In 1989, Bob Buckman made a commitment to compete on knowledge. Three years later the knowledge network, K'Netix, was born. Today it's a pillar of corporate culture, but getting everyone to use it wasn't always easy. Here are some things Buckman did at the outset, and some tips for implementing a knowledge network of your own.
Make it fun. At Buckman, this meant hoopla. For example, Buckman sponsored a variety of online contests for employees to guess the number of messages posted in a week or when the 1,000th message would be sent.
Take away the stress. Rather than implement an across-the-board mandate to use the system at work, Buckman encouraged employees to test the waters in a relaxed atmosphere, such as from their homes.
Nominate captains. System operators (SysOps) appointed two industry experts in each forum to be the primary answer-givers. Explains Alison Tucker, a former SysOp, "These were the experts people used to call for the answers. Now the discussion is open to everyone, not just the two people on the phone — it's a whole new level of interactivity."
Get everybody on the system. Bob Buckman's dictum is, "You never know where the answer is going to come from." So why not include everyone? You minimize the risk of untapped potential and shatter the pyramid. According to Chuck Carncross, vice president, coatings and plastics chemicals, having the head of the company in on the conversation sends two messages, "One, 'I own the place, I'm listening, and I care about what you're saying.' Two, 'I own the place, I'm doing this, and it is important to me.' Implied in that is, 'If it's important to me, it better be important to you.'"
Renew the passport. If it's a global company, then implement the system on a global scale. "We didn't want people in Europe saying, 'Oh, this is an American thing,'" explains Tucker. One important issue: national differences and sensitivities. For Buckman, that means having SysOps monitor messages. (Since its inception, less than a handful of messages have been flagged and removed.) In addition, the Foro Latino exists for Buckman's Spanish-speaking employees, predominantly in Latin America.
Be functional, not just portable. The road warrior faces a range of obstacles when accessing the system overseas: everything from baud-speed and data-line regulations to the fact that some plugs just don't fit in some outlets. To deal with these issues, Buckman implemented a system similar to a library check-out desk. Employees sign out survival kits designated for specific countries with adaptors, cords, and other tech necessities.
Make it easy. User friendliness is a given. On K'Netix, the icons are simple and the access is easy: just point and click. Tucker says, "You're asking people to change. If it's not easy for them, then why would they want to?"
Offer training. SysOps eased people into the system. After the informal conferences and discussion groups, there was one day of intensive hands-on training, with extra help available anytime.
Monitor the progess. Initially, Buckman carefully documented the number of messages posted, additions, accesses, and downloads to determine the usefulness of the system. Now the company performs only periodic evaluations.
A version of this article appeared in the June/July 1996 issue of Fast Company magazine.