Knowledge Management for Growing Companies: Q&A with TDIndustries
In 2015, TDIndustries, a mechanical contractor and facility service provider, found itself with a pipe welding problem. With a staff increase of nearly 20 percent from the year before, the company was growing rapidly, but somewhere along the way, one specific pipe welding technique was getting lost in translation.
While TD had a host of communications tools, from social media to an intranet news portal, it became clear that something was missing. That’s when a team of IT, marketing, and skilled tradespeople at TD turned to an unconventional solution: an internal wiki.
“I made a two-minute video on the proper way to weld, and I configured it so it would show well on cell phones and didn’t require audio. The welding problem went away after six months,” explains Dennis Washington, a technical writer within TDIndustries’ marketing department. Washington is responsible for content management of what the company calls TDWiki, a digital library designed to help people in the office and in the field do their jobs better and learn new skills on the go.
“I made a two-minute video on the proper way to weld, and I configured it so it would show well on cell phones and didn’t require audio. The welding problem went away after six months.”
– Dennis Washington, Technical Writer, TDIndustries
Many companies in TD’s position — expanding fast with the growing pains to prove it — turn to technology as a quick fix for knowledge management, only to find that the costly investment goes unclicked, unwatched, and unused.
As a company with a strong servant leadership culture (they just landed on Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For® list for the 20th consecutive year), TD knew that in order to be successful, TDWiki would have to be populated by all of its TDPartners (what TD calls its employee-owners). From the very beginning, TD encouraged every member of the organization — not just IT — to play a part in the construction of this massive and invaluable resource. Together, they found success, creating a TDWiki that’s 3,020 pages strong today.
Dennis Washington and his coworker, mobile analyst Ivan Staats, shared their experience in getting the whole company involved in building a knowledge management system that captures more than 71 years of industry expertise.
TOKY: How do you encourage members of your team to actually create the content? This is a big challenge for a lot of organizations, regardless of industry.
Dennis Washington: Our philosophy is, if you have a role at TD, there’s something that you’re going to be smarter at than the rest of us. And our commitment to continuous learning and training encourages you to share that knowledge. When we get a new TDPartner, part of their first day orientation involves an introduction to all of our tools, including TDWiki. It’s as much a part of our culture as safety.
When it came time to create the welding video, it took a 30-plus year experienced welding veteran and construction field leadership to initiate the project. They were able to share their expertise across our seven offices and hundreds of jobsites.
TOKY: Do you have a similar process for encouraging your staff to look to the wiki as a primary source of information?
Ivan Staats: As a mobile analyst, my day to day is spent doing break/fix of mobile devices and computers, as well as new deployment of any hardware coming in. With every new device issued, I walk through the process of accessing TDWiki, our other intranet tools, and any software relevant to that TDPartner’s role. So much of our company documentation is on TDWiki that you learn to use it quickly.
“Our philosophy is, if you have a role at TD, there’s something that you’re going to be smarter at than the rest of us. And our commitment to continuous learning and training encourages you to share that knowledge.”
– Dennis Washington, Technical Writer, TDIndustries
TOKY: Does every member of the TDIndustries team have the ability to create content?
Dennis Washington: The way it’s designed is there are three tiers. The lowest tier is the user. A user can browse and make suggestions as to what content should be there. The second tier is a content owner. A content owner can do the same as a user and can also manipulate existing content. And then the third level is a topic area owner. A topic area owner can create and delete files along with the things the other two levels can do. Today, out of 2,500 Partners, we have about 2,000 users, 200 owners, and 50 topic area owners.
TOKY: What’s an example of a TDWiki article a partner might use to help them with their job?
Dennis Washington: We recently finished digitizing our comprehensive construction process manual (CPM) and uploaded it to TDWiki. It includes processes, policies, and procedures for everything from preconstruction through start-up and warranty. TDPartners can refer to the CPM when they have a question or are learning a new concept. What we found is that they get consistent information and there is more transparency within our company.
TOKY: Do you find that certain generations use or contribute to TDWiki more than others?
Dennis Washington: I can tell you that when I was first hired five years ago, before TDWiki was launched, I was told that the older generation would be reluctant, but I have not found that to be the case. When I was issued the challenge of getting information from the older generation, I framed it as, “There are a lot of young people who would benefit from your knowledge, so would you be willing to tell your story on the TDWiki platform?” And almost all of them embraced that challenge and started giving me content to post on their behalf.
TOKY: The company provides TDPartners with mobile phones and tablets for the field. Do you think TDWiki would be as widely used as it is without these devices?
Ivan Staats: Probably not. We find that if they’re using a personal device, our TDPartners are far less likely to use their data plan or device for anything having to do with work. That’s one of the reasons we’ve deployed more than 2,000 devices to TDPartners throughout the company, to make it easy to access as much training and informational content as they need.
“There’s so much out there knowledge-wise, no one or 10 or 100 people can run this thing. It takes everybody contributing whatever they’re the subject matter expert in.”
– Ivan Staats, Mobile Analyst, TDIndustries
TOKY: What advice would you give to a company that’s looking to start a knowledge management or wiki program like yours?
Ivan Staats: To run a program like this, you obviously need leadership buy-in, but you also need middle and lower management buy-in along the way. There’s so much out there knowledge-wise, no one or 10 or 100 people can run this thing. It takes everybody contributing whatever they’re the subject matter expert in. A small task force trying to create a wiki on their own would be going about it the really hard way. And for that small task force to gather that much company information may even be impossible.
For further ideas on building a knowledge management system at your organization, check out our article, “An Intro to Knowledge Sharing.” Many thanks to TDIndustries for sharing their invaluable insight on building a sustainable, crowdsourced knowledge management system. You can follow TD on LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.