[The following is the text of the April 12, 2018 SMR Knowledge Services Podcast.]
In our last podcast, I mentioned it was one of three in which we would speak about strategy, and about how we apply strategy development to what we call “knowledge strategy.”
So, yes, today’s topic is once again about knowledge strategy. And since we spent time in the previous podcast speaking about strategy from a more generic perspective, today we move on to the basic elements of the knowledge strategy (all, not surprisingly, given much consideration my 2016 book Knowledge Services: A Framework for the 21stCentury Organization).
Today we’re summarizing some of this content for you. It’s an effort to make the process a little easier and, for others, perhaps to ensure that our understanding of knowledge strategy is a little more accessible than what we knowledge strategists usually mean, when we are talking about knowledge strategy. After all, we work with this topic all the time, and over time these workplace activities — no matter how “professional” we are — tend to become sort of day-to-day, and we’re not always so “fresh” (I suppose we might say) as we think about and talk about our work.
And even though some of us do tend to become very accustomed to what we’re doing and thinking about, the overall subject of knowledge services, including how we converge information management, KM, and strategic learning, continues to be something of a “new” subject. So it doesn’t hurt when we can latch on to some tips and ideas for bringing the subject into our conversations in the workplace. And once we – and our colleagues – come to understand that it’s knowledge services we use as the foundation for creating and implementing a strategy for knowledge sharing in the larger organization, it makes sense to talk a little about the elements of knowledge strategy. And about how we put them to work in the organizations for which we – as knowledge strategists – have responsibility and authority for enterprise-wide knowledge sharing.
As usual when discussing a topic like this, we begin with a definition. What do we mean when we speak about a “knowledge strategy”? Is it something that comes easily to us – especially if we and our immediate co-workers are what Mr. Drucker referred to as “knowledge workers,” doing the kind of work that he described in his important book many of us tend to think of as our management “bible” — his 1973 Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices?
Probably so. Here’s how Drucker describes what managers do (and accepting without question at this point in time that the knowledge strategist is a management employee):
A primary task of management is to make knowledge productive. … The basic capital resource, the fundamental investment, but also the cost center of a developed economy, is the knowledge worker who puts to work what he has learned in systematic education, that is, concepts, ideas, and theories, rather than the man who puts to work manual skill or muscle.
So that’s how we think about it, isn’t it? We’re all knowledge workers, and we’re working with skills and frameworks that we learned as we were educated. And we put that education to work for the organizations that employ us.
And there’s another point of view that works for some of us, and that’s when we bring in the creative element to help us figure out how to deal with, to handle, all the information, knowledge, and strategic learning content that make up the critical essence of the knowledge worker’s workflow. There’s a phrase that I read about somewhere (can’t find the citation right now) that Alvin Toffler used in describing the creative part of what the knowledge worker does. That was back in 1990, just about twenty years after the Drucker comment I just mentioned (and thirty-one years after Drucker first defined the knowledge worker in his 1959 book The Landmarks of Tomorrow, in which hesuggested that “the most valuable asset of a 21st-century institution, whether business or non-business, will be its knowledge workers and their productivity”). Toffler’s take on the subject has to do with our creativity, with how we are required to have some system available to us as we think creatively about and plan what we’re going to do, and then come up with a way to process and enhance our own knowledge so we can put it to use in the workplace.
In my opinion, that’s what knowledge services and the development of a knowledge strategy does, and it’s no surprise at this point in our work as knowledge strategists that it’s in the creativity, planning, processing, and enhancing of our knowledge that we move over into the realm of organizational behavior. That is the discipline wherein we figure out how our knowledge services applications and practices connect with the relationships we human beings have with the organizations where we are stakeholders, so that we can meet the demand for better knowledge sharing in those organizations, in our communities, and in all the other environments where we are responsible for the success of the knowledge sharing.
As it turns out, we can get very specific, for we can look to the science of organizational behavior for guidance as we connect with what we’re doing with knowledge strategy for the larger organization or enterprise. And there are a couple of very specific angles that bring it all together for us. For one thing, we knowledge strategists recognize organizational behavior for what it is. It’s the study of human behavior in the organizational setting, where as we study – or attempt to study – the human/organization interface. And that’s exactly what we’re trying to do with knowledge services and knowledge strategy, to use our education and our management and leadership skills and our knowledge services expertise to make knowledge sharing work in the organizational environment. In our job we have no problem connecting organizational behavior and the study of the organization itself. It’s a very engaging way of thinking about our work and it brings us back to an on-going argument many of us deal with, both in our professional lives and, just as frequently, in our personal lives. When we think about management – about “getting something done,” as David Lilienthal defined management many years ago – we’re working with both sides of the coin, with both scientific thinking, logic, order, and process, and with the “softer,” more humanistic side of our lives, pulling ourselves in both directions to come to a meaningful and useful framework for accomplishing what we want to “get done.”
And these kinds of considerations enable us to begin to think a little more explicitly (and perhaps a little more simply) about our work as knowledge strategists as management professionals. I see us as knowledge workers – strategic knowledge professionals – who have three tasks:
- To implement knowledge strategy,
- To re-conceptualize, transform, and support new ways of thinking about managing intellectual capital as a corporate or organizational asset, and
- To lead enterprise-wide knowledge development, knowledge sharing, and knowledge development (what we knowledge strategists like to abbreviate as “KD/KS/KU”) in order to enable and sustain the organizational knowledge culture.
As employees, our work is pretty clear-cut. We are expected to design and plan knowledge-related activities and, even more important, to establish policy and to work with enterprise-wide leadership in designing and framing knowledge policy for the organization. In particular, knowledge strategists are expected to give attention to future knowledge-related roles and activities that will affect the success of the organization down the road a bit, in the future, to build the knowledge culture that, as we learn as we go along, is required in all organizations.
If that’s where we’re headed – the “strategy-focused” knowledge culture I like to call it – we have very specific underlying themes to think about as we develop our knowledge services strategic framework. There are eight:
- Identify necessary operational objectives and prepare a statement describing how these objectives are reached in an organization that is built and functions as a knowledge culture. Then match these to the specifics of the present organization and the findings and recommendations of the knowledge services audit and the knowledge strategy being developed.
- Identify specific projects/initiatives, in priority order, and provide justification for same.
- Plan for technology implementations that support these initiatives.
- Describe the roles of the knowledge strategist and other strategic knowledge professionals, and the roles of sponsors, advocates, and champions committed to supporting knowledge services.
- Prepare and review monitoring metrics, and design a plan for monitoring not only ongoing performance but a flexible structure that permits “mid-stream” corrections or even total re-structuring if (when) required.
- Prepare a change management plan (or, as it is now being referred to, a “change leadership plan” because what we are dealing with has more to do with leadership than management; if we get the leadership perspective right, managing change is not going to be a big deal).
- Prepare a strategic learning/training plan (because everyone – all of us – need to be prepared to do things “differently”). And we need to learn what we need to know in order to do things differently.
- Prepare a communications plan for both internal and external targets, with a commitment to transparency and knowledge sharing.
So that’s basically what we do as we put together a knowledge services strategic framework for the organization, community, or other workplace (or even personal) group we are seeking to help. We do all this as the knowledge strategist, and in doing so we become recognized as the organization’s manager and leader with respect to knowledge services, a job I like to refer to as the organization’s “go-to” person with respect to knowledge services. We become the corporate “knowledge thought leader” because we’re the people who have the authority, responsibility, and, yes, the accountability for knowledge sharing. We understand the big picture, in terms of knowledge services, and we play an influential role in the management and success of KD/KS/KU for the organization or group of people with a commonly agreed-upon goal or activity.