Five Steps Toward Knowledge Leadership

I was recently at dinner with three friends: a hospitality architect, an interior designer with a portfolio focused on workplace, and a computer scientist. When our non-designer friend asked the designers at the table if we would ever design our own homes, we each agreed that we would hire a residential specialist or at least consult with one.

With the rise of complexity in buildings and their systems, along with an ever-increasing list of material and technology choices for fit and finish, it is no wonder why the necessity for specialization in our field continues to grow and become that much more specific. How, then, does your firm differentiate itself from all of the other specialized offerings?

For professional service firms, the primary differentiator is their ability to position themselves as a “ knowledge leader.”

Keep in mind that knowledge leadership must be earned by both firms and individuals. In order to do so, clients or peers must recognize the knowledge leadership in the first place. I am always wary of fellow practitioners who, on a regular basis, tout themselves or their firms as thought leaders with no solid rationale. In other words, they have not earned the title. After all, leadership by definition requires followers, and firms must have a body of content that supports this.

In the end, establishing your firm as a knowledge leader becomes a thoughtful process of continuous learning and numbers. Here are five steps that you and your firm can take to grow your own followers:

1. Start by asking and responding to questions Define and/or refine the firm’s voice and area of expertise by having conversations internally and externally with peers as well as clients. The discussions can help to identify the best places to continue to grow your knowledge base.

2. Self-publish regularly A firm that is more searchable online is more likely to be identified as a knowledge leader. The best way to become searchable is to consistently generate meaningful content and send it out to the world on as many different platforms that you believe your firm can manage on a regular basis, both in print and online in every form from white papers to blogs to tweets.

3. Host events at least quarterly Consider creating a regular speaker series or pop-up event that coincides or runs tangentially with the firm’s area of expertise. Are you positioning yourself as a workplace expert? Moderate a panel of facility managers, real estate experts, or change management individuals. Host it, and invite key contacts. Doing so will grow a firm’s knowledge relative to its area of expertise, and also provide an opportunity to form or expand a relationship with a potential client or consultant.

4. Get published Actively seek out publications in print and online that may have an interest in the content that you and your firm are producing. Use recent articles as a reference point, ask if they are interested in republishing the content, and pitch a few new ideas for articles that you are willing to write for them as exclusive, unique content. Contract editors always welcome your ideas!

5. Speak at events Routinely respond positively to calls for presentations. As you or your firm becomes identified as a knowledge leader, speaking at events could also provide an additional source of revenue through honorariums.

Besides the buildings and interiors that you design, know that you and your firm are only as thoughtful as the words you publish. Thoughtless, derivative pieces will not earn you any followers. As with most things, consistency and patience are key to the process. Knowledge leadership requires proficiency around a specific topic, and it takes time to become acknowledged for it. Finally, continuing education needs to be a part of the culture of a knowledge leader. It keeps content fresh and ensures your voice remains relevant within the contemporary landscape.