What, you may ask, is this all about? A few days ago I began a blog dialogue (I feel like I’m finally entering the 21st century when I participate in a blog conversation) following on my article in The Zweig Letter back on Nov. 15 (Issue 887) titled “Two Degrees of Separation,” where I wrote about accessing expert knowledge. The deeper subjects, of course, are Knowledge Management (developing a firm’s body of expert knowledge and making it accessible to the entire firm) and Thought Leadership (developing new and innovative ideas through research and application and sharing those ideas in a way that improves the profession and the industries we serve). Thus, KM and TL.
This dialogue revolved around a concern that fee pressures and survival instincts were combining in firms to discourage or stop investment in KM and TL. “It’s all about billable hours,” resounded in the conversation. “Who has time to invest in KM and TL? How can we convince our CEO to resume shut funding for this sort of thing and continuing education as well?” I was concerned about what I was reading because I believe that successful firms create and sustain a culture of knowledge management and thought leadership despite economic conditions. In fact, KM and TL never work if directed or assigned. So, I chimed in, “If the CEO needs convincing, get rid of the CEO or join another firm.” Well, that seems to have stirred a hornet’s nest, so I kept adding to the dialogue.
Knowledge comes from passion. You search out deep knowledge about something because you’re passionate about it. You connect yourself with others who share your passion. The proliferation of knowledge in a firm and access to it comes as a result of a culture in which people share their passions. When passions are broadly known in a firm, you know whom to ask about what; whom to talk to in order to gain knowledge about your problem and place your question in context.
Knowledge assets are not assembled. It’s not worth the time to build an elaborate database of knowledge. What takes time is building a culture and structure through which everyone knows how to connect with the person who has the knowledge and facilitate (no, lubricate) that connectivity. This is not about spending money, it’s about developing a culture of rich networks that share and collaborate.
Likewise, thought leadership is the outcome of a passionate commitment to a subject. People become thought of as leaders because they are constantly gathering knowledge about a subject that fascinates them so compellingly that they never stop gathering data and talking to people who are also deeply engaged. It’s not a matter of expending otherwise billable time. Thought leaders just can’t help themselves. These are people who make time to pursue their passions. If someone is asking for permission to spend time on something, they’re either not passionate enough or you have a very oppressive culture in your organization. Your culture must support people’s passions, encouraging them, creating a platform (print, speaking engagements, membership in related organizations) for them to expose their thought leadership.
If no one in your organization is passionate enough about something to evolve into a thought leader, go out and find some passionate people (always my first question on an interview— What are you so passionate about that you’re always sneaking time from other obligations to work on it?). And if your CEO doesn’t get this and is not a thought leader, see my advice in the second paragraph.
If you have to pitch your CEO to resume your focus on TL and KM, why aren’t you the CEO? He or she has clearly lost their way. I don’t care how tough the market or the economy are, the CEO’s role, through thick and thin, good times and bad, remains the same:
1) Lead client relationships— for sales, for referrals and for satisfaction.
2) Create an atmosphere where people want to work collaboratively with you and each other to do work that makes your clients successful.
3) Contract for services and manage their delivery in a way that generates profits.
4) Lead innovation through thought leadership and knowledge management.
5) Create a collaborative atmosphere with all stakeholders (contractors, subcontractors, suppliers, manufacturers, building officials, lenders, everyone) in order to bring the best and brightest resources and work effort to bear on your clients’ matters.
The CEO has to attend to the above (and not necessarily in that order) to be worthy of carrying the mantle.