BHP Billiton axes its Knowledge Networks

Posted by  Shawn Callahan —January 31, 2008
Filed in Anecdotes, Collaboration

BHP Billiton axed their division called Operational Excellence last year. This was the group that, among other services, supported the organisations Knowledge Networks (also called communities of practice but language matters in this story). BHPB had developed the networks over the last 10 years but when the new CEO arrived he thought that if the business lines thought these networks were valuable then they should support them. Operational Excellence was a corporate service and while I don’t know the exact numbers there might have been 30 or more people supporting their knowledge networks program.

Knowledge networks in BHPB were formal affairs. There was a defined process for creating one. Senior sponsorship was required. There were funded extremely well. And each one had one or more support people helping to run the network. In the case of their Global Maintenance Network there were at least a handful of support people. At the same time groups of people could informally come together without corporate support and these groups were communities of practice. Ironically it’s a career limiting move at BHPB to mention knowledge networks because they connote corporate, bureaucratic and expensive. But calling gatherings of professionals ‘communities of practice’ is OK and perhaps even applauded. Language matters. History matters.

About  Shawn Callahan

Shawn, author of Putting Stories to Work, is one of the world's leading business storytelling consultants. He helps executive teams find and tell the story of their strategy. When he is not working on strategy communication, Shawn is helping leaders find and tell business stories to engage, to influence and to inspire. Shawn works with Global 1000 companies including Shell, IBM, SAP, Bayer, Microsoft & Danone. Connect with Shawn on:


  1. Eric Sauve says:

    Great anecdote.
    So I guess the business units were not interested? I wonder if they are still have some good success with their communities, or perhaps more with the shut down of their knowledge networks.

  2. I’m not entirely sure but I would be very surprised if the business lines didn’t pick up the CoPs very quickly as they were providing substantial value to the business, a point which was highlighted in the previous CEO’s presentation to market analysts when they posted a $8.5 Billion profit.

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