Xerox: Role Model for Building A Knowledge Culture

What is a knowledge culture?

“In a knowledge culture all information is linked together and integrated into models that increase profitability, improve processes, products and customer relations” (Peter Troxler). To do that you need openness, trust, and a general willingness to collaborate and share knowledge among your employees.

So how did Xerox succeed in building this thing?

Now its getting interesting. Before Xerox could even try to establish a culture of open information sharing, they first needed to know what a knowledge culture actually is like.  To do that they did some research and came up with the following 10 activities that are directly linked to knowledge management:

  • sharing knowledge and best practises
  • installing responsibility for knowledge sharing
  • capturing and reusing  past experiences
  • embedding knowledge in products, services, and processes
  • producing knowledge as a product
  • driving knowledge generation for innovation
  • mapping networks of experts
  • building and mining customer bases
  • understanding and measuring the value of knowledge
  • leveraging intellectual assets

After that came the tricky part: management needed to establish a program to educate employees about what knowledge management actually is. Yeah, we probably all have a picture in our head about what knowledge management is. But how much clearer is it than just storing information in the right place in the right database?

No, employees needed to understand exactly what this knowledge management was supposed to be and why it had to be implemented. And trust me: this was a tough call. Before 2000, Xerox was like many companies – employees were in clear competition, so nobody wanted to share what they knew with colleagues. Why would they?

And here we come to one of the key points: when you want to change a corporate culture, you need to make sure that you deal with your colleagues fears and you need to show what’s in it for them.

The solution here was quite obvious, I guess. With the introduction of the “CodeX” platform, which was an open-source platform for Xerox’ software engineers to work on code together, Xerox’ management tied the performance evaluation closely with the contribution to that platform and the individuals’ willingness to share knowledge. They even went as far as to give knowledge awards for the best contributors.

However, knowing that engineers’ projects are their babies, the management allowed them to keep certain private projects. They also made it possible for the original contributor to track whoever accessed and/or changed source code. In other words: they did everything they could in order to make employees feel comfortable.

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So why did Xerox succeed with their effort? What made it work?

Well, first of all, as said before, they had a clear picture of what knowledge management meant for them, how it was supposed to contribute to their business objectives, and what needed to be done to educate employees and overcome their resistance.

But that’s not everything. They stood out in building a real community with a passion for knowledge sharing. In addition to hiring 100 new employees as knowledge management staff, they identified long-time employees who acted as champions. Those were the change agents who motivated staff to give it a try. And since knowledge management began to be integrated into all business functions, you simply couldn’t avoid it anymore.

There were grassroots activities in which motivated employees were asked to share their enthusiasm with others, they held internal conferences, sponsored corporate and university research in regards to knowledge management and implemented a knowledge management audit. In short: Xerox’ sent a consistent message to their employees that knowledge sharing was an important value and part of their corporate mission.

What can we learn from this?

Well, the main points here are that you need to create a clear vision for any change in corporate culture. You have to be clear how this vision is integrated to the overall business strategy and you have to make your employees understand and empower them to act on it. This means identifying old work structures or systems which are inconsistent with the new values and getting rid of them. But it also means creating a sense of community in which people feel that change has benefits for them all. If only the top-management sees the benefits of the program, it doesn’t matter how right they are. People will resist – and sooner or later it’s game over.

Tim

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