Knowledge sharing often fails in architecture and engineering firms because it is promoted solely as an efficiency initiative. “Profits and job satisfaction will soar if we all follow the standards, stop re-inventing the wheel, and focus on operational excellence,” or so the meme goes.
The problem with the bottom-line focus on knowledge sharing is three-fold:
1) Architects and engineers don’t manufacture repeatable products, so there is only so much juice to squeeze out of the operational inefficiency lemon.
2) Improving the bottom line, while sexy in concept, is often a grind in implementation.
3) Very few architects and engineers pop out of bed in the morning dying to follow standard processes and procedures. Architects and engineers enjoy having inefficiencies in their work.
This is not to say that continuous improvement, operational efficiency, and profitability are not important, they are, but I don’t think that they are compelling enough flags to rally the troops around, at least not alone.
Bottom-line issues speak to our rational brains, not our emotional brains. Top-line issues such as innovation, research and development, and growth get the blood and adrenaline pumping. Think about it, would you rather steward existing knowledge and make continuous improvements or discover new knowledge, lead the marketplace, and have clients approach you?
Of course, this is a false choice, you should drive the top line through new services and innovation and the bottom line through operational excellence. But if you want to get people to follow you, and more to the point, if you want to create a sustainable, repeatable, growing practice of knowledge sharing, you have to capture the hearts and minds of your staff, and I would suggest starting with their hearts. I believe the heart of an architect or engineer wants to innovate, so promote knowledge sharing as innovation first, and efficiency second.