Independence and Knowledge Management
1 May 2021
This past month, we celebrated Israel’s Independence Day. For my two-and-a-half-year-old, every day seems to be Independence Day, or should I say: ‘I can do it myself’ Day… These events made we ponder about the level of independence a knowledge manager in an organization enjoys, especially if they’re an external consultant. How much does the manager or client enable those managing the organizational tool-portal/digital channel/service center- to take initiative and act independently. What is required of us to attain and retain this independency, and how should we balance our will to act free of any restraining or limiting factors and retaining the manager/client’s position and their part in the process.
In his book ‘Thinking for a living’, Thomas Davenport wrote that one of knowledge workers’ characteristics is that they aspire to be independent. He also recommended managers to define to their workers what to do but to leave the decision how to do it up to them. Independence allows knowledge workers, and more so knowledge managers, to bring their skills and experience to the job. If given the authority to decide ‘how’, we will feel safer to suggest ‘what else’ and thus advance KM and the organization.
Two months ago, I concluded my job as a unit portal manager in a large global organization (As an external consultant). I had the privilege of directing a complete lifecycle of a professional portal. When I first arrived, they were operating an outdated portal, both technologically and in terms of the content and structure than no longer suited the unit’s character and composition. After a short period, I received the ‘green light’ to set up a new portal. I mapped the existing content, planned a structured process for detecting current needs, analyzed the required solution, acted with design, development, and content personnel to set it up and finally implemented it in the organization. I managed the portal for four years till I was promoted to a different position and had to leave the unit. This portal is close to my heart, almost like another child… I made some friendships at the unit, and equally important- earned the client’s trust, which enabled me to take initiative, act manage the portal nearly entirely independent.
Trust is built gradually and there is no instant solution. Nevertheless, here are some tips I believe will help you generate trust:
Learning: it is important to dedicate some time to learning both the unit (activities, structure, etc.) and the current Knowledge Management solutions (structure, content, and work interfaces). During my first two weeks, I thoroughly reviewed all portal pages and user groups, created a website map, encountered the work interfaces, and even read a bit on the professional field the unit handles.
Initiative and involvement: do not fear to express your opinion! Even during initial stages, bring up ideas and share your experience and professional opinion. Even if they are not accepted, by bringing up these ideas you have positioned yourself as professional, creative, and initiating consultants that aspire to act independently and are entirely able to do so. This will make it easier the manager/client to ‘let it go’ and trust you.
Documentation and transparency: it’s crucial to be careful to document the tasks and actions and share with the manager/client. Create an orderly list of all activities you are required to complete, who initiated/demanded them and what is their estimated time of completion. During the first months I held a weekly meeting with the client during which we reviewed the tasks and she approved and prioritized them. I made sure to copy her on to every email to the unit and supporting parties and update her when the mission was completed and if any obstacles were met along the way.
Over time, by intensifying my acquaintance with the unit and the client, I proved my value as an orderly worker that takes all factors into consideration. This, in turn, caused the meeting frequency to decrease to a monthly meeting. The client was involved only in large projects or when disagreements with specific workers arose.
Here is another point of view on independence in Knowledge management, one which knowledge managers enables content experts. It is vital to not only cultivate a relationship and find the correct balance between knowledge managers’ independence and management’s involvement, but also implement a similar process among content experts. To train and direct them so they may operate independently in their territory, such as content portals. Of course, you must continue to direct them when required. Thus, their position as experts will be retained as they will feel sage to contribute their ‘what else’ and refrain from creating ‘bottlenecks’.
In conclusion, finding the balance between distributing responsibility and allowing independence between managers/clients, knowledge managers and content experts are key components in the success of an organization’s Knowledge Management.