Sadly, my post of May 18 was premature. When I wrote it, I offered advice that I innocently thought would support knowledge strategists as we struggle to meet the challenges of the pandemic. And in particular, by leading our employing organizations in the development of the organizational recovery plan.
But so much has happened since Memorial Day it’s been hard to keep our minds clear. In these three weeks, we’ve become very aware of the fact that responding to the pandemic is only one of the issues we, as a country, as citizens, as a society – and we as knowledge strategists – must deal with as we attempt to move forward.
In that May 18 post, I made suggestions that I innocently thought would support us in our work. For knowledge strategists – as I understood it until the end of May – it was clear to me that we are the best workers to be in charge of leading our organizations in the development of their organizational recovery model. It would be a recovery model – a new management model – for moving forward with a workplace environment that will work for all of us.
I still feel that way, since we excel in understanding and implementing the basic tenets of knowledge sharing. We knowledge strategists understand very well that a solid foundation in knowledge sharing is what will enable our organizations to develop viable recovery models. We are the best choice for developing a recovery model building on and incorporating the basic tenets of the existing (and now, re-thinking it, probably a little outdated) strategic plan. Nevertheless, it seemed like a good idea to share a few thoughts back in May about how we could take a leadership role in working with (and indeed ensuring the survival of) our organizations’ intellectual capital. We were aware that up to that point we were attempting to deal with the pandemic, and even then, knowing that our society had become unsettled to an extent that none of us working in management, knowledge services, and all the other elements having to do with knowledge sharing were comfortable with, we thought we were up to the challenge.
Then came four surprising discoveries:
First, having advised that the knowledge strategist should determine the status of the organization’s recovery business model and participate in (or, preferably, lead) the implementation of the process as it is implemented, it soon became clear that for many organizations there is no recovery model. Despite the best-laid plans of some managers, the general consensus appears to be that few serious plans are being made. Yes, there are large companies making efforts, informing employees that they will, in the future, be expected to work from home. But at the other end of what we might call “the getting-prepared” spectrum, some managers seem to be focusing on that “new normal” being discussed (as we did in the prior post). And here, alas, the emphasis turns out to be something along the lines of “we come back to the office, we re-arrange ourselves to meet different workplace requirements, and we’ll go on as we did before.”
So how do we change that attitude? That’s our second discovery. As the organization attempts to move forward with its recovery (or it’s “reopening,” as we’re calling it in New York), managers must recognize that their first concern must be about the organization’s role with its employees, stakeholders, and all affiliates. I’m not sure we’re thinking about that. Whatever the recovery management model is, when it is developed the strategy must give attention in its opening statement to the current state of affairs not only locally and nationally but in other countries as well, particularly if we do business in those countries. Recent events having to do with racial injustice, division, and hatred are weighing heavily on our minds, and in no uncertain terms, we must state upfront and openly how – in our separate and shared workplaces – we can imagine and remake our world for the better, for all people. We begin – with our professional commitment to the very highest levels of knowledge sharing – by working with government and safety experts, by learning what best practices work and/or are recommended, and by putting the health and safety of all associated with the organization as our primary “driving force.” In doing so, we provide the leadership needed for the development of the organization’s recovery model. And as part of that effort, we will continually be evaluating developing circumstances so we can determine how the organization can be ready to make necessary changes about knowledge sharing as they are required,
Looking at what is happening around us, we must understand, create, and enthusiastically support a workplace culture that will not simply be a “tweaked” version of what’s familiar. It will be a workplace culture unlike anything we have ever known, both as managers and as knowledge strategists, and that’s our third discovery. Whatever we come up with (and of course we don’t know yet what that is going to be), we’ll be deciding what we must do as our organization’s unique requirements are identified. For us, our concern and our attention are going to connect with the organization’s practices with respect to knowledge services, knowledge strategy, and knowledge sharing. Indeed, as knowledge strategists tasked with focusing on the management of the organization’s intellectual capital, we might take on some form of creative destruction, the famous economic/capitalist theory usually associated with the Austrian-born economist Joseph Schumpeter. While I am not a specialist in this field (and certainly not an economist), I can’t help but wonder if the idea of creative destruction – as I understand it – might be used as a framework for taking what is already in place as our organizations attempt to deal with their intellectual capital. Then, in identifying what is needed now (and in trying to identify what will be needed for the future), ask if our long-standing or simply current methodologies cannot be transformed into what will work. Of course it will be a disruptive process of transformation but if we do it, will we not be leading the organization to a new level, a new concept of knowledge management, knowledge services, and knowledge sharing?
So OK. Let’s go ahead with using the word “new” (but perhaps, at this point, avoid referring to the situation as our “new normal,” especially in terms of knowledge services). Of course. We must go for something totally and completely new, and in doing so, we must move to create an awareness of our environmental and social responsibilities. In the knowledge services workplace (and throughout the larger organization), we’re not just looking for how to do what we’ve been doing all along, and that’s our fourth discovery. We can’t afford (and especially in terms of racism and all the other “isms” we’re carrying around these days) to just to carry on as before. This is an opportunity, as New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo pointed out so often during the months when New York State was the COVID-19 epicenter. What is happening is giving us – as a society – the opportunity to figure out and introduce ways to live better, to be fair and equitable with each other, and, yes (from where I sit), the workplace must be an integral part of that process.
And as I look at what is going on, as we focus on our societal reopening, one thing that strikes me has to do with a certain level of optimism (speaking of those “isms” – but this is an “ism” we very much want to embrace). Certainly optimism is a leadership attribute. The good leader – the knowledge strategist – will be a beacon, someone seen by all organization affiliates as a person who doesn’t shirk from making decisions when they are needed, and a person who is skilled and honest in reassuring all affiliates that staying optimistic – staying “ahead of the game” – means that this manager and all affiliates and stakeholders in the organization are prepared and ready to take on – and succeed with – the challenges that will be facing them.
Can we not – as I heard one young colleague describe the situation – take what’s happening as something to build on? He doesn’t see what’s happening in the workplace (as he put it) as a situation that will put us “down in the dumps” because we can’t keep doing what we’ve been doing. This young man went on to describe how, if we can just get excited enough and “re-dedicated” (his word), we’ll get back into our work with “a fervor that will be unmatched.” The idea wasn’t at all frightening to him. Just the opposite, for he finished the conversation with just what – in my opinion – we need to hear: “This is a gift,” he said, “a gift of being able to put together a new way of doing things … What a wonderful responsibility to have!”