Michael is in the executive search business, and in the 12 years that he has been leading Glenmont Group, his company in Montclair, NJ, he has built something of a reputation as an informal adviser and mentor. It’s not something he makes a big deal about, but it makes sense, doesn’t it? There’s a natural connection between advising people in the job market about how they can find the jobs they are looking for, and providing them with what might be called foundational concepts for moving forward with their careers.
Or, to use a term Michael likes to use, for helping these workers “re-invent” themselves so their entire careers, not just a single job, are just as rewarding as they want them to be.
In our world, in the knowledge-centric workplace, there’s a special place for this kind of coaching. For one thing, the idea of a knowledge-centric workplace is very new. Only recently have corporate leaders begun to understand the connection between excellence in knowledge development and knowledge sharing – what we like to call “KD/KS” – and the qualifications of the people who manage or are responsible for KD/KS. In today’s workplace, structuring a functional framework for the corporate “knowledge domain” has become a major corporate challenge, a challenge that has some urgency attached to it for some companies.
Enter Michael Potters. As an executive search consultant, he is happy to respond to my recent assertion that there is work for people who are qualified as knowledge strategists. He knows our work well, for much of Glenmont Group’s work concentrates on Professional Services, with a focus on legal and corporate. There is a direct connection between information and knowledge strategy and what’s needed with e-discovery, say, or litigation support, or database administration, or IT management, or – in the corporate space – also with e-discovery, with corporate e-mail, internal audits, and compliance (especially Sarbanes-Oxley compliance). These are all lines of work that call for attention to or familiarity with knowledge strategy, and as the market for “knowledge strategists” opens up, Michael is happy to advise candidates about how they brand their careers so they can be ready when there is work available.
As the same time, through his involvement with people beginning their careers in information and knowledge strategy (or strengthening their careers, if they’re already working in the field), Michael is becoming something of a”specialist” mentor for knowledge workers. Knowledge strategy is now being taken seriously by enterprise leaders as an emerging management discipline. By combining his experience in his own work with his interactions with faculty and students at Columbia University, where he serves as guest faculty in the graduate M.S. in Information and Knowledge Strategy program, Michael has had the opportunity to focus considerable attention on career branding for knowledge strategists.
“You begin with self-assessment,” he says. “Think about something you’ve heard a million times: ‘You’ve got to understand what you want to be when you grow up.’ If you’re moving into a new field like KM, knowledge services, or knowledge strategy, you are going to have to spend some time thinking about what you want to be, what you want from your career. And you have to recognize that you’re in charge of your life, that you control your own destiny.”
And if that career is a career as a knowledge strategist, a “knowledge thought leader” in a company or an organization? No one’s offering jobs with those titles.
“Not yet,” Michael says. “but they will. So your job as you’re building your own brand is to look for those jobs that use your skills and your knowledge strategy expertise and shape your own thinking to match the jobs. If you can’t find a job as a knowledge strategist, look for jobs where what you know about knowledge strategy and the way knowledge is used in the company can be used to make those jobs produce better results for the company. Emphasize how what you know can be shaped to fit the job the company needs done. And then you do the job.”
But what if you’re in a hurry? It’s beginning to sound like Michael is asking job candidates to be patient.
“That’s a little strict,” he says. “Patient? Perhaps. More important, if a knowledge strategist wants to build a ‘knowledge strategy’ brand for their career, he or she has to keep an open mind. And you have to be prepared to take some time. Think about what you’ve learned and about how you can put what you’ve learned to work in the company, maybe even in a job you had not thought about. If you are you in a hurry, don’t be.”
The look on Michael’s face tells you that he is about to share one of his favorite secrets with you.
“Career branding isn’t about jumping out of a training course or a graduate degree program and landing an immediate job as a knowledge manager or knowledge services specialist. Or even as the corporate Director of Knowledge Strategy. Getting to that kind of work is going to take time. Maybe two or three steps. You might take a job as a records coordinator or research associate or database administrator and, while you’re in that job – and perhaps in one or two coming after – use your knowledge strategy skills to build your ‘place’ in the company. So it’s about keeping that open mind we talked about and being willing to take on whatever job you need to take on, if it will demonstrate how good you are in your work. When that happens, you’ll find yourself working as the company’s knowledge thought leader even if that isn’t your formal title.”
So Michael Potters really means it when he says you control your own destiny.
“Indeed I do,” he says. “These are exciting times we’re living in, and for some people, it’s scary to realize that you can be anything you want to be. But if you’re going to be in control of your own destiny – as I believe you should if you want to re-brand your career for success – you have to make some definite moves. Take, for example, the whole idea of education. Of course you want to be well educated, but times are different now. Twenty years ago, the value of an education from an Ivy League school was off the charts. You met people, you made that your very specific network, and it was a network that served you well throughout your career. Today it’s different. Today you can talk to anybody, and if you get skilled with, for example, using LinkedIn and other social tools, you won’t have any trouble building your career brand. It’s going to happen.”
“Yes. Keep in mind that – as I’ve said – it’s not going to happen in a week. But it will happen. And you can make it happen. Go to meetings of professional organizations, or user groups. Get to know people. Volunteer to be on a committee or help plan a meeting. Become an officer or volunteer. Even something like working on a Hospitality Committee will give you the chance to meet people. Early in my career I did that with AIIM – the Association for Information and Image Management – and I couldn’t believe the doors that opened for me. If you want to build your brand, do things like that. Go to meetings. Introduce yourself to speakers. Write articles. Take part in panel discussions. Get noticed.”
Get published, you mean?
“Perhaps,” Michael says. “But that’s kind of old fashioned these days. And limiting. They used to say the road to success – especially in academic work – was ‘publish or perish.’ Maybe that’s the way it was. Not so much today. If you want to brand your career, just get noticed. Yeah, that’s the advice I would offer, Michael’s take on the old university rule: Get noticed or perish!”