Tuesday 15 January 2019

The importance of "learning urgency"

How urgent is learning in your organisation?

Image from wikimedia commons
When I give my Knowledge Management Training courses, I start proceedings by presenting three stories from organisations who are doing knowledge management, showcasing some of the benefits KM can bring.

I then ask the class to discuss the stories, and to identify the success factors that lie behind each one. Often these are a mix of successful interventions, and successful cultural elements.

One of the success factors a recent class identified was a "sense of urgency". In each case, the protagonists in the story treated learning as Urgent - one of the first things to be done before leaping into action - and as a result, delivered great results.

This was a really good insight.

All too often, learning (and Knowledge Management in general) is seen as important, but not treated as urgent. In these stories, the urgency was there, and learning followed.

So how had the organisations in the stories created that sense of urgency?

  • In the first story, the organisation gave a high-profile task to an individual who had never done that sort of thing before, with clear instructions not to "screw up". A risky move, were it not for the Knowledge Management system which gave the individual all the knowledge they needed to succeed.
  • In the second story, the organisation challenged a team to improve on the past benchmark performance by nearly 20%. An impossible challenge, were it not for the access the team was given to all the lessons and knowledge from past performance.
  • In the third story, the organisation gave the same audacious goal to twelve different teams simultaneously. A crazy thing to do, were it not for the way they set up knowledge-sharing between the teams, so they reached the goal far faster collectively, then they did individually. 
There is a saying, by the Greek philosopher Epictetus, that "you cannot teach someone something they think they already know". This means that if you give people problems they know how to solve, they will not look for additional knowledge, and they will not think outside the box. 

Learning, for them, will not be urgent. They will use the knowledge they have, do what they have always done, and deliver the performance they have always delivered. Safe, but no improvement.

An organisation can really drive Knowledge Management by giving people challenges they don't know how to meet, or putting them in positions where they don't know what to do. This is not as risky as it sounds, once KM is in place. 

Once KM is in place and is trusted, KM and management work together in delivering breakthough performance. Management gives people challenges they don't know how to meet, KM provides the knowledge they need to meet them. 

Learning becomes both Urgent, and Easy. Everybody wins.

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