Building the Knowledge Culture

Kevin Manion Speaks about the Successful Knowledge Strategist – Part 2 (Integrity and Leadership)

Guy St. Clair

We continued our walk down Park Avenue, and Kevin Manion and I continued our good conversation about the attributes managers look for in the successful knowledge strategist.

And on this subject, Kevin (who works at Consumer Reports in Yonkers, NY) is a man knows whereof he speaks. Throughout his wide-ranging career, Kevin has had an amazing run of valuable opportunities to put together his concepts about communication and knowledge management, knowledge services, and the link between knowledge strategy and the larger organizational business strategy (we explored these in the last SMR post).

Prior to his current position as Director of Talent Acquisition and Diversity Planning at Consumer Reports, Kevin was in charge of strategic planning and information services for the company. It was in that position that he came to learn about the company’s historical commitment to KD/KS, long before we had the acronym, or even any terminology for the concept. From the company’s earliest days there were special efforts on behalf of the general public – the citizens who purchase the goods that businesses develop and sell – to develop and share knowledge. As a company, Consumer Reports prides itself on being an expert, independent nonprofit organization whose mission is “to work for a fair, just, and safe marketplace for all consumers and to empower consumers to protect themselves.” When you take that mission back to the company’s creation in the 1930s – when there was no organization developing and sharing knowledge for the common good – you have to be impressed with the role of KD/KS in the company’s long history. And in its success.

Having some time ago learned about that background from Kevin, I couldn’t help but ask – since we were speaking about the attributes of the successful knowledge strategist – about integrity, the obligation of knowledge workers to do what they say they’ll do.

Kevin’s reply was direct and to the point:

“In our HR Department,” Kevin said, “we live by an equation of trust. How you are perceived as a leader, as an employee in this organization that is so focused on trust, is directly related to your credibility, your reliability, and your ability to build relationships. One cannot successfully build trust without all those factors. ‘Doing what you say you will do’, following through on important projects, and even something as simple as returning phone calls – they are all critical. We all agree that we don’t have time to do everything we need to do, so setting the right expectations becomes key. I have seen well-intentioned leaders fail the trust equation because they simply could not prioritize or make tough decisions.  Not taking on every project that comes along, being able to say no (but a qualified no) is just as important and credibility building as saying yes. What’s better, saying no or failing? This is of course a learning process for many leaders, even those running some of the top organizations globally and in this country. The key is leadership self-awareness… a topic for a whole other discussion!”

Not yet. We had not quite reached our destination, and the others walking along with us had already gone off in their own conversations, but Kevin and I realized we had one more topic to cover.

“OK, Kevin,” I said. “Let’s connect leadership with interacting with employees at all levels of the organization. Let’s talk specifically about interacting with senior management, about how important it is for the company’s knowledge strategist, the knowledge thought leader to have ‘a seat at the table,’ so to speak, when decisions are made (especially decisions having to do with KD/KS throughout the organization).”

Are you surprised? Kevin was not at all put off by my query and brought to conversation to what was, for me, a very worthwhile conclusion:

“The days of autocratic, controlling leadership are done,” Kevin said. “Leadership now must embrace organizations as living and breathing entities. Organizations that hold on to the old way of doing things, stuck in traditional hierarchical structures where a few people hold the knowledge and authority – those days are done. We need to let go of the reins and let openness and communication reign. How do we do it? Easy. Create a Gen Y advisory group to leadership. Get more women into senior management. Create an innovation group of Latino employees. Reflect your customers.  Few companies do these things well, and sadly I believe that in the years ahead we will see many more company failures, and diversity and inclusion are not the only solution. But doesn’t an organization that reflects the customers it serves (in our case – all American consumers) have a better chance at success? I would suggest it does.”

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