or so consultants to give a briefsummary, explaining why their last project was critical to the client, what additional skills they learned, andwhat other types of clients may have a similar need.
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