About a year ago, I read about a very interesting approach to knowledge management called “Operation Brain-trap” by a consulting firm in Barcelona, Spain .
Based on its fast-growth strategy and niche market, Cluster Competitiveness adopted a radical approach to managing its intellectual capital back in 1993. It required all its consultants to funnel any knowledge of the company’s clients, methodology, or business operations into a single digital repository available to all staff. Not too uncommon for professional service firms, right? The kicker here is that in this company any papers left on employees’ desks are routinely pushed into a trash can and recycled! The company’s rule is “keep nothing valuable on paper.” Talk about the paperless office!
There’s a temporary exception. Over the course of a typical 4-5 month engagement, each client case team has the “right” to fill one of the cardboard boxes that sit against a wall at the headquarters library and one file drawer. When a project is over, it’s all thrown out.
Using this approach the company attempts to make all of its consultants equally capable of serving a client at the highest level, and they can accelerate the ability of young MBAs to take on high level management roles (with some coaching from the sidelines). The success rate has been climbing, and is now at about 70%. They believe forcing everyone to use the repository for all information gives them a critical advantage in a competitive market.
Cluster Competitiveness can’t compete with the larger consulting firms in recruiting senior talent, so it wants to provide instant access to all of the organization’s intellectual capital. They do this through hardware, software, and personal operating style, all stored as a tutorial file on the corporate intranet. They measure the ROI of this strategy, and the metrics show a sharp increase in new consultants’ billing capacity and a drop in training costs since the KM strategy was implemented. Measured training capacity has risen 100 percent since the initiative started, and billings by consultant have increased more than 100 percent in the same time period. This strategy enables the organization to hire up to 50 percent more staff since everyone can rely on a common store of intellectual capital. If the company taught apprentices, it could add only two or three a year.