A high tech firm was studying a group of competitors and one of the team members explained that when the firm sent people to visit other companies, each person was given a specific “learning goal.”
In addition to their task at hand, the visitor was expected to learn as much as possible about a particular issue and then share it within the firm. The organization believed their competitiveness could be improved largely based on how effectively they brought knowledge into the company.
Consequently, they invested in gathering, disseminating and using learning as a catalyst to change.
Similarly, we recently saw how powerful knowledge transfer can be when conducting a “Lean Office” training session during which we helped a cross-functional group map their value stream. All the participants had thorough knowledge of their own piece of the process, but no one really knew much about the processes of their internal customers and suppliers.
Value Stream Mapping is inherently a ‘knowledge sharing’ or learning process, so there were plenty of Eureka’s! When individuals learned how their work fit into (and often slowed or hindered) the work of other parts of the value stream, they were able to identify ways to shrink the time required to deliver their service by well over half.
To quote the innovator, Doug Hall, we must ‘feed the brain’! In order to develop new insights, new
solutions, new opportunities for competitive advantage, we must actively mine for knowledge that can trigger solutions.
All sorts of learning can become a catalyst for change. Learning about the market and the customers can help you see possibilities for innovation that you have overlooked before.
Much has been written about the importance of “change” within a business, and how developing an acceptance of it is a requirement to maintaining a culture of Continuous Improvement as well as a competitive position.
However, it is also true that people tend to resist change, even when they acknowledge the need for it.
While there are numerous methods for leading and managing change within an organization, “knowledge” is the most powerful of change agents.
If leaders can make the practice of gathering and sharing knowledge more systematic, and initiate a systematic approach to pursuing knowledge not only about the outside world and marketplace, but also about the work itself, then they can more easily achieve breakthrough results as well as a more engaged and competitive culture.
Of course this contrasts with the more common business culture of focusing on individual learning.
But consider that a great deal of the learning goes to waste when in this model because much of what is learned stays in one place. An individual may accumulate a great deal of knowledge and skill in his or her work, but little is shared. One may master one’s own job, but know little about the work in supplier or customer organizations, which could help streamline the whole process.
To implement a systematic approach to making “learning” the organization’s catalyst for change, leaders can encourage people to learn from four key sources:
- Learn about the marketplace
- Learn about the competition
- Learn about the world-at-large
- Learn about the work
We’ll take a closer look at each of these sources of knowledge over the next few posts, and point-out how each can serve as a catalyst to change and Continuous Improvement.