How Should Companies Train Their Employees

2012-09-01   |   by CusiGO

The challenge of the automotive X Prize doesn’t seem to be complete: build a car that’s legal and affordable, but uses less than 100 mpg and needs to be built as soon as possible. Joe justis doesn’t believe it, and of course, the $10 million prize is hard to refuse.

At first, justis fought alone, but things soon changed. He started blogging, socializing

The wikispeed team, as its name suggests, is about accelerating, and not just the cars they build. Members can speed up the learning process and use principles from agile software development to think about and solve complex problems. And their achievements have witnessed their learning ability: just three months after the formation of the team, the wikispeed team’s engineering prototype car won the 10th place in the mainstream competition of the X automobile award, surpassing more than 100 cars in the world. What’s more, the team is booming after the event, and continues to pursue the dream of building super efficient cars at a reasonable price.

The success of the wikispeed team lies not only in its impressive nature, but also in its broad implications for organizations of all sizes. In the book the power of pull, CO authored by the author of this paper, we explain how deepening globalization and rapid technological progress can bring about a new and increasingly changing competition pattern.

In order to compete, companies must shift their focus from simple scale expansion to employee knowledge expansion. However, many companies can’t really help their employees to keep up with the changes of the market because of their lack of benefits for “talent training”. It’s not just about retaining talent or employee satisfaction: employees who learn fast improve fast, and employees who improve fast can bring performance improvement to the whole company.

To achieve this, the company needs to consider four principles of success for the wikispeed team:

There are smart people in your company, but there are countless smart people outside. Success increasingly depends on connecting with outsiders and using the knowledge they bring.

With powerful tools provided by new technologies such as social software, cloud computing, mobility and big data, social ecosystems have reached unprecedented breadth and depth, which can help us connect with activists around the world. Through social platforms, Joe justis quickly assembled a group of passionate and motivated people that had never been possible before. Companies have more opportunities to use these technologies to extend and deepen their contacts with external individuals and organizations.

Why emphasize activists? Activists are eager to challenge and excited about it. These challenges are seen as opportunities for quick learning, and they are also more likely to find and connect people with relevant experience to help them find creative solutions faster. The more activists gather, the more diverse their backgrounds are, the more likely they are to be used by relevant experiences, and the more likely participants are to learn from each other. As justis said, “morale is a multiplier of speed.” When faced with extremely complex questions like the X car awards, there is little chance that anyone will know the answer (otherwise that person will have won the $10 million prize), so connecting and assembling activists will have significant benefits.

Traditional corporate projects require two to three years of strategic planning and detailed blueprints. However, this method limits the ability to respond flexibly and meet the market demand in time. We can’t take a step back and reflect on what we can learn from trial and error. The wikispeed team, on the other hand, operates in a 7-day cycle: they often reflect on results and consider where they can improve in the next cycle. Although this approach is not suitable for most company projects, it should try to adopt the shortest working cycle as possible. At a minimum, companies should consider setting clear goals and testing every six months to provide an opportunity to assess progress. Such a review can create opportunities to re evaluate and improve the plan and avoid wasting time and energy.

If products and processes are under rigid management, it is difficult to encourage innovation and rapid experimentation, which is the secret to the success of the wikispeed team. It’s true that breaking the process and allowing individuals to experiment with smaller parts of the work is valuable. By giving participants the freedom to tinker and improvise on one part, they have a greater chance of making a breakthrough, and the risk of causing an unexpected chain reaction to the whole plan is small.

The wikispeed team modularizes the traditional, tightly integrated automotive design. This approach allows multiple individuals and groups to undertake separate component tasks, giving them more freedom to explore new options. With the help of rapid test cycle, it can still ensure that the module becomes a part of the overall design of the initial prototype, and the problems between modules can also be quickly identified and solved.

Of course, you can learn knowledge by reading textbooks, but acquiring “tacit knowledge” is a kind of education from first-hand experience, which is much stronger and more effective. Today’s talent training model in the company is usually old training courses and demonstrations, not focusing on the development of tacit knowledge. At wikispeed, the team learns almost entirely through field experience. Volunteers work with novices and skilled workers to work together on small projects. This not only helps new people learn faster, but also eliminates the time and cost of documenting each process, because knowledge is communicated between peers rather than focused on formal training programs.

This kind of education can even be applied to the virtual environment. With the application of cooperative software, everyone can share real-time changes and suggestions, making it easier for volunteers to really participate. With free collaboration software, wikispeed connects its members all over the world.

Although wikispeed was born as a one-time challenge, it has developed into a volunteer community after the X car awards. The team now has more than 150 volunteers working through a variety of short-term projects to achieve the ultimate vision of improving the environment. Wikispeed, as a team, has achieved a number of major successes: at present, the fuel consumption of their prototype vehicles on the highway has reached 114 miles per gallon, and they are featured in the world’s largest auto show and sold for 25000 US dollars.

But the enthusiasm of its members and the speed with which team skills are developed make people believe that they will do more in the future. “If we had only a short-term perspective,” said justis, “the team would be dissolved after the X car awards.” Instead, wikispeed has gone a step further. In addition to their own project work, they also work with solutionsiq to apply certain processes to other organizations. In fact, all companies, large and small, can learn something from their success.