Building the Knowledge Culture

Kevin Manion Speaks about the Successful Knowledge Strategist – Part I (Communication Excellence)

Guy St. Clair


There was a hot conversation on Park Avenue the other night.

I was out with friends for dinner, and as we walked downtown after dinner, along that famous New York boulevard, the conversation turned to some of the things we think about in our professional lives. As many readers know, I’m heavily involved in the M.S. in Information and Knowledge Strategy program at Columbia University. I’m wearing several “hats” relating to the program (including teaching), so the relationship between strategy in the general management community and the specifics of knowledge strategy development are often on my mind.

I was telling about a recent conversation on these subjects, when a colleague had challenged me to describe the two most important attributes of a knowledge strategist.

Without hesitation, I replied that in my opinion the successful knowledge strategist must possess two gifts: generosity and intellectual curiosity.

One of our group, Kevin Manion, who is the Director of Talent Acquisition and Diversity Planning at Consumer Reports in Yonkers, NY, has also had a little affiliation with the program, having consented to be one of the experts in the Experts Interviews we filmed for the students. As he could relate to my interest in the subject – both from that experience and from his own work – Kevin wouldn’t let me get away with that simple statement.

In fact, that might have been why he wouldn’t let it slip by: perhaps my response was too simple, too glib or too “touchy-feely.” Perhaps even simplistic (not good!).

Whatever his reasons, a very animated (and pleasant) conversation ensued. Kevin even gave me permission to share some of his thoughts about what qualities contribute to the success of a corporate or organizational knowledge strategist. Or, as he put, the success of any knowledge worker, information professional, or anyone else who works in this larger “domain” – as we call it – where knowledge development and knowledge sharing (KD/KS) are critical to success.

The first thing Kevin would seek, he said, if he were looking for someone to be a corporate or organizational knowledge strategist, would be communication excellence. In fact, Kevin got pretty enthused about communication, and the relationship between communication and organizational development (what some call “organizational effectiveness”). He asserted that the KD/KS – communication connection is essential for organizational success.

“As leaders,” Kevin said, “we have a responsibility to ensure that we are creating a culture that not only encourages information sharing but supports the strategic goals of the organization. An organization that is transparent and creates a culture of openness is setting the stage for success by creating the right environment for creativity and innovation.”

Kevin – always himself a good communicator – went on with an example:

“I am working right now on a diversity and inclusion (D&I) initiative for Consumer Reports. This initiative has the potential to shift the culture of the organization in such a substantial way that if done well, it can ensure the long-term viability of this publishing and testing powerhouse and position Consumer Reports to really be a player in the publishing and consumer service industries for years to come.

“How do we accomplish that? The first phase of this project is to gather information from the source, from the people who make this great organization what it is. Over the next few weeks, working with external partners at Jennifer Brown Consulting, we are interviewing almost 10% of our staff in individual interviews and focus groups. These interviews will form the basis of a D&I strategy ultimately aimed at supporting the business of the organization. By broadening the makeup of our staff and creating a welcoming culture for all, we ensure that we better represent the needs and interests of ALL consumers, simply because the more we mirror our society, the more we can understand and support them. But it all starts with information sharing and gathering, analyzing and understanding that information, and then using it as the basis for strategy and action.”

Connect that “D&I strategy ultimately aimed at supporting the business of the organization” with what knowledge strategists seek to do with corporate knowledge strategy. Makes sense, doesn’t it?

Next time: More from Kevin about the knowledge strategist, about integrity and leadership and how all this comes together for the successful knowledge strategist.

— October 11, 2011




  1. Ken Huie says:

    Great blog! Thanks for sharing this candid-learning moment with us.

  2. At LinkedIn’s Knowledge Management Education Group Denise Bedford wrote:

    What a great story! I just shared this post with one of our Communication Studies professors. We are partnering with that School to ensure that our students have a good grounding in organizational communications as part of their KM studies. I think the other aspect of this post that I like is the close alignment of knowledge strategy and talent management. We just had a SIGKM workshop at ASIST where we talked about personal knowledge management – and how significant is the shift in focus from packaged information to an individual’s intellectual capital/PKM. Looking forward to Part 2 of the story!

    GStC responds to Denise: Thanks for that thoughtful response, Denise. And commend you and colleagues at ASIST for looking at PKM. It’s amazing how important this new “slant” about our intellectual workspace has become. Thanks for reminding us about that. And for the good work that’s going on in this area.

