Capability 3 – Knowledge Sharing
An organization can become very effective at highly specifying work (Capability 1) and effectively solving problems (Capability 2); however, until it starts effectively sharing this knowledge throughout the organization, it will not achieve the full potential of a high-velocity organization. High-velocity organizations learn to multiply the power of their new knowledge gained from systemic problem-solving by making it available, not only to those who discovered it, but also throughout the organization. The key is sharing not only the solutions that are discovered, but the processes by which they were discovered - what was learned and how it was learned are equally as important. When people in high-velocity organizations do their work, they do so with the cumulative experience of everyone in the organization who has ever done the same work. This is called the multiplier effect.
One common form of resistance to an organization achieving effective knowledge sharing and taking advantage of the multiplier effect is brought about by traditional thinking - that job knowledge is job security. In other words, as long as I don’t teach anybody what “tricks” I know, or specialized knowledge I have, I will be indispensable to the organization. It seems this type of thinking has grown more prevalent in many organizations in the last four years due to the recession we are just now finally climbing out of, and the mass layoffs we’ve all seen. This thinking is flawed because high velocity organizations understand that value comes from effective knowledge sharing, and thus they reward and retain talented team members that embrace this philosophy, especially during recessions. Think about it, which team member would you keep on your team during tough times, the one who knows how to fish alone or the one who can teach others how to fish as well?
The reason knowledge sharing really increases our chance of success comes down to the concept of compounding. Compounding can dramatically increase our chances for disastrous failures, such as 3-mile island or the NASA space shuttle disaster, while increasing our chances for major successes such as the iPhone or Google. Large failures are almost always a result of an accumulation of many small failures compounded over time. With failures, the problem is that learning was not occurring at each smaller failure stage for many possible reasons, including lack of proper problem solving (Capability 2) or specific enough work to make the failures visible sooner (Capability 1). In the case of the 2003 NASA space shuttle Columbia disaster, there were numerous failures in foam material and O-rings during the development process that were not effectively shared across the organization and incorporated into the system. Lives were lost and many dollars spent recovering from this accident that should have never happened.
For major successes, contrary to popular media hype, it is not usually one brilliant leader’s vision or genius mind, but instead the building on much previous learning, both from failures and successes, accumulated or compounded over time. Organizations that are able to effectively and quickly share and spread this knowledge throughout the organization and make it part of the repeatable system are inherently more likely to succeed. Apple is able to do this effectively partly because they are both a hardware and software company, and because they quickly share valuable integration knowledge across both disciplines.
The ability to take lessons discovered through local problem solving and making them useful throughout the organization so that individuals learn not just for themselves but for present and future colleagues is a critical step in becoming a high velocity organization, and can save lives!
For the 4th and final capability of high velocity organizations I will discuss how transformational leaders embrace these capabilities and teach them throughout all levels of the organization.