When we speak about KM/knowledge services and the essential first steps we take in managing change, one phrase always comes to mind. If we – as change agents – are going to be successful in moving our organizations to a knowledge culture, we must first of all become change leaders. Or, as my colleagues usually put it, our clients and their organizational leaders must move to “knowledge thought leadership.”
Fine. Well and good. You and I and they all know what we mean. We want to set up an environment in which knowledge management and knowledge services are recognized as the critical drivers for organizational effectiveness. We use the term a lot. I find “knowledge thought leader” sneaking into conversations probably more often than is really necessary, because it’s become part of the jargon for me and my clients (the people who’ve hired me, not to put too fine a point on it, so it’s essential that we agree on the basics). But isn’t that preaching to the choir?
What about the other side of leadership? What about the followers, the people who work in the organization who will – when you get right down to it – be doing the heavy lifting when it comes to connecting KM/knowledge services to organizational effectiveness? Should we – as leaders – not give some attention to how these people perceive us, and what they think about what we are doing, and how they react to what we are saying to them about knowledge and the organization – about their organization, the place where they come to do their work? Doesn’t it make sense to think about the organization as a knowledge culture from their point of view?
I think so. And what we need to provide them with is something we assume they already have. We need to give them the confidence that they are going to be participating in something that will benefit them. In the long run, yes, the organization will be a better organization, a more effective organization, but let’s not forget about WIIFM – the old joke line about getting people to take action: “What’s-in-it-for-me?” We can be as altruistic and forward-thinking about KM/knowledge services as we like – and we are, by nature, or we wouldn’t be doing what we are doing – but the people on the line, so to speak, need to be given the opportunity to figure out how their workplace activities are going to change for the better, how they – as they work smarter and have better jobs – are going to contribute to organizational effectiveness.
There are a couple of people we can turn to. One is the estimable Peter Drucker. In Bruce Rosenstein’s book about putting Mr. Drucker’s principles to work in our daily lives, he writes about Drucker’s commitment to things like self-development, self-reflection, self-organization, generosity, teaching and learning, and social entrepreneurship. If we can get the people who are turning to us for advice about how to move the organization to a knowledge culture and at the same time help them have a better work experience, we need to tell them about these, to use Mr. Drucker’s buzz-words that convey so much of what we need in our corporations and organizations. And to get them to do that, to listen to us, we have to ask them to trust us, to take us at our word and be involved in what we are doing. We have to bring them to the table – these knowledge workers – and we have to listen to them as we seek to move toward the knowledge culture. All of which, in Mr. Drucker’s parlance – leads to a “total life” experience.
And the other expert we might listen to? None other than Danial Goleman in his comments about emotional intelligence. Paralleling very neatly (at least to my way of thinking) the direction Mr. Drucker was taking us in, Goleman asks us to think about – and convey to those who report to us – the values associated with self-awareness and self-regulation in the workplace, the ability to convey empathy for a knowledge worker colleague’s concerns about “moving-too-fast” (the one we hear so much), the “lack-of-time-for-new-stuff,” and my favorite: “they-(who are they?)-don’t-want-me-to-innovate-because-it’s-too-disruptive.”
What’s called for here is trust, leading to the new confidence that people will feel when they become knowledge thought leaders for their organization or their department, the confidence that comes from trusting their managers and, at the same time, building on the trust their organization has in them.