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Learning is a competitive advantage at GM

With 600,000 employees, General Motors (Detroit) has a lot of knowledge to share. Sharing the challenge of sharing that knowledge is Wendy Coles, GM's director of learning organizations. Coles has been instumental in developing GM's "Knowledge Network," a structured system for organizing decision making and problem solving techniques at GM.

Explaining the Knowledge Network at the recent BrainTrust Knowledge Management World Summit in San Francisco, Coles briefly outlined GM's KM architecture. The "learning system" provides:

    <>LI> access to what others have experienced relative to a given challenge;
  • records of what action is decided including expected outcomes and underlying assumptions;
  • tracking of the determined actions;
  • analysis, diagnosis and recommendation when outcomes vary from the expected;
  • scanning of factors that may impact the decision (both internal and external).

A tenet Coles stressed was that information sharing alone does not constitute knowledge sharing. "Learning is the ability to do something we couldn't do before," she said. "A lesson is learned only when the behavior or work processes have changed."

Simplifying the process, Coles suggested four simple steps: identify a problem, gather what current information is known about a topic, test the assumptions using comparative analysis techniques, and synthesize between the initial beliefs and the learning gained from analysis.

As an example, Coles suggested a hypothetical "problem" of executing a vehicle program in just 24 months. Consulting the Knowledge Network, the development team would query, "What do we know about a fast vehicle development process?" From that, the team might find performance history contributions from GM's car, truck or midsize experts.

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