Alan Mays posted a comment on the KA Connect LinkedIn Group last month that I have not been able to get out of my head:
Prem, I agree that a practical transfer of knowledge is needed within our corporate strategies as well as our profession. Sadly, I feel that it will probably go the same way it did 20 odd years ago. The recession then caused what many in the profession call it "the generation gap". Today, we are still dealing with that gap and adding to it daily as more and more our profession’s experience leaves due to retirement and attrition. Back then, there was a gap of experienced people capable of understanding the requirements of construction as set forth in the AIA B101. The way we learned was like being thrown into the pool and asked to swim with no lessons. We did have seasoned professionals to go to called the Quality Control group which usually consisted of professionals reviewing and teaching individuals best practices of the company and the industry. Sadly, education within many firms is now considered an overhead cost so therefore through this economic timeframe it has all but been stopped. The lack of funding for the internal education and the experienced staff have been removed due to overhead costs and "is not needed". Some firms ditched their QA/QC groups as they also were considered overhead therefore they lost their resource for education.
There are companies that feel the colleges and vendors or even the individual should be responsible for education. They have given up on transferring their knowledge onto the younger staff. One also has to point out that the leadership may also not have the knowledge needed to teach. Many executives within the firm have been long removed from the process of developing the documents. Many executives do not know the tools of their trade. FLW knew how to draw, however, today that is not true. Many execs do not even know how to draw in Autocad much less BIM. It is not necessarily their fault, but what they experienced through their professional career. I know many executives from my experience that have not been a reviewer of the documents at all. Ask yourself, when has the CEO reviewed my set of CDs? It is not part of their role. Do they have someone for that role? Ask yourself, when was the last time a partner lead a learning seminar, wrote a paper, or lead a hands on education project/initiative? Who are the teachers? Also ask yourself whether or not the firm has a R&D budget and/or department/committee? Are they researching new ways of doing business, new processes, new products, etc? These are the tools that are needed for education.
Prem, you show a practical solution and the post screams that you (as others I know) want to learn, but sadly, I fear, that the teachers may be gone. The solution that you present requires that experienced professional. The problem today is that they are the ones that are being removed today. Any educational system within a company requires support from the leadership, and are they willing to invest in that? The thing that is disturbing with what is happening in our industry today is that the owners/clients expect from their architect is knowledge, but sadly firms today throw that away and go with inexperienced (and low cost) contract labor. Sadly, the gap is growing bigger.
I can’t argue with the fact that Alan’s assessment is true for many architecture and engineering firms.
I can tell you, however, that there are firms in our industry who have not only continued to teach in the downturn, but have doubled down on knowledge management investments like teaching in order to prepare for the next up cycle.
Consider the following quote from George Wood Bacon:
Fortunes are not made in boom times. . .that is merely the collection period. Fortunes are made in depressions or lean times when the wise man overhauls his mind, his methods, his resources, and gets in training for the race to come.
Clients and owners want to hire architects and engineers with demonstrable expertise. As in, “I see that your firm has built twenty student centers over the last ten years. That’s good news. But what has your organization learned from all of that experience? I’m pretty sure that the team that works on my project won’t have worked on all twenty of the projects you listed in your proposal. I’d guess that many of the team members might not have ever worked on a student center before. Who are the experts and how are they transferring their knowledge to your organization? Can you show me you are an expert instead of telling me about your experience?”
You probably won’t hear a client or owner say that out loud. But you can bet they are thinking it.
Experience is not enough in a period of hyper-competition. You have to convert your experience to expertise and then leverage it. Teaching is an essential tool for leveraging your expertise, differentiating yourself from your competition, and winning new work with healthy fees.
Here’s the late John Wooden on teaching and winning:
“I began my career as a coach with a losing season in spite of all of my experience, awards, and accumulated knowledge in the subject of basketball. In fact, one of the games we lost was to my alma mater, Martinsville High School, led by my former coach, Glenn Curtis. While I may have known as much about the game as Coach Curtis, the difference was this: He knew how to teach it and I didn’t. It was pretty much as simple as that.
As you might imagine, the leadership graveyard is full of failed teams whose leaders, like me at the outset, were very well informed but could not teach to save their soul. This is true in basketball, business, and most other organizations.
Of course, knowledge is absolutely essential. I put it smack dab in the heart of the Pyramid and called it Skill. But knowledge is not enough. You must be able to effectively transfer what you know to those you manage – not just the nuts-and-bolts material, but your standard, values, ideals, beliefs, as well your way of doing things.”
John Wooden, Wooden on Leadership
Teaching will be one of the four sessions at the KA Connect 2011 conference in San Francisco on April 27th and 28th.
Does your organization invest in teaching? Are you or someone at your firm interested in telling your story? Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.