In using the phrase “enduring wisdom,” I am honoring two of the most important influences in my career, Peter F. Drucker and Frances Hesselbein. For many years, I’ve worked to bring knowledge services and knowledge strategy development – the management process we generally refer to as “knowledge sharing” – to everyone I’ve worked with, and Peter Drucker and Frances Hesselbein have provided me with management and leadership principles that have been the foundation of my work.
And my inspiration. For clients, students, colleagues and friends, even members of my family have come to think of me as a “knowledge services evangelist” and I long ago learned that this is not an empty honorific. I do evangelize, for I feel strongly that with the combination of strong, fairly applied management and leadership principles, those who are attempting to share knowledge as well as they can should learn to understand the value of knowledge and – equally important – to understand that sharing knowledge benefits us all, whether in the workplace or in society at large.
As for the title of this post, for the last couple of years one of the textbooks I use for my students is titled Peter Drucker’s Five Most Important Questions: Enduring Wisdom for Today’s Leaders. The book, from 2015, was prepared as a “special edition” of Drucker’s famous Five Most Important Questions, first published in 1993. The original book was prepared by Drucker in support of the process of self-assessment, one of the great leader’s most critical challenges for managers. Known himself as the “father of modern management,” Drucker stated on the second page of The Five Most Important Questions You Will Ever Ask about Your Non-Profit Organization (his 1993 book) that:
The self-assessment process is a method for assessing what you are doing, why you are doing it, and what you must do to improve an organization’s performance. It asks five essential questions: What is Our Mission? Who is Our Customer? What Does the Customer Value? What are Our Results? And What is Our Plan? Self-assessment leads to action and lacks meaning without it. To meet growing needs and succeed in a turbulent and exacting environment, social sector organizations must focus on mission, demonstrate accountability, and achieve results.
And for those of us working with knowledge services and knowledge strategy development, that phrase in the title of the original book opens our discussion to one of the basic tenets of knowledge services, that we are dealing with all organizational knowledge, not knowledge limited specifically to business management or any other single type of management, but to the management of all organizations – including, as the title states – social sector organizations. In so doing, we are recognizing that knowledge services is subject agnostic, relating to every organization, whether the organization is for-profit, non-profit, or not-for-profit. Indeed, when Drucker’s original “Five-Questions” was written, his focus at the time was working with an organization called the Peter F. Drucker Foundation for Non-profit Management (now the Frances Hesselbein Leadership Institute), an organization devoted to – as mentioned by Hesselbein in her Foreword to the later book – “continuing to publish the most contemporary writing on leadership and management.”
My commitment to the book and to its importance in our work is clearly established in my high interest in what might be called its foundational principle, which I have interpreted as faith in the younger members of society – the young people often called “Millennials.” In that respect, I am also – as a teacher and as a knowledge services evangelist – indebted to the third participant in the later book’s development. Joan Snyder Kuhl brings Millennials into the story – as I do – as the members of society who will be (as she puts it in the introduction to the book) our “enduring leaders” because:
Today’s younger generation – known as the Millennials or Generation Y, born between 1980 and 2000 – are not only the largest generation yet but also the most educated and most diverse. The reach of technology and ease of global travel have magnified the creativity of their dreams in many ways. … they have developed a global sensibility, which is why I often refer to Millennials as the first global generation.
It all comes together, in my opinion, in a singular feature of this special edition of Drucker’s book. In this book, each of the self-assessment questions and descriptions includes a “Millennial Takeaway,” giving a current Millennial the opportunity to describe how he or she responds to the questions.
The original book had included Drucker’s own directions for dealing with the five questions he identified for the self-assessment process and an essay on transformational leadership by Frances Hesselbein. They all match my own ideas about successful knowledge sharing. With these questions and the responses, as the knowledge strategist applies them to knowledge services, we see that they do indeed provide the foundation for better knowledge sharing in all organizations and all environments in which people come together to achieve whatever they have agreed to achieve.
For example, in addressing Drucker’s first question (“What is Our Mission?”), Michael Radparvar describes his company’s mission statement, noting that he and his colleagues had put together what became a sort of manifesto, “putting into words a reminder of what things exactly were most important to us.” As it happened, the manifesto became the company’s mission statement, one the Washington Post referred to as the “Just Do It” for a new generation. For Radparvar, cofounder of Holstee, a Brooklyn-based workshop creating, as he describes it, “products and experiences that help each of us remember what is important.” Thus remembering what is important became the company’s “reason to exist.”
