The knowledge worker is defined as anyone who makes his or her living developing, sharing, or using knowledge. It’s a good definition, and it works, but it might be too broad. Many knowledge workers do their work, but that work is usually limited to one performance area or type of work. They do not deal with management issues or with the “place” of the KM/knowledge services function in the larger organization.
On the other hand, those of us who work as knowledge specialists, knowledge professionals, or knowledge strategists deal with management issues all the time. We are daily confronted with the “how” of KM and knowledge services: How do we make KM and knowledge services “work” in the larger organization? How do we position KM and knowledge services in the company so the work is supported and its benefit to the company is recognized?
There is, in my opinion, one solution, a solution many knowledge workers with management responsibility often do not consider. When we go into this line of work most of us (as one of my colleagues puts it) are not taught to “build the business case” for KM/knowledge services. But if we are going to be successful we don’t have any choice: it is critical for us to know how to build the business case.
So how do we do it? We connect with top management. We identify the leaders in the organization who have responsibility for information, knowledge, and strategic learning in the organization (usually as part of a much wider responsibility), and we establish relationships with them, relationships that, in the long run, make us and our work in KM/knowledge services indispensable to the success of the company or the organization.
There are three steps for connecting with top management and raising awareness about the value of KM/knowledge services:
1. Find a sponsor: Identify and establish a relationship with a leader who (you observe) has knowledge-sharing restraints in his or her immediate area of responsibility. Speak to that person about how your experience and expertise can help find a solution. And once you’ve done the work, ask that person (as SMR’s Dale Stanley puts it) to “express, model, and reinforce” the solution. Simply put:
- “express” means that he or she talks about how the solution works
- “model” means that the solution includes principles and applications that can be used elsewhere in the organization
- “reinforce” means that your sponsor – as a top manager – makes it clear that others in the company should (must?) follow this example.
2. Build quick wins: Also known as the “low-hanging fruit” scenario, this is where you identify a problem that can be easily fixed, using your KM/knowledge services expertise. When you are finished, publicize how the activity is successful and, particularly important, how the principles that led to success can be replicated in other business units of the organization. As important as the actual work, though, is how the activity is perceived. Be sure to talk with your sponsor (and anyone else who will listen) about how the activity has improved the company’s bottom line. Be clear about the impact of the activity on how resources are used, whether in personnel costs, product-development or product-delivery schedule improvement, shared information and knowledge in communities of practice (C0Ps), that sort of thing. Establish a value for the KM/knowledge services activity.
3. Talk about KM/knowledge services: And that means talk about your “wins” whenever you have a chance, both inside the organization and externally. This is no place for modesty, especially in your own professional terms. Internally, use every opportunity you have to be the KM/knowledge services mentor or “guru” for colleagues, no matter where they function within the company. With your experience and expertise, you’re expected to be the “go-to” person for anything having to do with information, knowledge, or strategic learning. Take advantage of the needs within the company to advise, whenever you have the opportunity. As for speaking externally, do it. Accept every invitation you can find to speak at professional conferences, subject-specialty meetings, or anywhere else (Rotary? Lions Club?) where people come together to talk about how they work and the problems they have in the workplace. And – this is critical – be sure top management in the organization hears about your success in talking about what you do – management wants to know how your work is being recognized in all the right places.
[Nerisa Jepkorir Kamar is a KM Consultant and SMR International’s Representative in Sub-Sahara Africa. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.]