In a previous post discussing the value of testing organizational strategy and the implementation and maintenance of corporate knowledge strategy, I invited readers to look at “Thinking about Strategy,” an article in The McKinsey Quarterly Monthly Newsletter. In the article, describing “tests” for the company’s knowledge strategy, one such test asks if the strategy in question taps into a “true source” of advantage, with competitive advantage stemming from two “sources of scarcity,” positional advantage and special capabilities.
Of course. And could there be a better approach for strategic knowledge professionals, as they seek to establish the company as a knowledge culture? Or strengthen that culture, if the company is already an organization that recognizes the advantages of the knowledge sharing environment?
Let’s put positional advantages and special capabilities into a KM/knowledge services context, in reverse order.
In an organization that characterizes itself as a knowledge culture – a workplace where people openly and enthusiastically buy into knowledge development and knowledge sharing (KD/KS) – the special capabilities of strategic knowledge professionals are clearly understood. These people are known throughout the company as knowledge thought leaders and their expertise – their special capabilities – identify them as the “go-to” people when advice or information relating to knowledge transfer is required. Their contribution to organizational effectiveness is universally recognized, both within the company and often with external affiliates as well, people like clients, suppliers, and others who come in contact with them on a regular basis. For these strategic knowledge professionals, their special capabilities provide the company with critical and essential support, and the company could not achieve its success without them.
Which leads to positional advantage. If positional advantage is rooted in structurally attractive markets – as the McKinsey authors assert – strategic knowledge professionals are ideally positioned. The customers with whom they deal on a regular basis are co-workers and colleagues who could not do their work without the shared knowledge that comes to them through their interactions with strategic knowledge professionals.
This is not to say that their customers don’t find what they need on their own. They often do, and in all organizations there can be any number of knowledge workers who – being specialists in their subject areas or practice groups – have the experience and the expertise to locate much of what they need for their research.
Even when considering these well-tuned research specialists, however, the company’s strategic knowledge professionals – as recognized knowledge thought leaders – provide KD/KS advice and knowledge-sharing (“strategic learning”) expertise, enabling the entire organization to have access to the knowledge its workforce requires. It is a remarkable positional advantage, just as described in the “test” alluded to earlier. And this advantage, linked to the strategic knowledge team’s special capabilities, leads to a resounding “yes” in answering the question posed by the McKinsey authors. The company’s knowledge strategy definitely taps a “true source” of advantage.