Working with the second question (“Who is Our Customer?), Luke Owings, describes his work with the Fullbridge Program, overseeing coaching operations. Despite what the term might mean in a non-profit or not-for-profit organization, whoever the people are who benefit from the services provided, they are still “customers” from Drucker’s point of view. For Luke Owings identifying the customer takes a practical turn. He writes:
Recognizing that the independent contractors attracted to Fullbridge were both transitioning in their careers and interested in creating more value, we modified our approach to these engagements. By being clear on what had to be done – and removing all unessential tasks – we encouraged them to cultivate their own approaches and we focused our management on their professional development.
Nadira Hira, an award-winning writer, editor, speaker, and a member of Cosmopolitan Magazine’s Millennial Advisory Board, responds to the third question (“What Does the Customer Value?”) by thinking about how “organizations, brands, and leaders all have access to a constant stream of feedback,” and she advocates learning how to use that feedback effectively. “We are in a moment of unprecedented consumer engagement tools,” she writes, “but the tools themselves are nothing more and nothing less than how we use them.”
“Dedicated professionals,” Hira says, “must remind themselves that when it comes to providing the very best product or service, they should never stop at the first, simplest, or most available answer.”
Similarly, Adam Braun’s Millennial Takeaway for the fourth question (“What are Our Results?”) also suggests that we keep moving forward. Braun is the founder of Pencils of Promise, an award-winning organization that has broken ground on more than 300 schools around the world. His response is simplicity itself and, as such, incredibly powerful. Named to the Forbes 30 Under 30 list, Braun says, “so as I stand on the frontier of a new decade, I now realize what my twenties taught me.” Braun’s advice? “Set incredibly ambitious goals. Chase them with fervor. And then move the finish line far off into the distance.”
When Caroline Ghosn tackled Drucker’s fifth question (“What is Our Plan?), she went back to one of Drucker’s primary principles for good leadership and good management. The cofounder of Levo League, a company that uses technology to mentor and arm its members with the tools needed to build excellence, Ghosn says:
“As a leader, the most important thing you can do is articulate a vision. Doing so convenes people smarter, more experienced, and better than you in every way – with gathering speed – to move your organization collectively toward that distant horizon.”
Lauren Maillian Bias, too, is interested in moving the organization collectively, and in particular Bias connects with Frances Hesselbein’s “transformational leadership.” With transformational leadership, the need Hesselbein describes states very clearly the premise of the practice:
In a world where the rules are constantly changing, millions of people in every sector of the economy are wrestling with the new demands of leadership. I hear leaders and managers everywhere discussing the same fundamental challenge: the journey to transformation, moving from where we are to where we want to be in the tenuous future that lies before us.
Bias, the founder and chief executive officer of LMB group, a strategic marketing and branding consultancy, takes a very specific look at how we implement leadership that is truly transformational. She puts it this way: “the same characteristics that are most important to me today in a personal relationship are the same characteristics that are most important to me in business relationships. Considering the quality of a leader has helped me become a better businessperson at the same time.”
“For millennials,” Bias continues, “more than any previous generation, our professional success and our personal success are interdependent. That’s why so many of the qualities and characteristics that we look for in others in our personal life can be applied to our professional life.”
So that’s where we are when we talk about enduring wisdom for today’s leaders. It’s not complicated and requires not a great deal from us at any given time. Nevertheless, when we explore these millennial takeaways and apply them to what we’re trying to achieve with knowledge sharing, with knowledge services and the perhaps more formal knowledge strategy, it makes sense to give these ideas some thought and consider how, in any knowledge-sharing situation, they can be put into practice.
So here’s our wrap-up question: Does it make sense to you, as a knowledge strategist or as someone getting started in your work as a knowledge strategist? Do you think you can put some of these ideas into practice in your work? In your life?
Questions worth pondering as we move forward with knowledge services, knowledge strategy, and knowledge sharing. Do you agree?
[This post is the edited text of Knowledge Services: Enduring Wisdom for Knowledge Strategists, the Knowledge Services Podcast of November 26, 2018.]