Let’s think a little about knowledge strategy, and in particular about the role of the knowledge strategist, the management professional with leadership responsibility for knowledge strategy. And as we continue with all our conversations about knowledge services—the management methodology on which knowledge strategy is founded—we discover that it all relates to the many people engaged in knowledge-based activities.
Peter Drucker famously described us as “knowledge workers,” and one of the issues we’re dealing with now is how these workers are struggling to find a way to describe themselves and their work. And for more senior knowledge workers, those with leadership authority for the successful development and implementation of the organization’s knowledge strategy, their work very naturally involves a high level of responsibility and accountability. So it soon becomes clear that what we’re dealing with focuses on their work as “knowledge strategists.”
Nice idea, Guy, but where do we find the job listings for “knowledge strategists”?
That’s our first challenge. We don’t. There aren’t any job listings for “knowledge strategist” (or if there are they are few and far between). The work of the knowledge strategist doesn’t begin with a particular job title. It’s a management skill (perhaps “ability” is a better word) that gets built into the career portfolio of those managers and leaders whose expertise with knowledge services enables them to develop and work with an organizational knowledge strategy. Why? Because knowledge services—even after a decade or so—continues to be an emerging field, and we’re still learning. Learning about KM, learning about knowledge services, and learning about knowledge strategy, all with the goal of figuring out how we put it all together. It’s our job to provide the people in our organization who work with knowledge with the proficiency they need for succeeding with knowledge development, knowledge sharing, and knowledge use, what we like to call “KD/KS/KU.”
And that comes down to a lot of jobs, in a lot of different industries, in different organizational functions, and even to jobs described from many different perspectives or points of view.
It all gets kind of confusing, doesn’t it? What’s the budding knowledge strategist to do?
For one thing, we try to think about the types of work the knowledge strategist does (or is expected by their own management to do), and a first step is to think about the “types” of jobs knowledge workers are called upon to perform. One way of thinking about this work is to look at the organization’s knowledge domain, that management area in which planning, policy and procedures development, and productivity all come together and succeed based on how well information, knowledge, and strategic learning (the fundamental elements of knowledge services) are shared. I think there are three roles for the knowledge strategist here:
- The knowledge strategist serves as the organization’s knowledge services leader/manager, working with the people in the organization’s knowledge domain who are generally characterized as something like knowledge specialists, knowledge managers, knowledge catalysts, analysts, and/or technologists, all of whom are involved in dealing with the organization’s knowledge processes, and often including employees involved in social, intranet, or web properties as well.
- Likewise, the knowledge strategist serves as the organization’s knowledge services consultant, working with employees in the organization’s knowledge domain (in whatever section of the company or organization they are needed), working as an adviser, producer, coach, or analyst. In this work, the knowledge strategist provides expertise in such areas as knowledge-focused project management, business analytics and strategic intelligence, information policy and regulatory issues, and the organization of and access to information and knowledge.
- Finally, the knowledge strategist is the organization’s product entrepreneur, working with organizational employees—knowledge professionals or technology specialists, often working in teams—all working together to develop knowledge-based products such as new social media applications, metadata-based feature sets for an application, or repeatable knowledge-based processes.
From where I sit, I happen to like the point of view—for the knowledge strategist—provided by Cynthia Montgomery, whose excellent work on strategy (The Strategist: Be the Leader Your Business Needs) has become something of a guidebook for me since it was published by HarperCollins in 2012. Building on Montgomery’s framework, a group of colleagues and I took Montgomery’s ideas about the work of the strategist very seriously and—with a little transition—we moved some of her concepts into knowledge work, identifying them as characteristics that strongly support the knowledge strategist’s position as the knowledge authority—the “go-to” executive—in the enterprise. In Montgomery’s telling (with our own “flavoring”), the knowledge strategist is characterized as a meaning maker for companies, as a voice of reason, and as an operator. Here’s how I see it:
- The knowledge strategist as meaning maker: Montgomery describes how “…it is the leader who must make vital choices that determine a company’s very identity.” Surely this is a management determination that, in the case of the knowledge strategist, can be argued as a critical element in the establishment of a company or organization as a knowledge culture, an assignment that—it is becoming clear—senior management and enterprise leadership are expecting of the knowledge strategist.