  3. On Facebook, Joanne Kane wrote

    Awesome! When’s the viewing party for the film version?

    Also on Facebook, Alison Zimet Oxman wrote:

    Thanks so much for sharing this. I can’t wait to read the next installment!

  4. From Dr. Annie Green at LinkedIn’s Institute for Knowledge and Innovation Group:

    I totally agree with Kevin on the communications requirement for a successful Knowledge Strategist. However, I would like to go one step further to say that fundamental to this competency is linguistics — one must be able to speak the language of the group/individuals they are gathering information/knowledge from. Strategy must be aligned with the vision, mission, goals and objectives of the organization. These components decompose from a top down view into the business processes of the organization and the level of the knowledge worker. It is this level of communications that is critical to the strategist, whereby, most organizations speak the language of business processes and their knowledge workers speak the language of business practices. It is my belief and contribution that the ability of the Knowledge Strategist to build semantics structures that bridge the communication gap between the knowledge worker and the strategic direction of the organization will open doors to establishing strategic plans (base on knowledge) that will render results thought unachievable in today’s knowledge deprived businesses. — just a thought….

    Guy St. Clair responds:

    What a cogent and useful comment, Annie! Thank you so much, and your connecting the linguistics/communications “piece” to this conversation. Sorry you weren’t with us as we walked along and talked about all this. You’ve added a valuable new dimension, so thanks very much.

  5. Posted by Jean-François Saulais at LinkedIn’s Institute for Knowledge and Innovation Group:

    Thank you Annie! To me it means putting words on something which I live daily with instinct but without the theoretical background to easily “wordify”.

    I joined your group because I am a knowledge strategist, maybe in a way most of you are not used to, which I suppose because of the sociological and cultural groups I guess you belong to. Please don’t see any negative idea. I joined to see what you are talking about and your contribution helped me to contribute a bit.

    In my way, I gather knowledge and I use it in a strategic way, which is to adapt to the most different situations possible, in the everyday life, with anyone who happens to cross my path.

    The main idea is: enter an area you don’t know and see people different from you: different culture, race, sex, educational, political, etc, and the first thing you try is to send a message:

    “I’m peaceful and afraid that you may not be, because in this case I may have to fight you in order to survive or to keep the objects that I carry. I’d better share what is shareable according to your needs and I will accept with a good heart the same from you, as long as it’s positive and I can carry it. If you are not peaceful I will just leave, don’t worry, but you’d better then not attack me.”

    As you can see, things seem quite primitive. You may think that your own relationships are not of this nature. Please allow me to disagree: 33 years of experience with many and very different social groups tell me that the animal nature of men and women is very important.

    One key is to be able to get, even temporarily, accepted by a member of a social group different that yours. You are then very valuable because you can teach signs of peace or recognition of your apparent social group, and survival tips as well.

    The purpose of getting accepted may be being able to enter this group’s territory and benefit from its resources, may it be protection, food or knowledge.

    It may also serve to get some rest, while being protected by all the members of the territory. This is particularly visible in ghettos, may they be composed of poor or rich people.

    Once you are accepted and that you benefit from the group, you HAVE to give back, or maybe you HAVE to give before the group gives to you. For example, you can take some litter to a trash can or let some children pass, hold a door to some people, give knowledge etc.

    One other key is not thinking about benefit but about fulfilling one need of yours or solve a problem of yours ( ex: dirty hands, rest needed, lack of food, today news, etc ) and about doing the same, the way you can, towards other people.

    One other key is to show your intentions, demonstrate clearly, slowly so that people can see your need of resting for example and also so that people can see of you solve their problem, for example fixing a disassembled object or using tape you picked on an old poster to firmly hang the one which is up to date and to look for water and wash your hands after.

    Another example is to try to repair a computer. If it’s a hardware problem, look for the right tool, usually a screwdriver. If it’s a software problem, look for the information, usually a technical manual or an access code.

    One other key is therefore to try to look at things and people without the mental opinion you surely inherited from your native or belonging social group.

    One other key is to never try to dominate anyone or to use violence. This may feel comforting but it’s considered as an heavy offense by most. But showing sincerely your weaknesses and strengths tells your needs and shows your abilities. If you show strength you HAVE to show justice and protect weaker people.

    Sorry, out of space, final keys would be the courage be alone, not to carry any object identifiable as a weapon or to show clearly the intentions. Sorry about the messy message, well, the real final key is free-style, of people feeling free and acting accordingly.

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