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Speaking the Language of Business.

Exchanging knowledge across many borders means recognizing a world of difference.

"Toto, I have a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore."

Like young Dorothy Gale -- and her little dog, too -- who was blown to a distant place where the way people went about their business was quite foreign, companies going global have to find ways to adapt to their surroundings and get the job done. Dorothy looked to a wonderful wizard for guidance, though his wisest advice was to look inward for answers. Outside Oz, company leaders share the same counsel -- to rely on the core knowledge and values of their employees.

In some cases, that means there's no place like the home page. Consider ShareNet, a Web site created by Siemens to spread around the knowledge of the company's world-wide work force. From any point on the planet, be it the Ozarks or Oslo, employees can log on and chat with or e-mail colleagues, search an extensive database or store their own information. Set up initially in 1999 for the use of the 12,000 salespeople in Siemens' Information & Communications Networks Group, ShareNet has been credited with adding $122 million in sales -- a sizable return on the initial $7.8 million investment.

More than just a databank, though, Siemens' knowledge-sharing program recognizes local peculiarities. For example, a sales team in Malaysia customized a broadband network to meet a client's specific needs, but the project was based on a network designed by a Siemens team in Denmark to the client's specs. ShareNet may be the common repository, but the know-how in it needs to be tailored to the location and the particular requirements.

That's the reality of globalization. A U.S. company can't simply pack up its best practices, ship them off to another country and expect them to work exactly the same way. The management of intellectual capital needs to reflect global characteristics, as well. "The old corporate culture doesn't work in other parts of the world," explains R.S. Moorthy, director of Motorola University, the training, education and research center of Motorola, Inc. "As we become more global, we recognize that it is important to look at values rather than procedure. It is important to learn from what is happening in other parts of the world. Understanding other cultures is critical to how we do business."

Yet some best practices do turn out to be universal. Take Pfizer's awareness that in many parts of the world, pharmacies function as community centers -- which means that patients seeking prescriptions for some conditions may be embarrassed to do so in front of friends and neighbors. The solution is as simple as putting a plain sleeve around a product box, and as complex as coaching doctors in how to address conditions without embarrassment to themselves or their patients.

Deloitte Consulting's regional managing partner for greater China, Shane Tedjarati -- a native of Montreal, raised in Canada and Europe and living in China for the past decade -- acknowledges the importance of adapting Deloitte's global corporate culture to accommodate his local clients. "Most of them ask, 'Have you done this type of work before? And where?'" he says. "They like to know that we're able to harness that experience and use our best practices in their particular environment, or translate them to their particular set of requirements. That is very key to what we do, although it does not mean that we use cookie-cutter types of consulting."

Colgate-Palmolive, in expanding its intellectual capital internationally, has instituted a program that nurtures the human element. People are relocated outside their home countries, for six-month to two-year assignments, as a way to establish new knowledge networks and to leverage learning from one part of the world to another. The consumer products manufacturer also has implemented comprehensive education and training programs to support and share learning among its employees on a global basis.

Knowledge management pioneer Buckman Laboratories has gone so far as to offer courses for credit and degree programs from about 20 different universities around the world, free of charge, to its work force. "We had to go through the culture change we did," says Robert Buckman, chairman of the executive committee of the specialty chemical maker's board of directors, "and to create unlimited opportunities for our employees to grow -- both to retain them and to keep their knowledge valuable to the company and to the customers they serve."

KNOWING A PLACE FROM THE INSIDE OUT

Of course, the Internet has been a prime instigator of globalization, particularly with its ability to link buyers and sellers, anytime, anywhere. However, layered into the data and processes that facilitate global transactions are deeply embedded regional nuances -- and they didn't get there through any software upgrades or versioning. That type of specialized input comes from having knowledge workers on the ground in other countries who are intimately familiar with their environment.

As Internet Capital Group, the e-commerce development company based in Horsham, Pa., has expanded its well-honed, U.S.-based business model to Europe and Asia over the past two years, its managers have realized that one size does not fit all. ICG Europe's team, for instance, consists of local hires and foreigners who have years of experience in the region. Says Doug Alexander, CEO of the European operation: "We have people who grew up in those markets, developed their business expertise there and, as a result, have great contacts and a deep understanding of the different markets."

A similar situation exists with ICG Asia, according to CEO Joseph Kim. "The supply chains are often country-specific and have varying degrees of advancement," he says. "The government forces are very country-specific, as are the cultures. There's a lot of transparency in each of the economies, which means that you have to be able to operate and work locally to foster relationships and trust."

The Internet certainly powers much of the global collaboration of knowledge, yet the implementation and utilization of any system comes from management. So in the assessment of an organization's intellectual capital, it's critical to ensure that top managers appreciate the global landscape. A recent article in Leadership in Action, a newsletter sponsored by the Greenville, N.C.-based Center for Creative Leadership, puts some perspective on the topic: "In the course of a day, a global manager might have to work with a plant manager in Asia, a supplier in South America, government officials in Africa and strategic alliance partners in Europe. This presents challenges in communication, collaboration, quickness of action and mobility that are far different from those faced by managers whose responsibilities are limited to a single country."

Global managers deal with different time zones and the inconvenience of not having face-to-face contact with the people with whom they conduct business. Those managers have to consider different laws, political systems and economies, as well as varying expectations of employees and colleagues -- and themselves.

THE VIRTUAL TEAM

"Many of the knowledge management issues have to do with human resources practices, which are all deeply embedded in different cultures," says Maxine Dalton, director of global leadership research at CCL, adding that there is not always a sensitivity to those differences. "Particularly when organizations are going from the U.S. out, there seems to be a lack of awareness that our way is not necessarily the best way.

