Nalco Champion, an Ecolab company serving the energy sector, borrowed from social media the concept of a discussion board, where topics are posted for consideration by individuals around the world. In creating this CORE program, Nalco Champion has taken knowledge transfer, capture and preservation to a new level.

CORE Program Implementation

The CORE program was implemented in phases, which allowed management and members of the workforce to experience the program’s benefits without the significant disruption to operations that might have occurred with a more aggressive implementation schedule. It was also guided by the strategic vision embodied within Nalco Champion’s maturity journey, which identified five phases of incremental growth. Given the challenge of implementing a program across multiple disciplines, this phased implementation of the CORE program included the following five steps:

1. Troubleshooting Questions and Generating Rapid Answers

The first challenge was putting in place a mechanism that facilitated the identification of questions or problems and the efficient provision of answers or solutions. Who better to identify the questions than the personnel who encounter them? The program needed a way for these individuals to connect with employees who had the answers. With thousands of employees spread around the world, this challenge could have seemed insurmountable; however, the solution was facilitated by technological advancements that provided the opportunity for employees to log into an electronic discussion board and post their questions in a range of categories called networks.

2. Pushing Useful Information to Individuals

Once the workforce became familiar with the use of the discussion board to help resolve problems, the next step was to take the information captured in the discussion threads and package it for easy delivery to employees. Rather than wait for a problem to arise, the CORE program operational team coached network leadership teams and members to proactively post discussions with valuable content that would prepare employees to deal with problems they might encounter in the future.

3. Hosting Educational Events

The CORE program operational team also assisted the network teams in setting up and hosting learning events, which served as both training and sharing sessions where members of a particular network participated in deep-dive discussions of a particular issue using a collection of expert knowledge prepared specifically for the event. These sessions made valuable contributions to the professional development of participants, and they saved on formal training and travel costs.

4. Creating Content

Channeling the content gathered through discussion threads and encouraging the creation of additional content by SMEs offered a means to capture the knowledge and expertise of the organization in a more routine, formalized manner. This content is hosted in the network libraries and advertised in discussion posts.

5. Pioneering Innovation and Ideation

The CORE program team, having weathered a plethora of challenges, including the CTI/Nalco merger, is pursuing ways to innovate through discussions. Moving beyond problem-solving by sharing experiences, network members are discussing challenges and the development of new solutions to those challenges. Coming up with new approaches, products and processes will help the organization maintain a competitive edge.

Important considerations related to the successful implementation of the CORE program include ensuring that the team heading up implementation of the knowledge-sharing program:

  • Has full support from top management.
  • Understands the needs of the organization.
  • Has project management and training delivery skills.
  • Is familiar with IT systems.
  • Fully understands the corporate culture and how to manage cultural change.
  • Fosters an atmosphere of open collaboration.

Thinking in terms of a phased implementation, a safety network might be a good place to start, as it can offer benefits that are readily obvious to all participants. Expanding the program from there would be easier once you have built a base of support around a core network.

Ultimately, the key to success of the program is that it becomes a natural part of the work process as a tool to identify and fix problems that might otherwise linger for years.

Program Benefits

An example of the program’s benefits for customers came when a refinery customer in South Africa filled an entire storage tank with off-specification fuel oil. The metal content was too high, and this issue could cost the refinery up to $1.5 million in lost profits. The customer brought the issue to its sales rep, who posted it on the CORE refinery network. Within 24 hours, he received replies from five different people who identified an additive that the customer could use to cause the excess metal to settle out of solution. This solution enabled the refinery to draw oil from the top of the tank that met specification.

CORE helps associates provide a higher level of service to customers, but it also develops associates by bridging the gap between current knowledge and the expertise needed to solve problems. First, CORE provides a means for employees to receive quick answers to challenging technical questions. Second, it serves as a repository for expert information on specific topics, creating a reference that employees can search before posting a question. Third, since discussion boards are monitored by the leadership team, managers are automatically apprised of technical issues and their resolution.

A primary benefit of the discussion board approach to knowledge capture is that useful information is acquired in the normal course of operations, and problems are identified and solved in a structured, effective manner. This information is documented in a central location, giving all relevant parties easy access to this valuable resource whenever they need it.

The Future

Now in the “pioneering innovation and ideation” phase of development, the future of the Nalco Champion CORE Program is under consideration. A future iteration might venture further into the digital age by employing chatbots as the initial response to posted questions. If the bot is unable to match the question to existing information, the system could escalate the issue to the discussion board or refer it to an SME. Additionally, the CORE program could be linked to a work management system to push information about performing a specific task slightly in advance of when an employee is scheduled to perform that task. Or, Nalco Champion could push knowledge capture further into the digital age with techniques involving artificial reality.

Regardless of future developments, it is important to recognize that while the CORE program identifies and helps employees solve problems, such a tool would not be necessary unless problems existed that some members of the workforce were unprepared to face on their own. This situation may be the result of a dynamic marketplace, but it could also be driven by deficits in the authority and accountability framework, gaps in an effective training program, problematic policies and procedures, faulty communications loops, or a host of other issues common to many large corporate operations.

The long-term solution to these problems resides in an ongoing effort to identify and address the root causes of these problems. The CORE program provides a means to surface problems and pair them with a short-term fix. The long-term solution, however, lies in eradicating as many of these problems as possible through serious remediation of the root causes. In this manner, the CORE program produces its greatest long-term benefit by fostering genuine continuous improvement.