When Peter F. Drucker first introduced us to the concept of the knowledge worker, he did those of us destined to work with information, knowledge, and learning a big favor. He said that we would be working as knowledge workers, required to have “a good deal of formal education.” He also pointed out that we would have to be able “to acquire and to apply theoretical knowledge.” It was, Drucker called it, “a different approach to work and a different mind-set.”
[A slight digression: Drucker’s use of the innovative term has been traced to as early as his 1959 book, The Landmarks of Tomorrow, and while this 1959 usage is generally agreed as the first use of the term, it was in “Age of Social Transformation.” Atlantic Monthly (1994) that Drucker spoke about the knowledge worker as described here.]
We’ve come a long way since then, whether we’re talking about 1959, 1974, or whatever came between (or whatever has happened since). We’ve gone through a wide range of different approaches for dealing with knowledge in the organizations where we work. Probably most of our work should fall somewhere under the category of organizational development or organizational effectiveness, we’ve ended up in lots of different sections or business units of the organizations or companies where we work.
Indeed, while information management (including technology management), KM, knowledge leadership, database development, enterprise content management, information architecture, and competitive intelligence (and many other topics that could be listed here) have been responsible for — and had enormous impact on the economics of management — we and our colleagues in the organizations where we’re employed find ourselves struggling with how all this comes together for managing content and the organization’s intellectual capital.
Enter knowledge services. In my recent book (noted below), I begin the Preface with my definition of knowledge services which I define as:
…an approach to the management of intellectual capital that converges information management, knowledge management, and strategic learning into a single enterprise-wide discipline. The purpose of knowledge services is to ensure the highest levels of knowledge sharing within the organization in which it is practiced, with leadership in knowledge sharing the responsibility of the knowledge strategist.
Or, to carry our definition a little further, knowledge services is a methodology, a structure or a framework we might call it, for enabling the successful management of intellectual capital, the general term we use to describe all the accumulated information, knowledge, and learning that everyone affiliated with the organization knows. And it is through knowledge services that information, knowledge, and strategic learning are shared, all for the benefit of the larger organization and — it should be noted — for the benefit and well-being of the organization’s employees and all other organizational stakeholders.
Not surprisingly this important convergence doesn’t happen casually. It requires a certain type (and level) of planning that I like to think of as “knowledge strategy development,” a phrase I use a lot. It’s through the development of a knowledge strategy that we strategize about knowledge sharing, and we do it by understanding and using knowledge services. It’s a critical role, this work of the knowledge strategist, because this management employee is responsible for making sure that knowledge sharing is done as well as it can be done throughout the organization. It’s a job that requires finding a direction for how knowledge can be shared better, and for knowledge workers, being involved in the development of knowledge strategy – either by choice or from being assigned to the job – is a rare opportunity.
For one thing, the knowledge strategist’s work gives that employee the chance to drill down deeper than most people can do in their work, a situation that often can’t be found in the workplace. And since developing knowledge strategy not only enables (in fact, forces) the strategist and his or her colleagues to talk about what strategic knowledge is, they get to identify how people work with knowledge, talk with them about what their knowledge development, knowledge sharing, and knowledge utilization requirements are, and then use what they learn to come up with solutions so everyone can share knowledge better.
So Drucker was right, wasn’t he, when he said knowledge work is a whole new approach to work? And that doing knowledge work requires a different mind-set? And (what Drucker didn’t say) sometimes working as the organization’s knowledge strategist can be a little scary, since most organizational leaders are anxious to confirm that KM and knowledge services and a corporate knowledge strategy are in place, even when they are not clear about the language they are using. When your company’s leaders come into your knowledge strategy development picture (as they will, because as you take on knowledge strategy development, they’re the corporate folks you’re going to talk to first), your best approach is to capture their attention by linking knowledge strategy to the organization’s business strategy.
I like Michael Zack’s way of looking at it, put forward in a paper now almost twenty years old but still valuable for background when we’re working with corporate or organizational management. It’s in reading Zack’s paper (Developing a Knowledge Strategy, published in California Management Review, 41 (3), Spring, 1999) that we come to understand that the organization’s knowledge strategy is a business strategy that takes into account its intellectual resources and capabilities. If that’s the case — and like many others I assert that it is — then it becomes easier to talk with management because we’re speaking their language. Executives understand the corporation’s competitive roles and goals, and as we put the development of a knowledge strategy into a framework that attaches to those roles and goals, the value of the corporate intellectual infrastructure — which our strategy will strengthen — becomes clear.