A friend confronted me with a sweet challenge the other night.
“Guy,” she said, “a lot of people know you teach about KM and knowledge services, that you’re considered a kind of evangelist for knowledge services.”
“How nice,” I thought a little egotistically. “I like being recognized for my professional efforts.”
I might even have made a comment along those lines but then I heard my friend continuing:
“Here’s the thing, Guy,” she said. “I was telling someone about you and your work, and she wasn’t sure she knew what I was talking about.”
Uh-oh. Now I was caught, and I began to get a little uncomfortable.
“Just what is it you do?” she asked, and it was clear she expected a response.
Trying to be a good conversationalist, and at the same time picking up on what I’ve always heard Peter Drucker used to do, I answered her question with a question. I asked back: “What is it you want to know? What is it you think I do, since I seem to be known for talking about it a lot.”
We both laughed, and I don’t think she minded that I was playing with her a little.
“I’ve been thinking about it,” she said. “I need to know three things: You talk about knowledge management – which you call ‘KM’ — and you talk about knowledge services, and you talk about knowledge strategy. And sometimes I hear you talking about knowledge sharing. Why? What’s the connection? I’m not sure I know what these things are.”
Fair enough. I decided to start with some quick definitions and I began by saying, “Well, you see what the common thread is, don’t you? Everything I do in my line of work has to do with how people deal with knowledge. And more specifically, with what I call ‘knowledge sharing’ — that’s the common thread that runs through all our work, when we’re dealing with how people think about knowledge and information and learning, all the things they put together when they are trying to accomplish something.”
And not to my surprise, my friend pushed on a little bit more. She’s very smart, and she’s very successful in her own career, so I’m not sure I didn’t expect her to want to learn more.
“And when you work with what you just talked about — KM, knowledge services, and knowledge strategy — how do you get started? And how do you roll it all together into what you call ‘knowledge sharing?’”
I wasn’t going to get out of this one (not that I really wanted to – I love this kind of conversation), so here’s how I responded to my friend’s challenge (not a direct quotation but if I remember correctly, I said something along these lines):
First, I rearranged the questions. I talked about how it’s all about knowledge sharing, about managing — sometimes just trying to manage — an organization or a company’s intellectual capital. But we can’t “manage” something like that. All we can do is work with it, figure out what services we can come up with so people can work with the knowledge that they create in the workplace, and how they can share that knowledge so the work gets done better, faster, more efficiently, all those other things we’re always looking to do in the workplace. In fact, we put it all together in a structure we call knowledge development, knowledge sharing, and knowledge utilization. And we have a little acronym for it. We call it “KD/KS/KU.”
“You have it right,” I told my friend, “and it is about KM. But not about just KM. Not about KM alone. It’s about all three of these methods for dealing with knowledge, about KM, knowledge services, and knowledge strategy. And when I talk about them, I try to describe these elements so I am describing an interaction, so we can see how they all come together.”
I could see that my colleague was enjoying hearing about all this, and I went on and shared an example.
“When we try to ‘manage’ knowledge” I said, “that is, when we try to help people understand how to manage the knowledge they have to work with by trying to come up with a framework or a methodology that enables them to work with knowledge, that’s what we call ‘knowledge services.’ It’s a methodology or a way of working I like to describe as bringing together information management (including technology management), KM, and strategic learning so the organization benefits when people share the knowledge they’ve developed. Perhaps an easier way of saying it is to say (as my business partner Dale Stanley says), knowledge services is the ‘practical side of KM.’ It’s how you ‘put KM to work’ for the benefit of the company or the organization where you work.”
That long comment led to a second response, to explaining why KM and knowledge services are important.
“If we do KM and knowledge services right,” I said, “the enterprise or the organization is closer to meeting its mission, its organizational objectives. And that’s when we can see how sharing information and knowledge and learning contribute to the company’s success, an idea we often put in terms of what we call ‘organizational effectiveness’ or ‘organizational behavior.’ It’s that whole area of management where we think about what it is we’re trying to accomplish, and how we get there. And in moving to that goal, it’s a given that we must share information, knowledge, and strategic learning (which is how we refer to anything we learn that helps us do our work better), but we often don’t think about the sharing process. It becomes second nature throughout the enterprise. And that’s what knowledge services is all about.”
“If it’s ‘second nature’ why do you need a strategy?”
“Because it’s now too much,” I said to my friend. “You’re an executive in your organization, and you know how important it is for your people to think strategically. That’s also true when they think of how they’re going to be developing, sharing, and using knowledge. When we think about how much organizational energy gets focused on collecting, storing, retrieving, analyzing, and — especially — using data, information, and knowledge, it becomes clear that we need a strategy — an enterprise-wide strategy — to move us and our colleagues along. And, yes, we can do knowledge strategy on a smaller scale if we need to but whatever the size of the unit we’re working with — a single business unit or department or the overall organization — we need a knowledge strategy. And we also need a knowledge strategist. It’s the knowledge strategist’s job to ensure that all our knowledge services are coordinated and organized. Devising that knowledge strategy is — in many organizations — the biggest knowledge challenge of all but (as has been proven over and over again) it’s worth doing, and doing right.
Our conversation ended, and in a way I was sorry we were running out of time. Nevertheless, by this time I knew my friend had a good understanding of what knowledge services is all about. And even though I only — to my own way of thinking — just scratched the surface as I attempted to advise my friend about what to tell her colleague, I got the idea that she’ll take what I’ve said and turn it into a dialogue, giving her colleague the necessary information. That’s what we call knowledge sharing.