By Gloria Lombardi

Lafarge, the world’s largest cement manufacturer, is using a knowledge management platform to spread the company’s best practices to 40,000 employees across 63 countries.

The seeds of today’s Einstein, were first planted in 2002. Knowledge Manager, Jean-Luc Abelin (pictured right), describes the journey of an organisation that entirely transformed the way colleagues share and use knowledge to improve their performance.

Dynamic knowledge sharing

At the beginning, Lafarge‘s platform was very simple. Its purpose in 2002 was to increase the speed of transferring expertise in concrete, one of Lafarge’s core business areas.

By 2006, the platform became bigger and more organised. Twelve knowledge managers around the world were animating the network, which at that time was called KTP. The sharing of best practices started to include the aggregate activity, another key business area of the company. The purpose was clear: to increase Lafarge’s performance, while identifying experts and keeping the know-how of the organisation flowing.

However, by 2006 the technology had become outdated. Many employees were not using the platform, frustrated by a poor search engine and language barriers: the tool user interface proposed was only in French and English.

In 2009, a determined Jean-Luc joined Lafarge corporate as knowledge manager, and things started to change. “My aim was to crunch the ‘pyramid’ and break the silos. I wanted to give all our employees access to all our knowledge.”

Jean-Luc started by doing a survey with all the employees using the platform in order to understand their needs. Based on the findings, he created the Specification Book: a volume which identified all the functions that the platform needed to have to help deploy widely and effectively the company’s best practices.

Jean-Luc clearly understood that it was time to change the technology, and so he did. The way he approached the issue is a good lesson for companies just embarking on the social business journey: “Differently from many other organisations, I did not choose a platform and then make sure to adapt the organisation to it. Instead, I started meeting suppliers, giving them our Specification Book and explaining our expectations.”

Delivering the platform

At the end, he chose the Belgium provider, Knowledge Plaza. Why did he choose this company?

“When I explained them what my needs were,” says Jean-Luc “they told me very frankly: we can provide you with 80% of what you need immediately. But we need to develop the other 20% of specifications. They were very honest and frank, something that you do not always get from the biggest names that often promise everything today but cannot later always commit.”

It took eight months between Jean-Luc’s first meeting with Knowledge Plaza and the delivery of the final product, and only four months between the official order and the delivery.

So, Lafarge got an entirely new knowledge management platform, “Einstein”, with all the features identified by the Specification Book. Now Lafarge’s platform had a well functioning search engine, and included the eight further languages they needed: English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Romanian, Polish, Greek, Arabic, and later Mandarin and Russian.

Today, at a local level each country has a Knowledge Manager who is in charge of animating the platform, training people, translating the best practice, and helping employees to create best practice and documents. Also, Function Knowledge Managers do the same at a corporate level. For example, they have three Function Knowledge Managers for Communications. Each of them, such us the Knowledge Manager for Internal communications, is in charge of motivating his/her own network in the countries.

“We have created an ecosystem around knowledge management. Einstein is not just a tool. It’s about communication, motivation, relationships, it’s a real team effort of 82 Knowledge Managers. We all work together to make this platform very active, proactive and attractive to our people.”

Givers and Takers

“We need to have both, Givers and Takers,” he says. “If you only give your knowledge, that is not going to work. You have real sharing only when someone else takes it and uses it at work. And, it is not that just because someone posts something on the platform that someone else will go there and take it. Each user must feel personally motivated to do that”.

So, how does Lafarge motivate its employees to go to the platform, and make the best use of its best practices?

Every year, the company creates a communication campaign aimed at changing behaviours. It focuses on explaining the values of sharing such us innovation, better performance, and saving costs.

Communications activities not only address the corporate advantages of sharing but also the benefits at individual level. Each month Lafarge produces two newsletters, one about new documents and another based on a specific topic, with links to the new different documents and best practices available on Einstein, which can help employees to reach their own individual targets.

The lure of treasure

However, what seems to differentiate Lafarge’s motivational programs from others’, is their Treasure Hunt competition. Run every two years, this is a serious game initiative in a Q&A format, aimed at helping people to familiarise with searching information on the platform. The motivation part comes from the opportunity given staff to win real gold coins. Yes! Real gold. And that seems to work perfectly well. “Gold is a dream.”

While this may appear an expensive initiative for Lafarge, in reality it is a smart investment: “The treasure is ten gold coins, and the prize equates to 2500 euros (1 coin = 250 euros). With that amount of money we are training 40,000 potential users around the world.”

Another type of competition is run to encourage different types of actions relating to sharing knowledge such as filling profiles, commenting, liking, etc. People earn points when doing one of these activities, and at the end of the quarter the best “sharer” win an iPad. “Once again we can train 40,000 staff around the world for the price of an iPad.”

Einstein for knowledge management, eLo Village for social networking

Einstein makes available only expertise that has been validated and proven. “We have a very strong governance of the platform in order to regulate the effectiveness of each best practice.”

Jean-Luc explains that only knowledge managers and chosen experts can add knowledge directly on the platform. If someone else wants to add a best practice they have to send it to a knowledge manager, who will check the content and its comprehensibility. An expert will need to validate from a technical point of view. Only if it is accepted, will it be then posted on the platform.

Beside Einstein, the company uses an enterprise social network based on Jive, called Lo Village. This is Lafarge’s open space where any employee can discuss with anyone else any on-going project without restrictions. “This is the open space of the company where colleagues share and discuss concepts, and new ideas.”

Jean-Luc explains that each platform strategically serves a specific purpose. “Lo village is our coffee shop where we create, speak, add ideas, work on ongoing projects. Einstein is our dynamic library which contains exclusively validated and live documents.”

Although based on two platforms, the communication between Einstein and Lo Village works perfectly well and will be deploy during the first next quarter. If someone on Einstein has an enquiry, or needs a document that they cannot find, that person can ask their question directly from there to Lo Village. Everyone on Lo Village can then reply to that person. The same applies in the other direction.

Future proofing the platform

A knowledge management platform should be as dynamic and ever-evolving as knowledge itself. That is why Lafarge is already working on a new version of Einstein to be released in June 2014. Einstein may be also changing its name: one suggestion could be Newton but to be conform with the communication governance the name will have to begin with LO…something.. We will see.

The work is hard, but worth the effort. Luckily the company has a very supportive sponsor who the group performance manager Peter Hoddinott.

And surely, Einstein has to give credit to a very engaged Jean-Luc who turned the most skeptical people of the organisation into some of the strongest supporters of the platform.

“Every day is a very very full day for me. Sometimes you have to fight. But it’s a question of involvement. I have to be engaged, very visible, very close to our employees. You cannot make something useful to people if you do not understand what their problems are.”


This article originally appeared on simply-communicate