There are many ways to establish criteria for knowledge-sharing success, to ensure that the convergence of information management, knowledge management, and strategic learning (the classic definition of knowledge services) falls into place. One of the best is the appointment of a team of knowledge services focal points throughout the organization. It’s a management technique that can work in a number of situations, simply because the establishment of such a network or community of practice gives knowledge services practitioners (and other knowledge workers) someone to turn to when a knowledge-sharing issue comes up for discussion.
In thinking about the work of the knowledge services focal point, a first step is to define the role.
In organization development, “focal point” describes any center of activity or attention, and in business and organizational management, we go a little further, applying the term to the person within a business unit or department who is responsible for coordinating actions and tasks relating to a specific operational function (in this case knowledge services). The employee designated the “knowledge services focal point” has ownership responsibility for the function within the unit and practical authority for bringing that activity into play in the particular business unit. Thus the knowledge services focal point also has a certain level of oversight responsibility (or custodial responsibility, as I imply in the title of this post) and is positioned to coordinate planning and implementation of knowledge services activities within the business unit, including service delivery. [A slight digression: in technology management I’ve observed a broader responsibility for the focal point employee who, in that field, also acts as an escalation point (as I’ve seen the work described) for service delivery failures. I can see that application within knowledge services as well.]
In the business unit, the knowledge services focal point is a critical employee, a vital link between knowledge services—as a management practice or discipline—and other members of the department. The point person is usually a specifically identified employee, with knowledge services focal point responsibilities built into the job description. In some workplace environments the employee can be a current employee who is also assigned to carry out the work of the knowledge services focal point. This “assignment” arrangement, though, is not usually as successful as that in which focal point responsibilities are built into the job description from the time the employee is hired or is promoted into the job.
The work of the knowledge services focal point is fairly clear cut, although the employee’s responsibilities will vary somewhat, as determined in the organization’s management structure and culture. A primary responsibility for the knowledge services focal point is to serve as the chief advocate for monitoring and improving the status of knowledge services across the business unit and, as knowledge-sharing success grows within the unit, he or she will continue to function in this role. Typical activities include advocating and assisting in knowledge services policy formulation within the specific business unit in which he or she is employed, sharing and showcasing good knowledge services practices, and collaborating in the development of recruitment and promotion mechanisms.
In a particularly significant exercise, the knowledge services focal point participates in and supports a network of knowledge services focal points in different entities throughout the larger organization, providing guidance and advocacy for all knowledge workers employed in the company. As a result, this broader-based network of business unit or departmental knowledge services focal points takes on a significant role in the larger organization.
In effect, this group of knowledge services leaders is positioned to not only provide critical support to their own business unit or departmental management; they are also positioned to collaborate with other knowledge services focal points within their network for problem solving beyond the individual business unit. As a network of identified knowledge services specialists, the group can—in a very important role—influence the development of knowledge services policies for the larger organization and serve on working groups for studying and developing specific innovations, bringing a knowledge services perspective to those studies. Equally important—as a discipline-specific community of practice—the company’s knowledge services focal points can monitor the status of knowledge services not only in their individual business units and departments. They can, when appropriate, lead in the development of new and higher-functioning knowledge services delivery for the entire organization.