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How John Deere Improved KM by Asking Employees What’s Most Important

APQC was fortunate enough to talk to Karen Lekowski of John Deere about how her organization improved its knowledge management program by asking employees what they needed most. Karen works in Enterprise Content Management Services at John Deere and will be presenting on this topic at APQC’s 2014 KM Conference. You can follow her on Twitter at @klekowski.

APQC’s 2014 Knowledge Management Conference, focusing on the theme of “Improving Business Results Through Engagement & Collaboration,” will be held April 10-11 in Houston, Texas.

APQC: Karen, when you surveyed John Deere employees, what did they say they wanted from KM?

KJL:  The employee survey questions on KM helped leaders recognize that there was more they needed to do to improve their approach to KM.  Before we added the questions to the survey, many leaders didn’t recognize that KM approaches could help improve their business.  KM wasn’t well understood.  The survey helped identify that so, in the last survey, we added a definition for KM.  One of the issues uncovered was that there is not a one-size-fits-all approach to KM.  In Global IT, we went out and interviewed employees to better understand what they were thinking and, through the information we gathered, were able to improve their and leaders’ understanding of where we should focus our efforts.  That helped us justify a full-time resource to help the many areas of Global IT with KM.  Roles and responsibilities were identified, a new process for how to approach KM was created, an IT KM steering committee and IT KM community of practice were created, and a KM website was built to support the people working on KM.  The intent of the KM website was not only to help Global IT, but also to help the enterprise.  Many business groups began their KM journeies because of the survey and have many success stories to share.

APQC: What in the survey results really surprised you?

KJL: In the first survey that was done prior to getting questions into the employee survey, it surprised me that employees did want to share. The issue was they didn’t know the best way or what to share.  We continually fine-tuned our questions, which makes it more difficult to compare year to year since the baseline changes; however, over the last two surveys we were able to see improvements in the scores.  The amount of enthusiasm that different business areas as well as domains within Global IT showed was very impressive.

APQC: I know that, as you built a new program for one area, you wanted to ensure that the processes, tools, and techniques would apply to the entire business.  With that in mind, what was the biggest challenge in designing the program and website?

KJL: One of the biggest challenges is getting the word out that the resource exists.  While we could link it to our John Deere Online intranet home page, we haven’t done so yet.  We are not quite ready to help the business with their KM initiatives (staffed appropriately), and we are still redefining our services to be more “knowledge” focused.  We have not hidden the KM website from them, though.  We added a link to it on the Manager Self Service home page so managers find the resources when they are looking to improve the KM dimension of the survey.  It can also be found on our Global IT homepage. 

APQC: One of the interesting choices Deere made was to have an approach in which the KM team reports up through the enterprise content management group. What effect did this have on your tools, training, and approaches?

KJL: As we evolve our department to focus more on knowledge services instead of just enterprise content management services, one of the challenges is to determine how we should evolve the KM website.  We link to many content management resources on the KM website, but our group also has responsibility for many other tools besides SharePoint such as enterprise search, video content management, social collaboration, and other tools.  We want to make sure we evolve the current enterprise content management services site which is being replaced by a self-service portal for SharePoint for our move to SharePoint 2013.  We need to figure out how to make all our tools and services easy to find and use, but more importantly solve our business partners’ problems.  We are trying not to lead with the tool, but to help provide solutions.  

APQC: Since one of the goals was to have your KM program ultimately expand to cover the entire business, what are your plans to grow the program and what will be the keys to its long-term success?

KJL:  Business participation and leadership commitment are the keys to success.  We will not be able to accomplish this goal without partnering with the business and getting the leaders to commit the resources and support to evolve our KM program.  My boss and I will be participating in the KM strategy session together to pick up techniques, best practices, and more to make sure our plans are heading in the right direction.  We are in the process of redefining our services and governance models to include the business.