According to Erick Thompson, assistant VP for knowledge exchange, the St Paul companies, "KM initiatives should also focus on the speed factor. Companies have to learn how to learn faster".
The world is increasingly a competitive learning field. In the past, when progress was slower and the rate of change was lower, an organisation could compete on its products, its patents, its reputation and on its people. However the rate of change is increasing, and companies need to adapt.
Markets are changing, customers are changing, expectations are changing, regulations are changing, the world is changing, and it is changing faster and faster. If companies are to adapt, they need to unlearn old habits and learn new ones. And in a competitive world, the fastest learner wins.
The British Army takes a similar view: you have to try to get inside the enemy's OODA (observe, orientate, decide, act) loop. If you generate faster tempo (rate of learning relative to that of the enemy), you will win.
So how do you hack the clock speed on your internal Knowledge Management cycle? Here are 4 steps.
1. Set targets
How long should it take to be able to find basic knowledge on your Intranet? How long should it take to receive an answer from a CoP? How long should it take before a new lesson is embedded into business process? Set some aggressive targets, like the senior manager at McKinsey who declared that all CoP questions should find an answer within a day.
2. You build the knowledge bases that cover routine activity
Any knowledge that is sufficiently mature, simple, and context-independent should be documented online in an easily findable location. All of your process documentation, manuals, training material should be put onto a wiki or similar knowledge base.
3. You build your Communities of Practice
Any knowledge that is less mature, more complex or more context-dependent may not be documented. Ensure you create the networks of people through which this knowledge can be transferred. Focus the CoP on problem solving and on answering questions if you want it to perform rapidly. Focus on Pull, not Push.
4. You increase your lesson-learning speed through active lessons management
This blog post describes two lessons learned systems - one which takes 2 years to make changes based on new lessons, and one which takes a couple of weeks. You cannot afford to wait years for lessons to be embedded. Each unembedded lesson is a lesson currently unlearned, and an unlearned lesson carries the risk of reinvented wheels and repeat mistakes. Ensure you have an effective Lessons Management system, with a person or team in charge of making sure it is working well and quickly.
And here's a 5th way, for good measure
5. Measure against the targets you set.
Collect, and report, "speed of learning" metrics. Your dashboard should include online search time, the time to reply to CoP questions, and the time it takes to a) document and b) embed lessons. These are measures of your learning clock-speed. Seek to keep these times as low as possible, and continuously decreasing.