The third type of knowledge professional I’ve identified is the organizational or corporate knowledge strategist, the employee whose work is that generally thought of as the management of knowledge services. With knowledge services usually defined – as noted in earlier posts on this subject – as the convergence of information management, KM, and strategic learning, or, perhaps better put, as developing and implementing strategies for managing information, knowledge, and corporate or organizational learning, these activities provide focus for the knowledge strategist for matching the corporate knowledge strategy with the organization’s business strategy or mission. The knowledge strategists are the people who design and plan knowledge-related activities and policy, and they are particularly expected to give attention to future knowledge-related roles and activities that will affect corporate or organizational success. Their purpose is to innovate and invent and – with no apology – to create their own jobs.
The work of the knowledge strategist differs from that of the general knowledge worker and the strategic knowledge professional (see earlier posts) in that the knowledge strategist would not necessarily be a “behind-the-desk” employee. While the knowledge strategist has management responsibility for the work of records managers, archivists, information technologists, web specialists, media and/or editorial specialists, specialist librarians, researchers, and the like, the discipline of knowledge strategy is much more management focused and less service oriented (that is, in the sense of providing direct knowledge services to meet other employees’ knowledge needs). A quick-and-easy (and vastly simplified) explanation of the work of the knowledge strategist might go back to the basic definition of strategy: a plan of action to achieve a particular goal. The knowledge strategist creates the plan; the strategic knowledge professional makes it happen and (not to confuse the issue) the general knowledge worker is often both the recipient of the results of the action and, in many cases, with prior expertise and prior experience and knowledge, often participates in the development of the knowledge required to implement the plan of action).
Can I come up with an example? Let’s try.
In the publishing business – a magazine publisher, say (and it doesn’t matter whether the end product is a published “newsstand” magazine or a digital product) – senior editorial staff determine what stories will be published. Every company is different, but generally speaking there is a “story team” (called by different names in different organizations). Usually it’s in the form of what senior editorial management thinks of as a CoP, with responsibility for coming up with story ideas.
Somewhere out in the company there are what we’ve called “knowledge workers” doing all sorts of tasks relating to running the magazine, including knowledge work relating to editorial and or other “office” functions. They spend a lot of time looking for stuff, asking people where this-or-that document or tape or photo file might be, and they do a lot of team work themselves, trying to come up – with their supervisors and managers – with ways to work smarter.
At the same time, a group of strategic knowledge professionals carry out knowledge-related tasks, conducting research, managing filing systems, making sure the online tools are working, and performing similar tasks, usually with the goal of providing some level of knowledge services delivery (information management, KM, strategic learning) that benefits other workers. These are the “behind-the-desk” people I referred to above, the strategic knowledge professionals who actually provide the delivery of services that gets strategic knowledge to the people in the company who need it.
At the senior level, the knowledge strategist is responsible for ensuring that it all works. This manager’s job is to work with any level of knowledge development and knowledge sharing (KD/KS) that’s required within the organization. If there is a particular knowledge-related need – getting back to the story team and its objectives – it’s the knowledge strategist who puts it together. In this case, the story team collects (and probably has been collecting since the magazine was started) all sorts of content about story ideas: when an idea was proposed, how the idea was dealt with, whether there was a story as a result, research and illustrative materials considered for the story, and any number of other knowledge “products” that affect the implementation (or rejection) of a story idea. It’s a “knowledge bank” (as it’s called in many fields) and it is at the disposal of the entire organization.
In this example, the problem is that it’s not working very well. In fact, it’s not working at all, and at this magazine there’s lots of complaining about how it doesn’t work, how much time and money is lost, all the usual issues having to do with an internal tool that causes more problems than it solves.
The solution is the responsibility of the knowledge strategist. That manager must identify and, if needed, establish policies relating to the usability of the knowledge bank. They most probably must conduct a knowledge audit, identify how and by whom (and how successfully) the contents of the knowledge bank are used (or not), work with other senior management and, particularly, with the story team on developing knowledge strategy for the knowledge bank. Finally, they must come up with an actionable plan that will ensure that all knowledge workers at all levels in the company have access to the knowledge resources they require to do their work.
Guy St. Clair says
At the LinkedIn Knowledge Management Group, Tatania White asks:
Hopefully, by default KM specialits are strategists. Otherwise, what is the point of KM altogether?
Guy St. Clair responds:
Perhaps so. Still, the distinctions between the three “levels” or types of knowledge employees are important because too many KM specialists find themselves too bogged down in activities that limit them. Or too focused on day-to-day routines to think about strategy or about relating (or even developing) knowledge strategy as it connects with the corporate business strategy. And from much of my observation, all KM specialists do not necessarily have the experience, background, or expertise/education to succeed with strategy development and/or implementation. Don’t you think the role of knowledge strategist positions the KM specialist for more of a management focus? What do you and others think?
Guy St. Clair says
Tatiana White at the LinkedIn Knowledge Management Group:
Well, [that’s been] the major problem in KM since it appeared on the business arena. It meant to be strategic, but then soon after its lively appearance, we saw many jobs in KM meant something rather to do with information collection, collation so on. Librarians thought it [was their] bread and butter, then we hit the conflict [regarding] the actual definition of what KM is all about. KM is [as much] about management and strategy of the organization as of helping organization to accomplish its goals, justify the existence and move successfully forward.