- The knowledge strategist as a voice of reason? Absolutely. If there is any one function that the organization’s stakeholders must learn to understand, it has to do with the on-going quest for success with knowledge development, knowledge sharing, and knowledge utilization (KD/KS/KU). Yet most people—even people who self-identify as “knowledge workers”—don’t think about KD/KS/KU. It is just “something we do.” Or not, as is often the case, which is why the knowledge strategist not only must assume responsibility for ensuring that KD/KS/KU is embraced as a “normal” part of the working life of the firm’s employees and clients. When called upon (as happens often, or which should happen often), the knowledge strategist must also lead the way in setting up—or working with the people who set up—the company’s change management/change leadership processes and activities. This, as much as anything connected with knowledge strategy, is a continuing challenge. The knowledge strategist—as the organization’s voice of reason in matters having to do with the management of the organization’s intellectual capital—has an obligation and the opportunity to see that KD/KS/KU succeeds, and if change is required—as it will be—to ensure that change management and change leadership principles are followed and that the change management function is undertaken for implementing the identified and required changes.
- In the third role of the general strategist, Montgomery also makes a strong case for the knowledge strategist when she writes of the strategist as an operator: “A great strategy,” she writes, “… is not a dream or a lofty idea, but rather the bridge between the economics of a market, the ideas at the core of a business, and action. To be sound, that bridge must rest on a foundation of clarity and realism, and it also needs a real operating sensibility.” A critical task of the knowledge strategist is to ensure that the practical, everyday realities of knowledge services are designed into any knowledge strategy being developed. Whether the strategy is expected to provide guidelines for an enterprise-wide knowledge activity, or whether the focus is on a narrower and immediate short-term quick win, the knowledge strategist as operator continually keeps in mind the “distance” (it might be called) between theory and application. In its simplest and perhaps most reasonable framework, the whole purpose of knowledge development, knowledge sharing, and knowledge use is to establish a connection between what is developed and shared and how it is applied in the workplace. That application can, of course be rooted (and often is rooted) in the mundane day-to-day work that we just have to get done, and with a strong KD/KS/KU structure, all stakeholders are able to perform those tasks as well as they can be performed. All the time addressing the great goal of seeking and accelerating innovation, getting beyond the mundane. It is in this role that the knowledge strategist as operator flourishes.
So even though I mentioned earlier that there are not many job listings for positions as an organizational knowledge strategist, there are plenty of organizations that have, in fact, identified and incorporated into their workplace structure a place for someone to perform the tasks and undertake the leadership responsibilities of the knowledge strategist. In my experience, I have—as a consultant—worked with several organizations whose leaders asked me to help them develop job descriptions for the knowledge strategist.
So having given all this attention to the work of the knowledge strategist, can we perhaps come up with a job description for the knowledge strategist? Of course we can, and any regular reader of these posts would be surprised if I didn’t say I have one for you. And equally unsurprising, it’s in my book on knowledge services published by De Gruyter in 2016 (Knowledge Services: A Strategic Framework for the 21st Century Organization). The job description I suggest in the book is based on a short overview that resulted from several descriptions created for clients, and I’m happy to provide the opening paragraph for what could be a “typical” job description (if there could be any such thing) for an organization’s knowledge strategist:
The purpose of the knowledge strategist is to serve as a trusted advisor to the organization’s management. He or she does this by leading and overseeing the development of collaboration and implementation solutions for information and knowledge sharing within various corporate groups. As knowledge strategist, this manager/leader will have the opportunity to combine technical skills, creativity, and customer focus to define and improve management processes and deliver great solutions, to ensure that colleagues within the immediate department and customers have access to and get the best from the company’s collected knowledge.
And this is, remember, just the opening statement. In each job description, the more in-depth list of duties follows and it is—as would be expected—more specific to and contains a long list of individual requirements for the strategist, all pertaining to the individual organization or situation.