How to Manage the ‘Knowledge Worker’

Peter Drucker first coined the term ‘knowledge worker’ in his 1959 book, Landmarks of Tomorrow. The concept was simple, Peter believed that as the 20th century progressed we’d see an increasing number of people who used their brains instead of their backs to provide value to a company. Fast forward to 2018 and it’d be a tough sell to argue he was wrong. In 1992 he doubled down on his claim, penning this essay where he described what he foresaw the next societal rearranging to look like — and more importantly what management needed to do to adapt to this shift.

Sadly, many companies have failed to heed to advice of Mr. Drucker, but that doesn’t mean your company has to be one of them. Below we’ll be identifying key concepts that Drucker described and how you can apply them to your business to make your management top-notch, which will in turn make your Business all the better.

Allow your knowledge workers to operate with autonomy. Steve Jobs once famously stated that “you shouldn’t hire smart people and tell them what to do; you should hire smart people and let them tell you what to do” — and we couldn’t agree more. Here at VITAL BGS we hire people because they’re great at what they do, and because they’re great we allow them to continue to grow and make our company great.

Innovate, and then innovate again. “Every organization will have to learn to innovate on a constant basis” Drucker predicted in his essay and looking at how fast innovation happens today it’s probably one of the truest sentiments he expressed. What worked yesterday might not work today, and it is up to management to realize that a process may be outdated — remember in today’s world if you’re not 5 steps ahead you’re 10 steps behind.

Provide the information that is actually needed. We know, this may seem like a moot point but, consider this study by McKinsey & Company that shows great strategy often outshines equally great execution when it comes to performance. What’s the biggest key in having an effective strategy? Information. Drucker knew this too, challenging executives “to ask the right questions, not just feed them the information they expect. That presupposes first that executives know what information they need.” It’s also important to listen if your knowledge workers are telling you that what they’re being provided isn’t accurate. A great work environment is fostered by collaboration in all directions, not just the top down.

Build a community, not just a work space. The data shows us over and over that a sense of “belonging” is the greatest factor in worker productivity. The data also repeatedly shows us that workers DO NOT feel engaged at work — with only 33% claiming they are. This mean’s over 77% of workers in the knowledge work force are being VASTLY under utilized by their management. Hold meetings that encourages participation, allow workers to shape their work space into something they enjoy (they are, after all, spending a majority of their time there), and watch your employee productivity increase.

Don’t forget the non-knowledge worker. On top of coining the term ‘knowledge worker’ Drucker also coined a term for those who didn’t fall into this category — the ‘knowledge-worker cousins’. He wrote “Anyone can acquire the ‘means of production’, i.e., the knowledge required for the job, but not everyone can win.” It’s important to remember that those who do not provide your company a dollars and cents value still provide a vital and necessary service for your business, and they should be treated accordingly. Doing show helps show that management cares about their company top to bottom, and not just the bottom line.

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