By Theresa Daudier | STC Member
Shift your focus outwards to identify opportunities where your skills and knowledge intersect with an organizational need. Leading strategic initiatives to drive positive change can help you to not only help resolve important issues in your organization, but also benefit you, your customers, and your teammates.
Strategic thinking is an integral part of working in technical communication. I do it all the time, even when I’m not aware that I’m doing it. My brain is always working with different ideas and snippets of information and trying to see how they can fit together. What I’ve found is that there is always a way to fit the pieces together, to find an answer to a complex problem.
What Do Strategic Thinking Opportunities Look Like?
Every organization is trying to do something new or make improvements. Leadership sets financial goals and trajectories they want everyone to follow. It usually involves an impossible sounding statement that at its core aims processes larger, reduce expenses, and accomplish more while spending less. Given that knowledge is integral to organizational functioning, both internally and externally, this is an opportunity for us to look at knowledge management (KM) practices and see if supportive measures can be taken to align with the organizational level initiatives.
If the focus is efficiency-based, this may be an opportunity to increase information delivery to a larger audience, improve a lagging process, and such. If you're a knowledge manager or technical writer, you're already at the confluence of information coming through from other parts of the organization. Technical docs are written in response to problems, issues, and new technology. If you track content trends as the docs pass through your workflow, you'll have a snapshot into organization-wide activity. This is fairly unique as most people only have a single view. Leaders may only be looking at sales numbers, support numbers, or technology in development. In your position, it may be possible to make unique connections between support, technology, and customer practice, because “. . . knowledge is not only one of the main resources of an organization but also the most important source of innovation.”1
If you have access to customer data, there may be a way to identify and solve the top issues that customers are facing; is there a relationship between an existing technology? Does that new feature work as intended? Gather data and report it back to developers, management, or whoever could act on the information. In this way you can use knowledge to help enable behavior changes and shift cultural mindsets. Align the issues you focus on with the current organizational objectives and be clear about the connection between the issue, the organizational focus, and the potential resolution.
Continuous Improvement Mindset
There’s always room for improvement in any product, process, or workplace. I like to continually look for clues that will help me find the improvement(s). I’m always asking myself what’s going to change, what can I do with the information, with the knowledge, to anticipate that change and improve the outcome? Is there some new feature that will make things easier, but no one knows about yet? Is there some novel way to use an existing feature, even for a purpose that wasn’t originally intended? Do we have a new audience, a new customer base or new teams to consider who will need access to information they haven’t had before? Is there an initiative I already had in mind, but had no use case for yet? Now may be better timing to re-launch a previous effort.
Ways to Advance Strategic Initiatives
Use thought leadership. Think like leaders, even if you’re not in management. Do you ever notice things that need improving? Maybe it’s an out-of-date tool or a process that isn’t delivering like it used to. Each of these thoughts is a potential opportunity. Write them down and keep track of them. Eventually a good solution will present itself; one you can get excited about and invest your time and energy in to get other people excited about. “Thought leadership should intrigue, challenge, and even inspire people already familiar with an organization by generating new ideas and pushing boundaries. . .”2 Don’t overlook small changes, a change that can seem insignificant can have a large impact if you’re willing to champion it.
Solve a problem. Knowledge Managers often review large amounts of data, structure the information, define hierarchies, recognize relationships, and bridge gaps. These are the same methods used to solve large-scale problems. KM and technical communication (TC) practices can help solve organizational-level problems, too. So many issues are related to missing or incomplete information, lack of awareness, lack of structure, inability to find, and other problems that can be solved with skills you have.
Use your existing knowledge in novel ways. A member of a KM or TC team usually has a unique perspective on difficulties surrounding the use of information. It makes sense then to be the person who helps solve the issues. You have the right skills to not only identify the problem and solve it, but to bring it to the attention of the people who need to help enact the changes you propose. With a TC background, I have many helpful skills to draw on that help me advocate for the program and appeal to people in a way that speaks to them.
Have a list of ideas. Having your list of issues that need fixing is easy, but it can be difficult to know which one to tackle. One way to make sure you’re addressing an issue that’s widespread is to pay attention to other’s experiences. Are many people complaining about the same thing? This is a clue that lets you know a solution is worth finding. Be especially vigilant if your organization declares new objectives, goals, or areas of interest. These can be your entry point into proposing changes that executives and management will support. Embrace a solutions mindset; be willing to share your ideas and do it often. The more you do, the more natural it is, and the quicker and easier ideas will come.
