strategy+business, the e-magazine from Booz, Allen & Hamilton, reports how the US Army is changing the way that it shares knowledge within such a massive organization. The new system is a powerful example of how respect for people and a focus on correcting systems can lead to huge improvements.
The Army's bureaucracy has been criticized over the years for impeding the transfer of essential knowledge quickly throughout the organization. To address that problem, the Army developed the Center for Army Lessons Learned (CALL) network in 2006. This Web-based collaboration system allows new bottom-up concepts to be disseminated instantly to those who can benefit from them. In its first year of operation, the network shared more than 15,000 lessons from combat operations. Of these, more than 4,000 led directly to improvements in unit preparation and training for deployment.
The article explains how the deeply-rooted Army culture inhibited the adoption of CALL at first:
“As you might imagine, some Army leaders were initially reluctant to allow CALL analysts to post information about their own snafus because they didn't want such failures broadcast and didn't want to be penalized for errors. But analysts worked around these ingrained anxieties by assuming that if team X is having a particular difficulty, it likely reflects a systemic problem. The analysts will check around the network to see if others are experiencing a similar challenge. And when they get confirmation, they post the problem on CALL in a generic fashion, specifically describing the issues, mistakes, and lessons learned without identifying who, what, when, or where.”
And this is where we come to respect for people: the focus of CALL is not on identifying a person's mistakes or penalizing individuals for having problems. Rather, the assumption is that there's a “systemic problem” that needs to be addressed and fixed. In other words, there's no blame for doing something wrong.
Toyota, of course, approaches mistakes and defects on the production line in the same way. They're opportunities to learn, to solve problems, and to improve the system — not excuses to fire or punish someone.
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