Much has been written about the changes coming as a result of the worldwide pandemic, and the benefits that will accrue to those who are in a position to guide those changes. Now we are facing not only an ongoing medical emergency but also a long-overdue movement to assure social justice for all people. This, too, provides an opportunity to guide additional changes.
To be sure, there are challenges as well as opportunity, and that opportunity can most effectively be realized through the efforts of knowledge strategists in every organization. It is they who can assure that the “new workplace” not only serves the needs of the parent organization and its employees but also does so in a fair and equitable way. As they recognize that their role in the organization is critically important, knowledge strategists are well placed to identify the “next steps.” And as managers and workers throughout the organization seek to find the “best place” for knowledge strategists for contributing to the organization’s success, all of us (knowledge strategists and organizational management both) are trying to figure out what role we can – and should – play.
The direction I recommend is this: that the knowledge strategist consciously take on the role of thought leader, with specific emphasis, in this case, on knowledge sharing. As it happens, the role of thought leader is a concept in management that hasn’t been around for very long. In The Knowledge Services Handbook, Barrie Levy’s and my recent book (the flyer is at http://bit.ly/2pJZHA4), we were surprised to learn that the overall idea of the manager as a thought-leader is fairly new, having come into the management environment only about 2016 or so.
Yet as we thought about the concept, working as a knowledge thought leader seemed to be an almost natural role for the knowledge strategist. In fact, when we consider the responsibilities of the knowledge strategist in the organization, and particularly as they seek to work with organizational management in devising a recovery plan for how to deal with the double-sided crisis we’re confronted with, the knowledge strategist as thought leader makes a great deal of sense.
For one thing, in our research we discovered a particular characteristic of the thought leader (as described by Lauren Hockenson) that moves the idea forward: the thought leader, she says, “pushes the boundaries of a particular method and then uses those ideas to strengthen and then leverage awareness in the affiliated environment.” In what we’re looking for, shouldn’t the thought leader (or, as we might now say, the knowledge thought leader) look at some of what’s under consideration for the organization as it attempts to recover? And then build on that and “push the boundaries” of what’s being considered?
Here’s an example of how the knowledge strategist might perform as a thought leader: In many organizations, the boundaries that need pushing are twofold: first, there’s an almost over-arching lack of quality (or even interest) in knowledge sharing. Secondly – and often clearly evident – there’s a clear lack of enthusiasm about knowledge sharing and how that lack impacts organizational success. As organizational leaders look to what comes next – with respect to managing the workplace in the future – might the knowledge strategist/knowledge thought leader put forward a framework or model that can be thought of as something like “collaborative knowledge services?” Is there not a way to bring collaborative knowledge sharing into the larger planning picture, in order to ensure that all voices are heard?
And that last thought brings me to something I heard in a recent discussion forum when we were talking about how we knowledge specialists can contribute to the re-framing that is going to be taking place over the next weeks (months? years?). The point was made, and I clearly agree with this thinking, that this opportunity or responsibility – however we want to name it – is going to be something that everyone is going to need to be aware of, participate in, and share in the rewards that come from its success. And a critical consideration is that this work is not for just one group of people, one square on the organizational flowchart. It’s for everyone. Then, as one of the discussion participants put it (and this was the part that resonated so clearly with me), of all the different approaches and specifics under consideration, there will need to be what this person referred to as a single “tone,” one way of thinking about the situation and the organization’s needs but addressing all the different groups in different ways and, in particular, in ways that specifically apply to each of the different groups.
As we head into unforeseen times, it will be especially important for knowledge strategists to perform as thought leaders in order to ensure continuous innovation within the organization. Furthermore, a critical role for the knowledge strategist/knowledge thought leader will be to drive and facilitate knowledge services frameworks in the organization’s operational structure. This “knowledge facilitator” will help organizational leaders adapt to change by developing tangible performance methods and coaching others in regard to knowledge services.
[This post was written with the much-appreciated assistance of colleague Jake Gach.]