I constantly have ideas for change. I also like learning and collecting. My areas of interest are varied, and I like collecting concepts that seem interesting even if I don’t have any way to use them at the time. As I learn new things, I “collect” them. I save web pages to my browser or documents to folders and eventually, I’ll find a way to use them to innovate; such as “solving old problems in novel ways” while adding value to the organization. It’s a creative exercise for me to find the overlap between areas for improvement I’ve identified, a possible solution or improvement, and a (hidden) desire in the organization to address it. This is a good exercise if you’re ready for a change or want to demonstrate you have skills that are outside of your current job description. You’re adding value to the organization, and no one is asking you to do it, so you get to be creative in how to apply the change and raise awareness for your own initiative.
In my situation, I recently joined a growing KM team. I was able to use my backlog of ideas and my collection of interests to come up with some interesting proposals that addressed the issues in new ways using KM principles and practices. Because the goals were already defined (increase participation across the organization), it was necessary to work within that framework and make sure that any ideas I proposed would also meet those goals. My task then was to translate ideas into lasting change in circumstances that were not entirely within my direct control through strategic application of KM and TC skills.
Timing matters. Keep track of your organization’s priorities. Part of thought leadership is thinking ahead and being in alignment with the organization. Your situational awareness is key to knowing when to initiate change. What’s coming down the pipeline? What are the leadership priorities? Knowing this will help you get your timing right. If you can tie in your agenda with their agenda, it will increase the chances that they’ll want to be involved. You should aim for providing a helpful solution that will add a defined value to the trajectory the organization has already chosen.
Socialize Your Idea/Plan. When you’ve decided on what idea or solution to pursue, it’s time to socialize the idea inside and outside of your team. This is where you start exercising your communications skills — first understanding your audience and then getting buy-in from those around you. Define what they care about, what they would find appealing or useful about your initiative. What problems of theirs will it be solving? Make sure you adjust your message to address each of these groups differently. The goal is to help them see that what you’re offering will make their lives easier or more productive in some way. Understanding your audience will help secure buy-in.
You will be taking on a bit of a marketing role to sell your idea to them, clearly and concisely, while inspiring them with your potential solution and the promise of a real benefit. Try to bring it to life as much as you can. Is there a way you can demonstrate your idea? This helps them envision it for themselves. Even if you are a team of one, you will have to socialize your idea to at least one other potential stakeholder. These considerations improve the chances someone will be open to learning something new or deciding to make a change. This is especially important when suggesting change to people outside of your department or higher than you in the organizational hierarchy.
Apply these concepts in your workplace to help bring innovative solutions to the challenges that your organization is facing. You have a variety of technical and critical thinking skills that you already apply to your knowledge and documentation work. “Critical thinking as a normative principle, is a powerful tool that contributes to the professional arsenal of any organization, particularly in crucial decision-making, troubleshooting, and steering the company towards holistic organizational advancement that benefits not only the few, but all its members.”1
Take what you already do a step further and shift your focus outwards towards the organization as a whole to identify some opportunities where your skills and knowledge intersect with an organizational need and volunteer to be the initiator of the effort. Taking the lead on advancing strategic initiatives to drive positive change can help you to not only help resolve important issues in your organization, but also leverage your existing relationships to enact changes that benefit you, your customers, and your teammates. “. . .[T]hought leadership is a potentially important entry route to initiate relationships with new groups [. . .] and a key medium for maintaining and enhancing relationships. . .”2 Pursuing a strategic initiative is a strategy itself to expand your influence, demonstrate your value and potentially grow your career.
- Indrašienė, V., V. Jegelevičienė, O. Merfeldaitė, D. Penkauskienė, J. Pivorienė, A. Railienė, J. Sadauskas, and N. Valavičienė. 2021. “Linking Critical Thinking and Knowledge Management: A Conceptual Analysis.” Accessed March 24, 2022. https://www.mdpi.com/2071-1050/13/3/1476/htm
- Harvey, W.S., V.-W. Mitchell, A. Almeida Jones, and E. Knight. 2021. “The Tensions of Defining and Developing Thought Leadership Within Knowledge-Intensive Firms.” Journal of Knowledge Management. Accessed 24 March 2022. https://www.emerald.com/insight/content/doi/10.1108/JKM-06-2020-0431/full/html
- Ojala, M. n.d. “Best Practices in Knowledge Management.” KMWorld. Accessed March 23, 2022. https://www.kmworld.com/WhitePapers/BestPractices/9434-Knowledge-Management.htm?utm_campaign=generateView&utm_source=IndexPage&utm_medium=webpage&utm_content=image
- McChesney, C., S. Covey, and J. Huling. 2016. The 4 Disciplines of Execution: Achieving Your Wildly Important Goals. Free Press, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Inc.
Theresa Daudier, (https://www.linkedin.com/in/daudiertechnicalcommunications), is a professional member of STC. She is a senior knowledge management specialist at ServiceNow. Theresa enjoys creating beaded jewelry, cooking with her daughter, and traveling.