As an evangelist for knowledge services, I often refer to our subject as “the critical management discipline for the 21st Century.”
I’m not shy about saying this (as anyone who has had a few minutes conversation with me can confirm). And, yes, every once in a while there’s a bit of challenge: how can I describe knowledge services as a “critical” management discipline, I’m asked, when so many other disciplines, principles, and philosophies affect management? Certainly all of us are aware that management (and particularly management when combined with excellence in leadership) is a defining element in organizational success. That’s a given. And of all the fundamental components that come together when we speak about management, isn’t knowledge services just one of them? Why should knowledge services be singled out to stand alone? Or even “above” all other management elements? Can it seriously be labelled as “critical”?
I think so, and here’s why. When I came across David E. Lilienthal’s references to management as a more “humanist” look at managing (long ago he delivered a series of lectures titled Management: A Humanist Art), it struck me that we were perhaps putting the focus on too many impersonal details without focusing on the people who would be making the enterprise successful. While we — as managers and leaders — recognize that we are working with the organization’s employees and stakeholders we were not, it seemed to me, giving enough attention to the people who do the work. Especially when it came to discussing knowledge services and knowledge sharing, we recognized that we had to be good at dealing with the three basic elements of successful management: people, process, and technology. And for the last few decades we have been good — as I mentioned recently in another of these posts — with process and technology. But we were not getting very far with our success in working with people.
Now the situation is becoming even more challenging, for in today’s organization we are no longer working with just those three required management elements. We’ve now added content management and organizational alignment, according to a colleague who described recently what’s happening in the large multi-national organization where she is employed. So now it’s people, process, technology, content, and alignment. How do we fit it all together? And how to we meet our organization’s management expectations for bringing it all together?
For one thing, many of those management expectations are built on an understanding that the organization’s intellectual capital can now be codified and shared, a situation which simply did not exist not so many years ago. There are people in every company and organization — hired under and working under a vast array of job descriptions and titles — who are essentially knowledge specialists who understand and implement the organization’s knowledge strategy, regardless of what that strategy is called. All companies and organizations are re-thinking the role of these knowledge workers (I prefer to call them “knowledge professionals” or, in a best-case scenario, “knowledge strategists”), and management leaders expect these knowledge professionals to establish tools and policies for developing, curating, sharing, making use of, and enabling access to all content that affects enterprise success. All of the organization’s intellectual capital — internal and external — is fair game, and enterprise management now gives attention to everything everybody in the company knows. Or, as Thomas A. Stewart described it so well in Intellectual Capital: The New Wealth of Organizations: intellectual capital is “…intellectual material that is put to use to create wealth … the sum of everything everybody in a company knows that gives it a competitive edge.” And as we delve deeper into what that intellectual material is, we find that more and more organizational leaders focus on, yes, the financial value of information, knowledge, and strategic learning (as we would expect) but also and in particular on how that value and the value of all other intellectual capital contribute to organizational success.
So it’s not such a far reach to think about and articulate what those managers expect. I hear about three goals:
- Enterprise leaders want and expect the organization’s knowledge strategist (or strategists, depending on the size of the organization) to establish leadership and management practices that foster engagement and participation at all levels, to ensure that all employees and organizational stakeholders understand the value of knowledge and the critical importance of knowledge sharing for the benefit of the larger organization.
- Enterprise leaders expect all employees affiliated with the organization’s knowledge domain (that is, the organizational structural units specifically working with enterprise intellectual capital and its managers charged with knowledge-sharing responsibility, ownership, and accountability) to successfully establish a proactive and participative methodology for unlocking the knowledge-sharing ideas, skills, and motivation of their employees.
- Above all, leaders and managers in the knowledge domain must be prepared to innovate and in doing so, to welcome and manage change, since any effort to build a knowledge-sharing environment — the famous knowledge culture we knowledge strategists and our senior managers work so hard to achieve — will require the creation of a critical mass for change.
At the same time, there are clear reasons — it seems to me — why corporate executives and other enterprise leaders are looking to knowledge services. For one thing, the time is now. When these senior employees (in any organization) are confronted with issues that relate to the organization’s intellectual capital, the challenges talked about with continuing and clear concern are not hard to identify. Among my colleagues, we have identified the following (and there are probably others that can — or will be — identified as well):
- Knowledge asset management
- Data analytics
- Big data strategies
- Privacy and security
- Knowledge governance
- eDiscovery and due diligence
As I say, for the present these are the current knowledge challenges we talk about. They can be expected to change, and surely they will, since the entire effort for managing intellectual capital is moving so rapidly in today’s workplace. Some of the changes in these challenges will be gradual, and some new challenges will be recognized probably sooner than we expect. But make no mistake about it: challenges will become endemic in the knowledge domain, and it will be the knowledge strategists using their knowledge services expertise who will lead the organizational charge to meet these knowledge-sharing challenges.
That need is growing, and recognized. As companies and organizations give consideration to how the intellectual capital challenges will be dealt with, it becomes more and more clear that attention to knowledge services — that subject we define so specifically as “an approach” to managing intellectual capital— will be required. It’s a way of thinking about the value of knowledge in the organization and how that understanding of knowledge value — through the convergence of information management (including technology management), knowledge management, and strategic learning — enables the highest levels of knowledge sharing. And it is knowledge sharing that enables organizational success.
So knowledge services is critical, a point of departure — as I interpret what he wrote — Peter Drucker was making in Management Challenges for the 21st Century, the book he brought out in 1999 to bring us into the 21st century:
Knowledge workers own the means of production. It is the knowledge between their ears. And it is a totally portable and enormous capital asset. Because knowledge workers own their means of production, they are mobile….
Management’s duty is to preserve the assets of the institution in its care. What does this mean when the knowledge of the individual knowledge worker becomes an asset and, in more and more cases, the main asset of an institution? What does this mean for personnel policy? What is needed to attract and to hold the highest-producing knowledge workers? What is needed to increase their productivity?
The answer, it seems to me, is clear.