At a recent Knowledge Management Mini-Conference arranged by Helen Palmer from RHX Group, it was refreshing to once again see the difference between “knowledge worker” and “Knowledge Manager” articulated. Here is the definition of each as explained by Helen:
- a class of workers (like ‘blue-collar worker’); knowledge-savvy; primary work purpose is creating, distributing and applying knowledge
- a title of a particular role (like ‘Finance Manager’); a person who has expertise in meta-abilities to do with creation, acquisition, distribution, application and retention of knowledge in organisational contexts
This provided some very interesting insight into my career to date. I have spent nine years working on a variety of significant organisational change projects for the State Government, spanning both Human Resources and Information Management change. This culminated in my role as secretariat for the Executive Sub-Committee for Information Management and ICT for the Department of Health. This was a job that had huge knowledge and change management requirements, but due to the bureaucratic nature of government was often highly administrative.
This led to a very interesting conversation between Helen and I about the career paths for aspiring Knowledge Managers (and Change Managers).
The emerging challenge
The emergence of Knowledge Management (I would argue including Change Management, Information Management and Learning) as a critical workplace vocation and skill set has oft been discussed as a part of the evolution of the 21st century worker. The management of corporate knowledge, as well as individual knowledge (including creativity) is both essential and nebulous. What has become apparent in the last 20 years is that knowledge management is both a specialised and a general skill set. Everyone must manage their own knowledge at the micro level, but the organisational knowledge is managed by a skilled professional at the macro level, to facilitate knowledge sharing and maximise the business benefits of knowledge as an organisational asset.
In this context the professional Knowledge Manager is emerging distinct from the more common “knowledge worker”. The formation of this sector has seen many Knowledge Managers discover their profession usually through serendipitous career progression, usually from an administrative, clerical, technical or professional service role. Being in the right place at the right time. This is on the verge of a boom, as open information sharing and natural (multi-disciplinary) learning methods become the norm, and young professionals (like myself) are realising the value and importance of managing organisational knowledge.
My professional background
In my endeavour to pursue a career in Knowledge Management I entered the Public Sector straight out of university through the Graduate Recruitment Program and knew my Bachelor of Arts/Business background gave me a bent toward generalisation rather than specialisation. It was to my surprise that my role in Organisational Development with one department was quite staid and lacking in Change Management. Also it was not as adept with technology as the broader industry. Therefore, following a few projects I moved to the Office of CIO in another department. This breadth of experience taught me a lot about different approaches to Knowledge Management, between “people knowledge” and “machine knowledge”. I still felt my government career experience was not matching the pace of industry change that I was observing outside of my job.
For a lot of this time I felt like a worker without a job title. When asked what it was I did in my job, the answer was variations of “projects of various kinds”, “at the moment, but that might change”, or “oh, I deal with organisational knowledge and change” – all of which attracted blank looks.
What is the Corporate Lattice?
The 2010 book, The Corporate Lattice: Achieving High Performance in the Changing World of Work written by Cathy Benko and Molly Anderson for Harvard Business Review Press, and well summarised in this Deloitte Review article, did much to form my view of the modern career. When I so often had to battle corporate silos, my view was that if people had sideways career moves as frequently as promotions, most of these battles would disappear.
The current day CV is designed on the premise that the corporate ladder still exists. Stating your work history in ascending order (most recent first) gives a visual construct of a linear and upwardly mobile career. It doesn’t accommodate sideways career moves, whether that is to shift industries, start your own business, or re-locate to a different city or country. It also creates a presumption that new work builds upon old work – therefore new work is considered more relevant, and work more than three years old is redundant. Modern careers now show that knowledge is gained across many years, and multi-disciplinary experience is a strength not a liability, but the modern CV fails to express that.
The Portfolio CV
When discussing the Corporate Lattice with Helen, and my experience with it, she mentioned to me what she called her “Portfolio CV”. This format effectively turns the modern CV on its head and draws out activities of a knowledge worker that may identify potential Knowledge Management capability. It is a concise 4 page document, with the following pages.
1. Cover Page
Provide contact details, biographical summary, and list of strengths/capabilities relevant to role.
Content is customised for the role which the CV represents; may have multiple CVs to represent different roles or specialities.
2. Portfolio Page
Accurately specify selected pieces of work that support the claims on the Cover Page (Regardless of the currency, industry or whether it was paid, volunteer or extracurricular. If you’ve done it once, you can do it again)
Content is drawn from a list or ‘database’ of relevant work.
3. Testimonials Page
List quotes and feedback from clients, managers and peers; it confirms the quality and impact of the work explained on Portfolio Page.
Content is drawn from a list or ‘database’ of relevant quotes.
4. Details page
List employment placements, qualifications and other facts of relevance.
Content is constant between versions.
In my instance, creating a Portfolio CV was quite easy for pages 1,2 and 4 – the challenge was page 3. Public servants are well trained on the precautions required when putting statements on the record. It took quite a bit of foraging and chasing, but I was able to get some testimonials from previous co-workers and managers. In discussing these challenges Helen described that it is a trait of saavy professionals to keep their network engaged and collect written testimonials. Coming from an industry where long tenures are the norm and silos run deep, that is something that I have realised through this experience.
Having come through this process, I now have a very interesting career document. One that definitely defines my Knowledge Management and Change Management experience very clearly. However, I get the sense that the recruitment industry in Australia is not completely ofay with the multi-disciplinary nature of KM and CM. The most success I have had to date has been through discussions with other Knowledge Managers. Others still appear to think of Knowledge Management as a heightened records keeper, and Change Manager as a project manager with pizzazz.
In closing, I’d like to return to this concept of a KM career path. Of all the colleagues I’ve spoken to about how they got into Knowledge Management, it has always be a circuitous route, a chance project, or a fortunate happenstance that helped reveal their aptitude for Knowledge Management. But where is the feeder pool for the next generation of Knowledge Managers; where are the 2ICs and the deputies/juniors to the current crop of KM field leaders?
This blog post was written by guest author Christoph Hewett. Christoph is General Manager of Resonant Integrity Training Solutions, a consultancy for knowledge, change and learning.
Image credit/source: Wikimedia