We’ve all been taught throughout the years that knowledge is power. But now I have come to realize how much the value of that power is magnified when we spread the knowledge around.
Back in 1996, as I was transitioning into my CEO role at WD-40 Company, I still held the belief that the currency of power within the organization was the knowledge we each harbored and doled out in small bits only when it served our individual purposes. The more knowledge you had and controlled, the more power you also held and controlled.
I discovered during that same time that the hoarding of knowledge was driven by fear. As much as we were fearful of losing our competitive edge as individual contributors, we were also afraid of not knowing something to the point of making a mistake. And that we would be ridiculed, humiliated, maybe even punished for any error that we might have made. As individuals our personal standing was at stake. But also our careers were at risk every time we shared or tried something new. When you come down to it, our sense of personal security hinged on every decision we made as to whether to share, experiment, expand, or learn.
Under those circumstances, is it any mystery that our employee engagement scores were at 40%? Clearly there was an opportunity for cultural change.
This period coincided with a new drive to expand the business globally while growing the U.S. market. With a product as familiar and beloved as WD-40 (the blue and yellow can with the little red top) in the United States, if we were to take it to the world what we needed more than anything was a culture that encouraged and rewarded new, daring ideas. This necessitated that we create an environment where it was safe to churn out really bad ideas as well. And we had to keep the knowledge flowing freely.
As the CEO, I recognized that we needed a culture where the siloes of knowledge would be transformed into fields of learning. In safe learning environments, there would be no shame associated with failure. In fact, there would be no failure at all.
Thus was born the concept of the learning moment: A positive or negative outcome of any situation that should be openly and freely shared to benefit all. The learning moment is an opportunity to grow from the experience of our colleagues, who are free to report back to us, “Wow, I just had a learning moment! Here is what it was and here is what I learned from it.”
In the last 20 years, our culture has blossomed from 40% engagement to 93%. Our market cap has grown from $250 million to $1.5 billion. And we’ve had a compounded annual growth rate of total shareholder return of over 13%.
It would be easy to think, “Well, they’re obviously doing something right.” I’d like to think so, naturally. But among those “right” things are a lot of things that didn’t quite turn out as planned. We learn from them. And we teach others.
As a leader, both within my role as CEO of the WD-40 Company and as a consultant, coach, and speaker, it is my role to continuously learn and then pass on that learning to others as a teacher. This is why I’ve chosen to call my consulting firm and this website The Learning Moment.
This is where you can visit and read further installments of my own learning and teaching adventures over time. You will learn from my successes and you will learn from those times when things didn’t go as planned.
But there will be no failures. Only learning moments. Welcome to the tribe.