Modern companies start as the sums of their individual parts. Each person, from the drill crew members to the accountants to the sales staff, is a dot. All of those dots come together like pixels on a computer screen to form the whole picture.
But modern companies, everyone knows, add up to more than the sums of their parts. The difference between all those dots and the whole picture? Institutional knowledge. I thought about this as I read the You Know the Drill feature we have coming out in February’s National Driller. Associate editor Valerie King spoke with Bobby Farmer, a third-generation Texas foundation driller.
“When I first started working, I wish I would’ve paid attention to what the older guys were telling me more. I did learn from them, but I wish I would’ve paid attention even more,” Farmer told us. “In 1998 and even a little later, not everything was documented as well as it is today. So lots of information and strategy and problem solving was in the heads of the people that you were working with.”
Farmer and his crews at WW Foundation Drilling in Houston do a lot of drill slurry shafts. Like a lot of small drilling contractors, it’s a family business. Drilling has a lot of family businesses, but institutional knowledge is a business edge whether your grandfather founded the company 60 years ago or not.
All that documentation and paperwork? Yeah, that’s institutional knowledge. Bid paperwork? Quotes? Those too. Institutional knowledge is also whatever on-the-job know-how those veterans have in their heads.
Farmer continued: “Experience is priceless in this business.”
That priceless experience has little value unless a company can harness it by spreading it far and wide among the employees who need it. Training, mentoring, knowledge bases. These are the tools of institutional knowledge.
How often do you put up-and-coming workers in training? Training doesn’t have to be complex or all that formal. It could be as simple as having a star driller spend time with new hands, showing them a mud technique he’s really good at.
What about mentoring? New employees, particularly young ones or those fresh from college, should get assigned mentors. When Farmer talks about paying attention to the older guys, this is what he’s talking about. Like training, mentoring doesn’t have to be a big deal. A mentor can just give a little time – perhaps lunch once a month to help the young worker chart his future in the company and the industry.
What’s a knowledge base? Big companies know a knowledge base gathers together all the how-tos and what-fors the company needs to grow and prosper. Have your drill crews encountered a tough job that took clever technique to overcome? That gets documented and put in the knowledge base. The company can solve the same problem again – more quickly – with a knowledge base, even if the clever driller who solved it moves to another job or retires.
All three of these strategies to collect and harness institutional knowledge help a company stretch beyond its individual parts. What tactics does your company use? Has using these strategies helped your company overcome a difficult job or personnel transition? I’m always interested in stories from the field. Send me an email.
Stay safe out there, drillers.