Guy St. Clair responds:
Well said, Tatiana. Couldn’t agree more. I have some personal/experiential/ observational reasons why I think the evolution you described happened, but we can save that for another time! Don’t want to spend too much time on my soap-box today! Really appreciate your thoughtful comment.
Guy St. Clair says
Tatania White at the LinkedIn Knowledge Management Group:
You are wellcome. I only say what I know and what I have experienced through a very hard work on KM for many years and only had grief not pleasure. I have implemented KM project – strategic and very successful in Oxford University, but internationally saw only conflict in opinions and mass of negativity. I consulted many European information specialists – as how we managed KM in Oxford and how we managed to push that strategic agenda. KM is wonderful thing if you know how and have right mind-set in place. All the best. No more to add, I am afraid.
Guy St. Clair says
Posted by Dave Lush at the KM-Forum Group at LinkedIn:
I am guessing that a knowledge strategist is about knowledge management the same as a strategic planner is for corporate vision, mission, values, goals, objectives, processes, etc. As such the knowledge strategist would envision the future in context of knowledge needs, processes, goals/objectives, etc. The strategic planning function should include knowledge strategy as a face.
In the more tactical sense a knowledge strategist might focus on the knowledge issues associated with a project or task.
Guy St. Clair responds: Agree, Dave. The whole purpose of the knowledge strategist – be a little simplistic perhaps – is to ensure that the “match” between knowledge strategy and corporate strategy takes place. Thanks for making the point.
Dale Stanley says
I am struggling a bit with terminology in this space. Guy, you said, “…more of a management focus…” And I get what you mean, but in my experience a lot of people interpret “management” more narrowly as “people management” (ie you’re not a manager unless you have people reporting to you and if you have people reporting to you, you are a manager.) I want to replace “management” with “leadership” or “strategist” but that brings us full-circle to Tatiana’s issue of thinking strategically and initiating strategic interventions which are inherent in KM work. It helps me to think this way: The knowledge strategist has the responsibility, authority and skills to create, plan, and lead KM strategies. While the rest of us, at any level, should always “think strategically” and “lead from any seat” to the extent that our skills, passions, and our organization’s needs allow.
Guy St. Clair replies: What you’re saying about replacing “management” with “leadership” makes good sense, Dale, and it’s good to raise that issue about “management = people management.” Back in the days when I was consulting with companies and organizations operating what we called “one-person libraries” (now called “solo libraries”), some other management consultants and I tangled a great deal. Some of them felt strongly that one-person librarians could not by definition be “management” because they didn’t “manage” any people. It took a lot of effort to convince them (and some of our clients) that management means much more, including thinking strategically, having a vision about the future of the function, and have a clear and well-thought-out mission in place. Thanks for the good comment.
Guy St. Clair says
John Lewis at LinkedIn’s KM/Knowledge Services Group writes:
Good question Guy! It is more than looking at knowledge for individuals, it is about the knowledge in the organization. A strategist does an assessment and puts plans into place based on what is found in some basic questions: Where is the knowledge and where should it be? (It may be in a training manual or experts mind but needs to be codified into a workflow business rule for example). How does it move and how should it move? How is it asked for and how is it found? How is it shared and how is it generalized before attempting to share? How does it move within and between key departments like Operations vs R&D (innovation)? The gap analysis will lead a knowledge strategist to plans with specific goals, including reduced costs, increased innovation, increased sustainability, etc. That’s my take at a very high level.
Guy St. Clair responds: Very insightful response, John. And as we move more into thinking about the role of the knowledge strategist, I’m very impressed with the way you’ve formed the questions. A colleague speaks a lot about how we have to ask the question in a way that is not full of our (that is, the knowledge strategists’) jargon. I find the way you’ve formed the questions very helpful. They may even show up this way in our next knowledge audit! Thank you very much.
Guy St. Clair says
Dave Lush at LinkedIn’s Knowledge Management group wrote:
In my view of KM, I see a distinction between KM strategist and KM practitioner. The strategist distills KM vision, goals/objectives, and the KM CONOPS whereas the KM practitioner carries out KM and knowledge processes in accordance with the vision, goals/objectives, and CONOPS. In this context I am making strong distinction between business process and associated data/info flows/stores and knowledge processes/artifacts and associated knowledge management activities.
Guy St. Clair responds: This is good, Dave. Makes a lot of sense. Your distinction between business process and knowledge process makes good sense. And I’m glad to hear you brought in the “artifacts” note, since so much of what people use in KD/KS is still artifact, in one form or another. Thanks for sharing.
Guy St. Clair says
Posted by Albert Simard at LinkedIn’s The Braintrust: Knowledge Management Group nails it:
Think big thoughts.
– Like how KM supports learning and adaptation which, in turn lead to organizational sustainability.
– Like how leveraging existing knowledge enhances organizational competitiveness in knowledge markets.
Guy St. Clair replies:
I can’t say it any better than that!