Many organisations sadly have no interest in sharing information or experiences across their organisation. Staff are tasked with delivering special projects or reports, often requiring a great deal of investment. They probably get a Big Tick at the end of the year and their personal development plan targets marked as having “achieved”. Woo hoo! But what happens to their effort? It probably sits on a shelf somewhere and gathers dust or the electronic storage equivalent of that. In some cases the same tasks have been replicated by others in the same organisation.
If what’s been done has real value, then the people who built it will probably know that and take it with them to their next role. Hopefully for an employer who’ll let them put their knowledge to work and value the results it achieves.
To me this means that an organisation’s leaders must enjoy repeating mistakes they should learn from, really don’t care about innovation and enhancing organisational performance, or building strong and meaningful relationships with their customers and other important stakeholder groups. In other words, they don’t know what they don’t know, and they appear averse to discovering what it is they don’t know.
One of my favourite case studies for managing a culture of knowledge sharing is the Apollo lunar programme of the 1960s. To say that there was a bit of pressure to make this happen quickly is an understatement. The first manned Apollo mission was on 11 October 1968. Apollo 7. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the Moon on 20 July 1969. Apollo 11.
That’s five missions in less than a year to learn how to get a big rocket into Earth orbit, do the service module connection onto the command module, escape Earth’s orbit, go to the Moon, orbit it and then come home again.
No crew members on Apollos 7 through 10 went to the Moon on 11. Apollo 11 was the first time a lunar lander had been used for real. Not a laptop computer in sight. Hardly surprising, because the microchip hadn’t been invented. Indeed there is significantly more computing power in a cellular telephone then what went to the Moon. All of the calculations were done using slide rules and log tables. And in imperial measurement.
All of the knowledge and experience gained from astronauts on missions before Apollo 11 had been learned, digested and seamlessly transferred to all the program’s subsequent crews. An example of project and knowledge management at its finest.
A key attribute of the Apollo missions were the astronauts. Good practical, enterprising, resourceful, common-sense generalists, rather than “specialists”.
There are a few organisations who know how to do this stuff really well, NASA included. There are many others who just don’t get it. Sadly neither do they appear to care.
A crime here is building up people’s expectations and then failing to deliver, either to them or to that organisation’s owners. I think that’s a massive waste of time, resources and human potential.