Knowledge-Building Leadership

Everyone is looking for skilled employees - but how do you get them? The answer to this question is multifaceted and may require long strategy processes and large investments. With that in mind, it is perhaps not surprising that many managers wonder whether they could cultivate the right skills themselves - much like the consumer who starts planting potatoes in the garden in times of high food prices. The answer is that you can; it is possible to create competence within organizations, and it is becoming increasingly important to understand and manage the competence and knowledge you have as an organization today. 

Faster and More Difficult
Obviously, skills have always been important, but in the modern world of work it is increasingly difficult to keep up with changes in the environment and the skills required are becoming more and more specific. We sometimes talk about 'raplexity' as a combination of both aspects – that is, rapid and complex at the same time. Each person must somehow be a general expert - with a broad focus but deep expertise in one or more areas. McKinsey & Co argues that the productivity gap between top and mid-level talent gets bigger and bigger the more complex the task is.  

Of course, no man is an island. Simply attracting top talent with no team spirit will not bring success, and a well-functioning organizational culture is at the heart of any talent development process – we are stronger together, plain and simple. Attracting talent is important, of course, but if you want to develop people within the organization, it's even more important to retain them – and for that, the pursuit of exclusively top talent can be downright counterproductive. 

Cultivate the Culture
In many ways, it is easier to study attraction factors than the opposite, i.e. what makes people leave their workplace. But according to MIT researchers Donald Sull, Charles Sull and Ben Zweig, so-called toxic corporate culture is the strongest driver of why people leave a workplace. Toxic culture is associated with bullying, discrimination, and favoritism. Placing too much emphasis on top talent at the expense of others can sabotage an organization's culture, which is also reflected in the fact that one of the most important attributes of a good manager is a sense of fairness.  

So – knowledge leadership is certainly about attracting talented people, but it is equally about creating an open and welcoming culture where ideas can be exchanged, and which retains the people who have gained experience and learning on the job. Knowledge transfer between old and young and vice versa is an important aspect of this work, and perhaps most importantly, lateral or peer learning – that is, learning from other people with similar levels of experience, but with different perspectives and areas of knowledge. 

Embrace Informal Learning
Formal learning processes such as trainings and certificates are important - but to become a knowledgeable organization that develops people and creates learning on the spot, it is important to focus on the informal learning that happens between people and often in quietness. The exchange of experiences in spontaneous meetings drives both innovation and personal development, and is difficult to achieve in formal settings. Especially in remote or hybrid work, active knowledge sharing can be a challenge, as it is difficult to achieve the unplanned, spontaneous meetings in these formats. Managers and leaders need to think about how they can create meetings in their organization that lead to the sharing of experiences and knowledge in both planned and spontaneous ways. Those who can create an active learning process can then both manage and develop their employees' skills. 

The Four L´S of Learning
Four principles serve as good guidelines for creating an active learning process within an organization. They can be remembered by four words beginning with I: 

Idealize – to be a role model for employees, and to actively demonstrate how to develop their competences both as individuals and in groups. Showing your own willingness to learn makes learning more attractive to others.  

Inspire – to motivate and show the way with a clear vision and ambition. If the purpose of a given task is made clear, it is also easier to learn how to carry out the task in the best way. 

Irritate – to question and stimulate, of course not in a negative way, but to dare to challenge employees from their established paths. Critical thinking and giving everyone space to question is crucial. 

Individualize – tailoring learning to different individuals. People are different from each other, and coaching and supporting individuals in the learning process to make sure they have understood is a key to skills development. 

Equipping the organization to meet long-term skills needs requires an understanding of future needs and structures. Book our lecture where we present the seven trends that will have the greatest impact on worklife, leadership and teamwork the next 5–10 years. Read more here or contact Helena Mella for more information. 

By Rikard Molander