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Conoco Report Essay

Last week I attended Forrester’s Content & Collaboration Forum 2011. Forrester notes that in five years, almost half of US workers — about 63 million people — will work virtually. I am already one of them. This will change everything in workplace IT support from designing workplace information strategies for collaboration, to delivering content experiences tothe firm. For this international, integrated energy company with thousands of job sites (often quite remote) spread across 30 countries, the challenge of sharing knowledge was very real — and the potential payoff was large. Facing fierce competition on all fronts, ConocoPhillips knew that to continue on its success trajectory, it needed to rapidly and effectively harness the knowledge of its highly skilled but geographically distributed workforce. Instead of assuming that technology either was the solution or was irrelevant when creating online communities, senior managers understood that effective global communities required new processes, roles, cultures, and technologies.

Moreover, they recognized that each had to be focused on solving difficult business challenges. Seven years later, the ConocoPhillips’ knowledge-sharing program is ranked as best-in-class across industries.” Dan mentioned that Conoco Phillips is fourth largest traded company in US with 30,000 employees around the world and many contractors who also participate in their knowledge sharing. They have been many changes in the last 12 years as a number of companies were acquired, along with the merger of Conoco and Phillips. This activity has triggered a big need for knowledge sharing. He likes the term knowledge sharing rather than knowledge management. I completely agree. Dan said it is about getting people to talk to each other. Trust is important for this.

They are now going to reorganize and the solid state of their knowledge assets will help with this effort. Dan said that more than 70% of their good ideas have come from their employees. Good things happen when employees talk to each other. Dan said that his boss is the SVP of Planning and Strategy and he reports to the CEO so people listen to him as where you sit in the org chart matters within his firm. I think this is true for most firms. The most successful KM efforts I have seen all have a senior sponsor of rank and respect in the organization. Most KM groups are placed too far down the hierarchy to be effective. Their KM effort started when a senior executive felt they were re-inventing things too much. The focus was always connecting people more than collecting documents. They grew by sharing success stories. Sharing these success stories was connected to their variable compensation plan and this really triggered response.

They started the Archimedes Awards to knowledge sharing. Categories are: Give, Grab, Gather, and Guts. Dan gave some examples about safety improvements that also led to big financial returns. They have documented over 9 billion dollars in gains through the program. Dan said that they have functional excellence models that give specifics for improvements. They promote purposeful collaboration. Dan said serendipity can be useful at times but being purposeful works best in their firm. He said that knowledge accumulates in networks and their firm has a matrix organization. Leadership behavior is important for knowledge to flow and manager support for knowledge sharing is critical. They now have 150 networks of excellence. The first few were launched in 2005.

They had 20 by the end of the year. These networks were built on trust and relationships, not technology. Prior efforts failed because they were technology focused. He showed an example covering upstream rotating equipment. A big problem is lost production opportunity. There is a group that addresses this issue to keep equipment running safely. Networks are open to all employees, not just group members. Related networks are connected because issues are related across networks. Their Ask and Discuss component has led to 100,000 exchanges. He does not believe in formal lessons learned. It takes too much time. Informal connections work better.

I would agree and add the formal lessons learned become out of date very quickly and talking with people gives the most current ideas. People want to help each other but they also want answers quickly. Dan showed a diagram of all the cross-connections. They are massive. Knowledge silos do not seem to an issue for them. They have three main tools: Ask and Discuss, Knowledge Library, and One Wiki.

The wiki is the first place to look for content. Ask and Discuss was covered above. All of their success stories have an economic impact. One had 87 million dollars of benefits. Sharing this is important. Giving credit to the employees is critical. Getting middle managers on board was done through conveying business value of knowledge sharing. It was fun for me to hear about a successful knowledge management effort as I used to be involved with many in the 90s and early 2000s.


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