Dalton was part of a CCL team that conducted a study of four organizations headquartered in the United States and Europe. It found that managers in such organizations, whether their responsibilities are global or domestic, must be able to assume the roles of decision maker, spokesperson, leader and negotiator. To be successful, they must take the perspective of others and possess and put to use a specialized knowledge of international business.

"We globalized our consulting practice several years ago," reports John Callahan, Deloitte Consulting's global director of knowledge management, "so a practitioner working in New York is essentially working for the exact same organization as a practitioner in London or Sydney. Over the last decade, our operating model has progressed from city-based practice offices to cohesive national practices, and finally, to a seamless global organization."

"Our vision is to connect with clients all across the knowledge management spectrum," says Jerry Leamon, global managing partner, tax and legal, for Deloitte. "It's not only content, but also collaboration on projects. Let's say a large, multinational client has projects going with us in five different countries. It should be easy for the CFO to monitor and become involved in every one of those projects.

"We believe that when this is fully rolled out, it could completely change the paradigm of the client relationship," Leamon continues. "It's a pretty significant shift, in that the team becomes a virtual team."

Caution: Merging Cultures

The Vikings were a tough bunch to deal with back in the 8th to 10th centuries, and although the Norwegians' plundering days now are only the stuff of legend, their resolve remains intact. Ask John Harker.

Harker is the president and CEO of InFocus, the world's leader in multimedia projection products and services, and suddenly quite the student of Norwegian culture. His crash course came during the merger last year of InFocus, based in Wilsonville, Ore., and its closest rival, Proxima ASA, located in Frederikstad, Norway. Actually, Proxima ASA was the product of a 1998 acquisition by Norway's ASK of Proxima, headquartered in San Diego; InFocus comprises all three companies.

Soon after Harker arrived at InFocus in 1992, he implemented a companywide quality initiative, dubbed PDQ, for People Driving Quality.

"Part of that was empowering people, holding them accountable, which eventually helped us become a learning organization," says Harker. "Because if you're going to empower people, make sure they're educated along the lines you'd like them empowered."

For eight years, an attitude of empowerment and collaboration permeated the corporate culture at InFocus. The unofficial motto became: Create an environment where outstanding people can produce extraordinary results.

"I'm a former IBM-er," says Harker, who worked for the computer giant from 1963 until 1979, "from the days when they were big on respect for the individual and protecting the employee. I carried that with me."

Then in 1999 came a call to Harker from Proxima ASA CEO Ole Fredriksen to meet for dinner, where his fiercest competitor made an unexpected offer. "He thought our companies should merge and become a huge force in the industry," recalls Harker, who admits to being reluctant at first. "In a past life I had acquired a competitor that despised us, and we didn't get much intellectual capital from them, which is so important." Nonetheless, the potential synergies convinced InFocus's board of directors to have Harker pursue the merger.

"Before we went to Norway to do due diligence, I bought books on Norwegian culture for myself and my staff," Harker continues. "I even got the CIA report on Norway off the Net. We wanted to understand what makes them tick, so we wouldn't go there and botch it right away." He was especially fascinated to learn more about Vikings.

Once the merger was approved in June of last year, Harker went to great lengths to avoid what he calls "the victor-vanquished routine." He even hired a third-party specialist, MergerCoach.com, to help smooth the consolidation. "We looked for what the Norwegians do better than us, so that as a company we could take the best processes and practices and mold them together," he says.

In that sense, the merger is going smoothly, yet the two country cultures have been tougher to align. "They don't believe in some of the things we do here," Harker observes. For instance, "they didn't tend to over-communicate with their employees, and we do. They didn't have stock options or profit sharing, and we do. Absenteeism is high." Delicate attempts to impose InFocus ways were often met with, "You're just being an American" -- though the seven-member board includes three Norwegians, and several incentive programs have been enthusiastically embraced in Oslo.

Grading himself a "C" for his initial efforts, Harker currently reports that "we're making some breakthroughs. There's a little more we need to work on, then we're going to be a much stronger company."

Bright Smiles All Around

Colgate-Palmolive has been marketing its toothpastes, toothbrushes, soaps, and vast array of other consumer products worldwide for years. Although the New York City-based company doesn't have what it terms a formal knowledge management program built around its globalization efforts, it has been systematically exchanging intellectual capital and best practices all along.

"We have a very collaborative team building our brands globally," says Donna McNamara, vice president of global education and training, "but with a strong local emphasis." Save for Antarctica, Colgate operates on every continent.

The company's strategy for creating and leveraging its intellectual assets globally includes defining key business and leadership functions, assessing and developing the individual strengths of overseas employees, and implementing ongoing education and training programs.

"Colgate's global curriculum features about go different programs," McNamara reports, "for people at all levels -- sales, manufacturing, executive -- as a vehicle for transferring best practices from one part of the world to the other." In fact, a specialized team of 15 leaders travels to Colgate's various international offices to teach the programs.

Colgate also has been at the forefront in exploring sophisticated knowledge acquisition and sharing technologies. It has gathered expansive resource libraries of information, best processes and practices, and customer databases. Employees use a variety of collaborative software, and they contribute, retrieve and communicate via the company intranet. Extranets are being established to allow more streamlined movement of data between Colgate and its key individual customer accounts.
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Copyright 2001, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:knowledge management
Author:WOODS, BOB
Publication:Chief Executive (U.S.)
Article Type:Statistical Data Included
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2001
Words:2269
Previous Article:Sharing The Intellectual Wealth.
Next Article:Think Globally, Inform Locally.
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