Any number of advisors, web sites, and articles (academic and popular) are coming up with recommendations for dealing with the “new normal.” It’s the term we hear a lot – the nearly ubiquitous phrase being tossed about to give us some sort of common tag for anticipating and describing the times we’ll be living in, once the pandemic has been brought under control.
For knowledge strategists – the knowledge workers who identify and strategize how affiliates manage their organizations’ intellectual capital – there is already a certain tension about how to approach what we need to be doing. And, to be fair, it doesn’t matter whether their designation as “knowledge strategist” is “official,” that is – part of this manager’s title and job description – or simply “built in,” with attention to knowledge services expected as part of their work.
The question to be answered is simple: how do we, as knowledge strategists, work? Do we continue to follow the same management and service-delivery patterns we’ve used over the years? Probably not. Choosing that path won’t work because once we inventory and wade through the different approaches we’ve been working with in the past, we’re liable to be more confused than ever, without even approaching the solutions we need.
It’s a point well made in three quotations from our revered (and now long-gone) knowledge services mentor, Peter Drucker. In his 1995 Managing in a Time of Great Change, Drucker made the point that stability and cohesion come about only when a society or an organization is in what he called “dynamic disequilibrium.” He went on, in the same book, to say that “The only way in which an institution – whether a government, a university, a business, a labor union, an army – can maintain continuity (Drucker’s emphasis) is by building systematic, organized innovation into its very structure.”
In another description that applies to what’s facing us, Drucker posits that entrepreneurial innovation must become the very heart and core of management. “The organization’s function is to be entrepreneurial, to put knowledge to work – on tools, products, and processes; on the design of work; on knowledge itself.”
Isn’t that a clarion call to the knowledge strategist? Doesn’t that kind of statement charge us – as knowledge strategists – to recognize what’s happening (or what’s going to happen)? Shouldn’t we take up the challenge being put forward, a challenge that seems to be confronting us everywhere we look? In a recent issue of The Guardian, it was noted that “mayors in many of the world’s leading cities have said there can be no return to business as usual in the aftermath of the coronavirus crisis if humanity is to escape catastrophic climate breakdown.”
And closer to the specifics of the crisis, we have clearly stated advice from Germany, from the country’s leading public health institution. Lars Schaade, the vice-president of the Robert Koch Institute, tells us that citizens will have to live with the coronavirus, “building tactics such as physical distancing and strict hygiene into normal daily life.”
So what is the role of the knowledge strategist in the new normal? As the organization’s knowledge strategist reviews the presence and effectiveness of an enterprise-wide knowledge strategy, is their attention to excellence in knowledge sharing part of the organization’s intellectual capital management picture? Equally important (but probably not much thought about), what is the knowledge strategist expected to do as they pursue their daily tasks? What might their contribution be, as their organization transitions (or is expected to transition) to managing intellectual capital entrepreneurially and for the benefit of the larger organization?
If an organization’s knowledge strategist came to me for advice, as they think about next steps in the crisis-impacted workplace, I would recommend the following, in this order:
- Determine the status of the organization’s recovery business model. In other words, establish that the organization has a recovery business model in place (by this point in the crisis, every organization should have developed a recovery business model, or at least the beginnings of an organization-wide movement toward such a plan).
- Review the current status of the organization’s recovery business model. In doing so, identify the senior person (or team) responsible for the implementation of the recovery plan. Then volunteer to work with the team as the development and implementation of the recovery business model move forward.
- Examine the recovery business model (whether developed or in process) to establish if it includes a knowledge strategy based on knowledge services. If so, establish that the strategy supports converged information management, knowledge management, and strategic learning. Also establish whether the successful implementation of the knowledge strategy will result in highest-level knowledge sharing for the organization (in other words, make a judgment about the model’s effectiveness, with respect to organizational knowledge sharing).
- If the business recovery model does not include a knowledge “component,” describe the critical value of knowledge sharing to the recovery business model team and work with the team to incorporate knowledge services into the model.
- Conduct a knowledge-services audit to identify required professional development skills relating to knowledge sharing and use the findings of the knowledge audit to develop a strategic learning program for closing critical skill gaps (or strengthening related skills already in place).
The crisis we’re living with has serious societal implications and – from a personal point of view for the many families who have lost loved ones – it is bringing about painful, life-changing anxiety. So it is certainly a time of “dynamic disequilibrium,” but it is also bringing opportunities for doing things differently and better than we did them in the past. We knowledge strategists have the opportunity – depending on how we frame the organization’s knowledge strategy – to build that “systematic, organized innovation” into the very structure of the organization. We can take the lead in this effort. In doing so, knowledge strategists will then be making a major contribution to the common good. It’s an ambition not all professional workers can achieve. Or aspire to.
Tim Wood Powell says
Good ideas, Guy, as always. As you know, recessions historically are brutal on those with “knowledge” in their title. Your suggestions are good ones to get knowledge strategists on the offensive in aggressively trying to help their organization thrive — and even survive, in some cases. If knowledge as a discipline gets put on the defensive, it usually loses out. (I know you have heard my lectures on this — but in case anyone “out there” is reading this…)
I call it the “next normal” — because there is always another inflection point that we need to adapt to. That’s what knowledge helps us do, if done well. Disruptions like the current one present opportunities for adaptation and (yes) growth — if we approach them as such.
Ralph Godau says
Working from home for most employees, a work situation that is an unintended consequence of this pandemic, is forcing organisations to think differently on how their employees work and interact together, from my personal experience, knowledge sharing is now a major driver for continuous improvement and how we interact in order to support the organisation achieve it ‘s current and the new ‘future’ objectives, ‘agility” is another word that seems to be growing as the new ‘normal’. It is important for knowledge strategists to adopt to this new norm.
GUY ST CLAIR says
From Terry Hall in Chesapeake VA (posted with permission):
I enjoyed your post on Knowledge Services in the “New Normal” today. It was very informative and you referenced one of my favorite business authors, Peter Drucker. I have used his concepts many times during my Coast Guard and business career. I am sorry that I never got the chance to meet him in person.
You offered really good advice in your post. However, I am shocked at how many organizations are operating without a plan, let alone one to “weather a storm.” Many, particularly small businesses, are just winging it. Using an aviation reference: flying by the seat of your pants is fun in good weather, but when you are caught by bad weather it can be deadly. Having a flight plan is necessary for both visual and instrument flying, but critical in a storm. Knowing how to fly on instruments (and being skilled at it) will keep you alive (know what information is important). Maintaining “situational awareness” at all times is essential. A momentary loss of situational awareness can be tragic.
My all-time favorite Far Side cartoon is the one of pilots in a cockpit where one comments, “Hey, what is that mountain goat doing up here in the clouds?” Of course, the goat is wide-eyed looking at the pilots. You get the picture. By the way, my other favorite Far Side cartoon is the one where one sheep is standing up in the middle of the flock saying, “Wait! Wait! Listen to me! We don’t have to be just sheep!” It reminded me of multiple times during my career, you can’t be afraid to stand up and say, “wait!” I pull that cartoon out regularly and I still bust out laughing – even after 20 years.