The power of innovation: 11 success factors for knowledge transfer

With the Academy, Julia Koop from ERGO's Digital Factory has established a format for sustainable, cross-divisional networking and knowledge transfer. The Academy involves employees who have valuable knowledge for the company's ability to innovate. In the “WerkWandel” magazine, she provides tips for successful knowledge management.

This article was originally published in German in the magazine WerkWandel 03/2023.

Increase the power of innovation in corporates through cross-divisional knowledge transfer

The Digital Factory as a driver of digital and agile transformation at ERGO Group AG

The general consent is that networks are becoming increasingly important in companies. However, knowledge that is valuable for the ability to innovate is often also held by employees who are less interested in networking. These employees can be reached through content. Julia Koop from ERGO's Digital Factory has utilised precisely this and established a format for sustainable, cross-divisional networking and knowledge transfer with the Digital Factory Academy. This is a practical example with a description of the success factors.

Background Digital Factory

The insurance company ERGO Group AG founded the Digital Factory in 2018 as a driver of digital and agile transformation. The Digital Factory serves as an incubator and enabler for working methods and supports the design and implementation of digital services and products with cross-functional teams. What is special about the Digital Factory's approach is its structure: On the one hand, cross-functional skills have been brought together centrally in the Digital Factory - for example, IT and business architects, UX designers (UX stands for user experience), design thinking moderators, release train engineers, etc. On the other hand, responsibility for the content of the digital results to be realised remains with the specialist department that brings the problems to be solved to the factory. This model leads to a strong expansion of cross-departmental collaboration.

What does knowledge transfer has to do with the ability to innovate?

When it comes to "innovation", many people think of the big changes. However, innovations are rarely complete novelties (= "radical innovation") that divide time into a "before" and an "after". The majority of innovations are the result of a new combination of familiar elements, i.e. existing products or services.

The question now is how companies can systematically create a culture for such innovations. After all, the knowledge is already available in most companies, but the experts are generally not (well) networked. Every employee is an expert, not only in their specialist subject, but also in how this works in the context of the organisation. If an organisation manages to network the knowledge of its employees in a meaningful way, valuable combinations of known elements can be created.

But where should you start? There are already individual employees in organisations who are very well networked both internally and externally. They no longer need any encouragement and are constantly bringing new ideas and perspectives into the organisation through their lively exchanges. Most knowledge workers would also agree that networking is important in a professional context. But for the majority of them, it keeps slipping down the list of priorities. Organisations need to create sustainable incentives for them to actively network and thus exchange knowledge that can flow into the development of innovations. The Digital Factory Academy was created to achieve this.

The format initially started small with a dialogue between two people. The idea of sharing knowledge not just with one colleague in a dialogue, but with several interested parties, quickly grew into a Group-wide format to which practically everyone from the insurance group is now invited, although the content of the format is primarily aimed at product owners, developers, architects, technical experts and all those who (want to) drive digital solutions within the Group.

Within just a few years, the initial approach has developed into a lively and stable community in which a topic is presented by an expert in 20 minutes every week - followed by a discussion round lasting another 20 minutes. The Digital Factory Academy has become a permanent place within the Group where colleagues can meet and gather knowledge and content-related points of contact. Over time, eleven factors have been recognised that can help to make such knowledge transfers sustainable. Many of them are based on the agile working world.

11 success factors of the Digital Factory Academy community

  1. A clear target group: The first question should always be: Which organisational horizontal connection should be promoted for strategic reasons? The Digital Factory Academy, for example, is aimed at all those involved in the (further) development of digital services and products. To begin with, the Product Owner Community of Practice was therefore included in the target group.
  2. Curator: Communities of around 75 people rarely work well without a curator who sets out the "big picture", curates the selection of topics and acts as the face of the community. The more personalised a community is managed, the more loyalty is created. The curator of networks must understand what the target group is interested in, especially in everyday life.
  3. Expert search: Every expert is very happy to pass on their expert knowledge to others if this is possible with little effort and broad distribution, and is also happy to be contacted by interested parties for further questions.
  4. Club character: The format is open to everyone. Anyone who would like to take part is added to a distribution list and receives invitations via this list. Colleagues with no other connection thus become part of the virtual Digital Factory system as a driver of digital and agile transformation within the Group.
  5. Self-organisation: The community members propose and vote on topics every six months via a survey. This is the basis for the curator and part of the active involvement of the members.
  6. Virtual format: In order to leverage the horizontal effects, particularly in terms of innovative capacity, this format can only be available across all locations at the same time - virtually and without obligation.
  7. Flexible scheduling: The weekly format does not have a fixed date. Appointments are arranged individually with each expert who presents.
  8. Service concept: The dates for sessions can be found directly in members' Outlook. The Digital Factory Academy pursues a push mode and thus keeps the knowledge dates very present.
  9. Voluntary: Participation is not compulsory. Every member can come to the sessions as it suits them personally. Everyone is responsible for the investment of their own time and the question of whether the knowledge of an individual session generates value for them.
  10. Partnerships within the Group: As a rule, there are functions in every Group that have a keen interest in reaching horizontal target groups. At the Digital Factory Academy, for example, the innovation scouting team presents a start-up with an interesting solution for the Group at least every three months.
  11. Step by step. Lasting communities develop slowly. They only remain if they continuously adapt to the needs of their members. Organic growth "across the corridor" is optimal.

Learn more about the Digital Factory

Agile working at ERGO: Digital Factory celebrates fifth anniversary

Digital factory – the future belongs to the customer

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