ConocoPhillips’ intranet culture: ask questions, don’t hoard answers

March 7, 2012 by

Its management sets the tone for its internal community, which is full of people unafraid to say they need help or can offer it.

By Matt Wilson

Energy giant ConocoPhillips’ intranet, eStream, doesn’t run on the newest platform. It doesn’t even run on the second-newest. It uses the nearly decade-old SharePoint 2003.

“It’s not about the technology or the version or the whiz-bang,” Dan Ranta, director of knowledge sharing at the company, told the panel on this month’s Digital Workplace Live broadcast. “What we’re focused on is the behavior.”

The behavior that ConocoPhillips is looking for is a bit unconventional for a huge company where people are assigned complex, technical tasks. What it’s looking for are people who can admit not knowing something.

“Demonstrating vulnerability—it’s really positive behavior,” Ranta said.

ConocoPhillips’ executives lead by example, he said, encouraging employees to seek out “the power of many.”

Bill Ives, partner at Merced Group, said, “You’ve got to be able to promote that culture of asking questions, not just hoarding answers.”

ConocoPhillips has also been giving employees incentives for collaborating since the inception of its knowledge sharing program, Ranta said, linking participation with its bonus structure. “We’re the only company I’ve heard … that has taken this direct step,” he said.

The company also has an annual awards program for outstanding collaborators.

Employees ask about things they don’t know in the Q&A section of eStream, which is loaded with questions. Site moderators keep an eye on each question and mark them answered when someone comes along and drops some knowledge. It’s a process Ranta calls “collective elaboration.”

“This is not crowdsourcing,” he said. “We don’t need 1,000 answers here. The person who knows the answer also knows the question.”

That sort of knowledge sharing leads to benefits throughout the company, Ranta said. If a question is asked enough times, the topic will eventually become an article on the company’s wiki, for instance, where an answer becomes permanently enshrined as a best practice. And employees are asked to fill out “success story” forms to demonstrate how shared knowledge pays off.

“We’ve collected over 10,000 of them,” he said. “In a sense, these are life lessons learned.” Employees have documented hundreds of millions of dollars in savings in the success stories.

Paul Miller, founder and CEO of the Digital Workplace Group, the organization that produces IBF Live, asked how published success stories help other employees.

Employees can “reach out and they could talk to the other people involved,” Ranta said.

Is gamification a gimmick?

Also in this month’s broadcast, Miller, Ives and Ashela Webb, co-founder of Collaboration Management Body of Knowledge (CMBOK), discussed whether introducing an element of friendly competition to collaboration is useful or just a gimmick.

“Gamification is going to be the next way we solve and improve business processes,” Webb said, but Miller asked if it trivializes what’s being shared.

Webb replied that members of the millennial generation have mastered playing computer games, so sharing knowledge through games is simply comfortable for them.

Ives said gamification isn’t exactly new—he was doing computer-based training with game-like features in the 1980s. “I don’t think it’s a gimmick at all,” he said. “The idea of making it an adventure, the idea of making it a competition in a positive way, can certainly incentivize people to perform.”

Webb said that if Miller were to split the IBF Live audience into two teams, one on her side and one on Ives’ side, “you give them a reason to collaborate with each other. You convert what would be a business process into an experience.”

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Nancy Goebel

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