Building a successful knowledge sharing culture: The Sopra Steria journey

by Hilde Solberg Holm and Anders Palerud, Sopra Steria

In her Capability Magazine article “How to build a culture for knowledge sharing at work”, Jane Hart concludes that “knowledge sharing with a team” is the most valued way of learning in a workplace.

Sopra Steria was ranked the Best Workplace in Norway by Great Place to Work Institute in March. Last year we won HR Norway’s Competence Award. The company also won the Oda Award for their work on increasing the number of women it the IT sector.

The employees give the knowledge sharing culture the honor for these achievements. In this article, we will share how Sopra Steria developed this knowledge sharing culture.

Over the last decade, Sopra Steria Norway has been through a journey of strong growth, now being one of the largest consulting companies in the field of IT and business consulting. Since 2007, we have grown from 350 to 1200 employees, and we have welcomed up to 300 new employees each year.

This growth has been the key driver for our focus on building a knowledge sharing culture, together with the rapidly development in the IT industry. To be on top of things, our employees cannot only rely on their own knowledge, they have to include their colleagues knowledge as a part of their own knowledge platform.

The 70:20:10 Learning model has reached global distribution due to its simplicity and “common sense” feeling. Most people can relate to the basic ideas of this model, and the model is therefore embraced by many organizations as the foundation of their learning policy. One example of a successful approach to the 70:20:10 learning model, in DNV-GL, is described in this article.

This is also true for Sopra Steria. Our learning policy is built on the 3 pillars of the 70:20:10 learning model, but our main focus in this article will be around the :20 - the social dimension of learning.

What we have done
Fostering a knowledge sharing culture demands several initiatives, but like everything else in organizations, it starts from the top. To inspire the organization, to express a view, to give direction and mandate, a slogan was introduced by top management,  "Power of Sharing". The slogan was quickly adapted by our employees, because it appealed to what people generally tend and like to do, to share what they know with others. With this slogan the employees got a clear mandate from top management to do what comes naturally. We share what we are good at - with colleagues, clients and our community.

The adaptation of the slogan is closely connected with the fact that our company provides a broad scope of services to clients, and our employees represent an even greater range of expertise. For the company to reach its goals, we are dependent on capitalizing on the total expertise of all our employees.

Implementing tools to make knowledge sharing easy
To make knowledge sharing easy, we introduced both digital tools and analogue face-to-face arenas.  Yammer is our most important digital tool for knowledge sharing, our internal social network. On Yammer, we have facilitated extensive use of groups where employees can participate in groups that are closest to their own skills and interests. It is also easy to ask open questions, and get immediate feedback. Potential use of new technology and certain solutions to customer challenges are discussed side by side. There is also room for bad jokes and the coordination of sports activties.

A very important driver for the success of Yammer is that our managers are active users, cheering questions raised and actively take part in discussions.

Blogging is an efficient tool for both reflecting on own learning, and to share. That is why we have established a blog where our employees are encouraged to post blogs. This blog has reached a wide distribution, and covers a whole range of different topics.

Internal competence database
As a consulting company, we rely on a solution where we can easily keep track of our employees' skills to offer our clients the right consultant with the right competence for the right project. But this is also an important tool for knowledge sharing among colleagues to help you find  “who knows what”.  The competence database is open and transparent to all employees - everyone can see what colleagues can and what projects they have worked on. This helps you to find the “go to” person to support you when needed.

Communities of practice
Our internal Communities of practice have been one of the most important pillars in the implementation of a knowledge sharing culture. It is not only a tool for knowledge sharing.  Another effect is that these groups create a sense of belonging to the company. In addition, these groups are important tools in ensuring that we are at the forefront when it comes to understanding and applying new solutions and technologies. These Communities of practice also in many ways act as think tanks for our employees.

The Community meetings are mostly face to face meetings. In these meetings, employees meet to update each other on the latest in their field of study, and to share the challenges they face at the moment. In addition to being an important place for sharing skills, these groups are also important social arenas. The meetings take place after regular working hours, and are often combined with food, drinks and mingling. In this way, we combine professional development with internal networking.

The communities have a leader who is responsible for the academic content and practical arrangements of the meetings. Group members, clients and partners are invited to give speeches in the meetings.  Today, we have about 50 Communities of practice, and during a regular week we host around 10 group meetings. The groups have open groups on Yammer, and the meetings are announced on the intranet and on Yammer.

Even with a strong management push and several tools for knowledge sharing, it does not necessarily start happening.

When asking our employees, “why do you share knowledge”, here is couple of answers that covers the main impression:

“ I experience that we are rewarded and recognized for it. Colleagues who share knowledge become heroes in the stories that are told. Recognition from leaders means a lot. And it's a good feeling to help others. It is a recognition of your own expertise. So there is a strong inner reward and motivation in it too. Everyone likes to feel good! ".

 

“ The  CEO has been crystal clear in his message. He says over and over again:  "Ask a colleague" and "Help your colleague if they need it" This message has been important”.

 

What we have learned
To summarize our key learnings from our journey to build a successful knowledge sharing culture, we will highlight:

  • Knowledge sharing is not only for employees – managers have to participate and set the standard

  • Do not over-organize. Create the structure, and let people fill the content

  • People naturally want to share their knowledge, but they might need some guidance on the way

  • Digital is not the answer of everything: we need both digital tools and face-to-face arenas

The next steps
To keep and nurture our knowledge sharing culture, we have different questions to answer and challenges to handle.

One challenge is about digital tools. There is a constant flow of new tools coming up, and our people start using them whether the tools are company policy or not. So how do we respond to this? To make tools a part of company policy takes time, there are, among other questions, security issues to deal with. If the company is not up to speed, people will find their own channels and the company policy platforms will be tapped for content and importance.

Even as employees in an IT company, there are different levels of digital literacy. We still have to work on getting everyone to use the social media tools as their primary channel for information.

The Community of practice meetings are today face to face meetings. We need to learn how to facilitate these meetings also using digital tools, to be accessible even if we are not are able to be there in person.  

Do not underestimate the "Power of Sharing" - we hope you will find our experience useful - and share it with your colleagues!


 

Hilde Solberg Holm is head of Learning and Development in Sopra Steria Scandinavia.  She has a long career both in line management positions, project management, and in staff positions working with Learning and Development. For the last 10 years, she has been part of the HR team in Sopra Steria Norway, contributing in making this company No 1 in Great Place to Work. She strongly believes that people are curious and willing to learn and share, if the company structures support these natural instincts.

Anders Palerud is HR Manager in Sopra Steria. Since he started his HR career in 2009 he has been working with all sides of  HR, stretching from core HR administration to performance management and training & development. Today Anders is responsible for the performance management procesess in Sopra Steria Scandinavia, including project manager for the annual Great Place to Work survey and awards.