I was reading something in my LinkedIn feed about the premium put on skills (vs. academic pedigree) in the current job market. There is nothing new about the fact that employers want employees who know how to do things rather than employees with a lot of book knowledge and limited experience in how to apply that knowledge. There is also something inevitable about new generations of employees lacking experience in applying knowledge and needing to acquire "know how" since most of that valuable knowledge is acquired through... experience. Employers want some specific technical skills, but they also want everyone to have the necessary soft skills to operate effectively in the organization.
This may be a case of hammer looking for nails, but what if we were to consider Knowledge Management as a possible solution? Even if KM is not a direct solution to the skills issue, let's consider the connections.
What are the top soft skills required by employers and how are they connected to Knowledge Management?
- Cognitive skills (critical thinking, analytical thinking, sense making): Critical thinking is the process of analyzing a problem, situation or issue based on evidence and relevant information. It is also about sense making, interpreting information to make better decisions. A Knowledge Management initiative typically makes assumptions about employees' cognitive skills. It would not hurt to revisit those assumptions. When employees don't have time to think, they cannot engage in knowledge management. When knowledge management is prioritized, employees make time for thinking, whether through individual or team reflection activities for example.
- Interpersonal skills, teamwork and collaboration: Whether through communities of practice (CoP) or task-based teams, employees need to develop the skills needed to interact with each other to get the job done. A knowledge management program with a strong component focused on connecting people can support social learning, strengthening individual skills and contributing to a collaborative organizational culture. Many job-specific skills can be practiced in the safe environment provided by a CoP.
- Oral and written communications skills: Having access to an endless flow of information in our modern digital workplaces makes it critical to develop the ability to understand, analyze and synthesize information to share and present in different ways. Managing information flows is critical. The educational system teaches how to create summaries or books and other materials. Synthesizing for action in a workplace context requires some adjustment. Knowledge Management initiatives can help employees learn by doing, engaging employees (not just KM staff) in synthesizing activities, whether through oral presentations or in writing. New communication channels (including internal enterprise social networks) provide great opportunities for everyone to practice writing succinct, yet powerful messages that can potentially influence many across an organization, helping to build internal thought leadership.
- Agility: Learning and growth mindset, adaptability, coping with uncertainty. When knowledge management is understood as facilitating dynamic knowledge flows, it is well aligned with an agile organizational culture where expertise is valued but new knowledge is constantly emerging and innovation is perhaps valued more than the strict application of lessons learned from the past which may or may not be applicable in the present and future. This leads back to the continued importance of critical thinking as THE skill that will always be needed... especially in a context where advanced in AI/ML are often presented as miracle solutions.
It seems I am arguing that Knowledge Management programs can help build critical soft skills within organizations. That sounds obvious but I'm not sure it has been argued this way before. I've read many more papers and blogs about the skills needed for knowledge management implementation. This is looking at skills via a different lens, suggesting that Knowledge Management helps develop the skills.
Related paper: Linking Critical Thinking and Knowledge Management: A Conceptual Analysis, Sustainability, 2021, 13(3). February 2021.