Do you know what you know?

In a famous quote, Lew Platt, former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, said “If only HP knew what HP knows, we would be three-times more productive.” 

He meant, of course, that HP employees individually and in small teams had critical knowledge of the enterprise, the customers, and the market: research and development, processes, procedures, manufacturing, quality control, and so on.  And all of this knowledge is of great value in the sales and business development processes as well as in R&D and customer service.

But this priceless individual knowledge wasn’t known collectively, so that it could not be brought to bear on each new issue, problem, or opportunity.  Everything took longer than it should have because critical knowledge wasn’t shared deliberately throughout the enterprise.

Surprisingly, this problem may be even more acute in smaller companies.

I just finished working with a small business team preparing a very significant proposal in response to a federal government RFP.  This is a very successful company with significant technical expertise in their field, a track record of great success, and very apparent management excellence.

Yet, as we tried to put “into words” HOW they do what they do, they were stymied.  They are so accustomed to doing it, it does not occur to them to explain, or to write down the steps, or–in essence–to capture the knowledge.

In fact, they almost think that to explain it step-by-step would be boring and insulting to the reader.  “Doesn’t everyone know how we would approach this?  After all, it’s just common sense.”

No matter how small you are, or where you are in the development of explicit processes, I encourage you to be certain that everyone in your company “knows what you company knows.”

Whenever your team is selling, whether face-to-face or through an RFP, you can use explicit processes to your great advantage in going up against larger competitors,  who are more likely to have well-crafted process materials.

And that means paying some special attention to documenting and sharing “how we do it here.”  Your proposals will get better; they will get easier; and you company’s knowledge base will explode.

Do you have an example to share about “knowing what you know?”  If so, please post it below.

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