Certainly the “Only Connect” concept was alive and well long before E.M. Forster made it famous in Howard’s End. We’re all grateful to have had that particularly erudite introduction to the value of connections when we were youngsters, and we’ve learned by now that the value of connections only becomes stronger as we move into our work and develop professionally. It is no surprise that much of what we undertake as strategic knowledge managers has to do with identifying, strengthening, and exploiting (in the classical sense of that great word) our connections. It’s how we ensure our work in KM/knowledge services succeeds.
Continuing an earlier frame of thought, it is good to think about where we are in KM/knowledge services. Given the movement of organizational management toward understanding and recognizing the value of knowledge to organizational effectiveness and the critical role of managing strategic knowledge as the high levels of excellence that essential for corporate success, it is gratifying to see our influence. We are now seeing the results of that renaissance Judith Field spoke about more than a decade ago when she urged information professionals to join the “knowledge age.” For those who did, who were smart enough to recognize that their roles in their employing organizations would only be strengthened if they took on KM/knowledge services leadership, the effort paid off. The knowledge age is here and we are all obliged to meet corporate management where it expects to be met: at that juncture where the precepts of information management meet the principles of KM/knowledge services. It’s where we connect. Management now understands that managing the organization’s strategic knowledge ensures organizational success, and management is not be at all subtle about its expectations from those who work in KM/knowledge services. We provide the connection.
We aren’t surprised. When we think about how society is changing, about how society at large (and not just the management and academic communities) focuses on the value of knowledge, we understand what Peter Drucker was referring to when he urged us to look at the “underlying systems.” When things weren’t going right, as Rosabeth Moss Kanter has wisely pointed out, Drucker wasn’t in the business of blaming individuals. He found the root causes in the design of the organization, as Kanter put it in her homage to Drucker in The Harvard Business Review last November, “in the stuctures, processes, norms, and routines” of the larger organization.
Of course. KM/knowledge services managers long ago picked up on the idea that the capture, organization, storage, and dissemination of strategic knowledge was going to be required – in any organization – if the organization is going to be successful (however success is defined in the particular situation). And strategic knowledge managers realized that connecting would not be limited to research or activities traditionally thought of as “knowledge” related.
Now that organizational management – even down to the level of those over-worked middle management staff caught in their famous “black hole of middle management” – is recognizing that “we’ve got to figure out what to do with all this information and knowledge we collect and use,” everybody is looking at strategic knowledge and wondering what to do. Why? Because strategic knowledge is everywhere, in every department and functional unit, and it must be managed if the organization is to succeed. And as part of the deal, companies are turning to the people who know how to do this work, to the organization’s “knowledge thought leaders,” the company’s KM/knowledge services managers who are taking on the leadership role of seeing that strategic knowledge is managed for the good of the larger organization.
Let’s have a case in point: A financial services company located in the American heartland has made quite an impact in the industry. It started with a bang, it hired the best whiz kids it could find, and in all the excitement of making all that money and – yes – providing a very reasonable ROI for investors, the routines of day-to-day management sort of got lost in the shuffle, as they say. Naturally all the compliance documentation was taken seriously and submitted appropriately (there are laws for that) but much of the organization’s captured content – it’s corporate history – was pretty casually pushed aside. Once in a while this or that observant manager would ask about this or that document describing a historical event, or wonder aloud about what was “happening” in the area of legacy documentation with respect to the company’s background. Not the legal content, of course, as noted, not the compliance or regulatory material. All that was duly handled, and handled well. But much of what was left over, well, it didn’t seem to be all that important.
Now it is. Now there is interest in moving the company into another product line, one very different from what it has offered in the past, and no one can find what they need. They will, of course, and the company will succeed in moving into the new product line, but the costs of dealing with identifying, codifying, and sharing the knowledge have been very expensive. The knowledge was there all the time. The challenge was to find it and format it so that it could be used for background and shared in whatever knowledge-sharing the deal required.
Lesson learned (and in this case management learned it well): Be prepared with the knowledge the organization uses and will need to re-use. Take a page from the Drucker handbook and ensure that structures, processes, norms, and routines are captured, that the management of strategic knowledge in each is part of the organizational framework.
And turn the job over to the KM/knowledge services management team. These people know how to handle strategic knowledge, and managers – not just in examples such as this but throughout the management field – are heeding the call. They get it. They understand that accessing and using strategic knowledge is critical to corporate success, and they’re willing to pay to ensure that it’s done right.