As a young professional, I was lucky to work in a wide variety of enterprise types. I was often struck by the differences in management approach among those in the for-profit sector, the non-profit sector, and the not-for-profit sector. In my work, I was able to identify distinctions which became part of my own approach to management.
Not surprisingly, through the influence of many fine mentors and exposure to the teachings of many excellent management leaders, I drew conclusions that I shared along the way with my own professional colleagues and (later) with clients for whom my company provided consulting services.
One “theme” (we might call it) seemed to come up repeatedly over the years, and that’s the idea that no matter what type of organization or enterprise is being managed, basic management principles apply. The idea seems almost too obvious, too elementary.
Yet I find myself sometimes troubled by the vagaries of interpretation that seem to pop up when one or another of these organization types (those I noted above) seems to be seeking management expertise and success from one type (say, from the for-profit sector) when the enterprise itself falls into another category (not-for-profit or non-profit in this example, but the types could be re-arranged).
Let me explain. One of the things I learned early on was that – in an ideal situation (and I am nothing if not an idealist in these matters!) – good management principles work in every type of organization. So as I read Drucker and others, I learned that the principles that ensure success for the organization in achieving its organizational mission seem to cut across all types of organizations. And as I got deeper into KM/Knowledge Services as a discipline and management methodology, certain principles relating to successful management and leadership worked just fine.
Except for one big caveat: the industry or line of work in which KM and knowledge services is practiced has great influence on how well KM and knowledge services succeed. Or are accepted in the workplace.
And the solution I had come up with had more to do with my own interpretations of business management, for I felt strongly driven by the principles of business management and took many opportunities to apply business management principles to every organizational framework I encountered. Indeed, I even talked about the value of applying “business-like” management to non-profit and not-for-profit situations, and while I wasn’t always the most popular fellow in the discussion, it was important – to me – that we understand and accept business management as the model for managing all organizations.
But that was pretty naive thinking, wasn’t it? When we think about all the different environments to which we are trying to bring – or improve – knowledge development and knowledge sharing (and we’re trying very hard – think about that idealism mentioned above: we really do want to change the world through well-practiced KM/knowledge services), we run into all sorts of different environmental issues, and influences, and patterns.
So we ask: is it possible to come up with one set of principles for management and leadership in KM/Knowledge Services? When, for example, we’re developing knowledge strategy and we look – in a strictly business situation – at things like using KM/Knowledge Services for building competitive advantage, don’t we come up with one set of principles and objectives?
But what about – in another example – we’re working with a charity that has as its mission a very humanitarian goal of one sort or another. Of course the question of competition (“Who else is doing what we do?”) comes up and is considered, to a certain extent. But is that a primary or critical question in developing that organization’s knowledge strategy? I would be inclined to ask how the organization will use KM/Knowledge Services to achieve the successful achievement of its mission, and refer back to the organization’s own mission statement. It probably does not focus a great deal on competitive advantage (although it might, in some circumstances).
So here’s my question for our discussion:
What do you think? Can one set of KM/Knowledge Services management and leadership principles work across all types of companies, organizations, and entities in which people “work together to accomplish something” (Mr. Guy’s quick-and-easy a definition of an organization)?
And here’s a hint to guide our discussion:
Are we perhaps looking at the wrong model, when we look to business management for guidance? Should we – just a thought – look to the principles of behavioral science, as practiced in organizational development and organizational effectiveness?
Or, in seeking to provide good, solid KM/Knowledge Services (whether for our own organizations or for our clients), should we be seeking some sort of combination of business management and organizational development?
Or something else?
What’s your opinion?