Do You Have a Chief Wisdom Officer?
Six years ago, Stanford Medicine became the first major healthcare organization to create a Chief Wellness Officer (CWO).
Since then, CWOs have become more prevalent, especially in the pandemic era and when there are so many mental health issues in the workplace. Fifteen years ago, people might have chuckled at this job title, but today it’s a reality.
I believe another CWO role is about to go mainstream: Chief Wisdom Officer. For more than forty years, large companies have developed a Chief Knowledge Officer (CKO) or Chief Information Officer (CIO) role who is responsible for ensuring that an organization maximizes the value it achieves through its internal knowledge. Knowledge management has become a domain of expertise with dozens of major annual conferences focusing on best practices.
But how are we cultivating and harvesting wisdom in an organization awash in knowledge? This challenge is not necessarily about creating new IT infrastructure as, often, knowledge management lives in that world. It’s also not about hiring more software developers. Rather, it’s about elevating soft skills developers because, often, wisdom is about pattern recognition when it comes to humans. Wisdom management should live in the HR and Innovation portions of the company.
Here are just a few ways a Chief Wisdom Officer would impact a company differently than a CKO or CIO:
- Distilling Team Lessons. If wisdom is “metabolized experience that leads to distilled compassion,” how is your organization creating quarterly team check-ins that allow each team member to talk about their biggest recent lesson and how they’ll apply it moving forward? And how does the senior leadership team offer that kind of deeper learning to the whole organization? And how are you distributing that wisdom throughout the org?
- Making the Wise More Accessible. As part of your routine employee satisfaction surveys, could you include a new question, “Beyond your boss, who in the organization offers you helpful advice or wisdom?” This information would allow you to create a Wisdom Heat Map focused on where wisdom is stored such that you might consider asking some of your wise people if they’d like to be trained as internal coaches and evolve their careers in that direction. Google has “20% time” for its innovative engineers to consider new products. Your company could offer 20% time for your wise leaders to develop new leaders.
- Elevating the Masters. Procter & Gamble created a Mastery Society for well-regarded, long-tenured leaders who parachute into troubled teams to help them with thorny issues using a toolbox of institutionalized wisdom principles and historical stories from the organization. This practice is a great way to leverage wise leaders who’ve tapped out in terms of how high they can go on the org chart.
- Developing "Mentern" Programs. Smart companies realize that well-organized mentoring programs offer the most significant learning & development return on investment. It’s also a great retention tool, as Deloitte’s research has shown that younger workers with an internal mentor are twice as likely to stay in the company for five years. But wise companies recognize that matching programs in which two internal leaders with complementary knowledge (he knows how to run a meeting, she knows how to maximize personal tech gadgets) can create deeper relationships since both leaders are mentors and interns at the same time.
- Creating a Wisdom@ Employee Resource Group (ERG). We did this at Airbnb, focused on older employees and their allies (at the time, just 10% of the employees were 40 and older). Airbnb was great at helping people accumulate knowledge but less experienced at creating the habitat for distilling wisdom. This was like an internal wisdom incubator.
This small collection of ideas could inform a Chief Wisdom Officer’s scope of work. I bet you have more ideas, or, better yet, maybe you already have a CWO. Tell us more about what they do, as a quick Google search of that job title shows that many companies are going in this direction.