Leading knowledge workers: do you want to know a secret?
The Beatles sang,
Do you want to know a secret,
Do you promise not to say anything?
Wow, oh, oh”
I’m going to tell you a secret, and I hope you’ll spread it.
The Cambridge English Dictionary defines a knowledge worker as “an employee whose job is to develop and use knowledge rather than produce goods or services”. In his 2001 article, The Next Workforce: Knowledge workers are the new capitalists, Peter Drucker writes: “The terms ‘knowledge industries’, ‘knowledge work’ and ‘knowledge worker’ are only 40 years old. They were invented around 1960, simultaneously but independently; the first by a Princeton economist, Fritz Machlup, the second and the third by this writer.
In 2019, the number of knowledge workers worldwide exceeded one billion. According to statistics, the United States has a high percentage of knowledge workers at 60%. As the digital age advances, we will see a greater proliferation of knowledge work. Knowledge workers require special attention to how they are rewarded.
What do creator stories tell us?
The story of Picasso’s demand for a large sum for his drawing on a napkin, done at the request of a fan, is legendary.
Investigating this story and its many variations, The Quote Investigator, Garson O’Toole explains:
“Interestingly, a similar thematic remark was made by the famous painter James McNeill Whistler during court testimony in 1878. Whistler was questioned by a lawyer about the high price he had set for a work of art he had created in two days:
“Ah, two days! Two days’ work is therefore the one for which you ask two hundred guineas!
” Nope ; I ask it for the knowledge of a lifetime. »
Of course, not all knowledge workers are Picassos or Whistlers. The takeaway here is that knowledge workers use their thinking, expertise, and skills accumulated over time to create a valuable outcome. It is not the time they devote to a particular problem or task.
In his article, Drucker identified two primary needs of the knowledge worker: a formal education that gives him access to the world of work and continuous training to keep abreast of new knowledge in his field.
I would add a third, the secret to leading them:
“Knowledge workers are creators. Pay for the result, not the process.
Most knowledge work involves not only time spent physically in the office, but also thinking, rethinking, using mental models, and applying prior knowledge and skills that have taken years to perfect. In my more than 30 years as a software leader, I’ve worked with many knowledge workers, many of them programmers. We measured them by what they created – elegant pieces of code that did the right thing with blinding performance and maintainable elegance, delivered on time, not by the number of hours they spent in the office.
Tips for Managing Knowledge Workers
Here are some practical tips for using the secret.
- Give knowledge workers the freedom and flexibility to work from anywhere, at times that suit them.
A) Empower individual team leaders to manage their teams anchored in this principle. Empower these team leaders and their teams to do their job. Let them decide how often they want to meet physically and during what hours they will all be present together to collaborate.
B) Such empowerment requires the organization to articulate well-defined goals, missions and strategies and a set of well-articulated and widely shared principles (or doctrines) embedded in the organizational culture. A team leader’s job is to bridge the gap between them. Trading conditions change daily, sometimes dramatically, as we saw when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. There is no blueprint for how to do our job in volatile situations. We have to be flexible and adapt. We could definitely use a framework that can help. That framework includes a code of conduct that says it’s our culture, and we operate within those parameters. Empowerment gives everyone the autonomy to do what needs to be done, and the framework helps you stay true to company values.
- Define clear metrics to measure outputs.
A) The output of knowledge workers should not be measured by the number of hours worked but by the results. Yet many leaders mistakenly insist that workers show up to the office and be there from nine to five, because it’s easy to measure time spent, while it takes knowledge to gauge what’s delivered.
B) The results of intellectual work, such as software or writing, have multiple attributes of quality and require a new set of measures. For example, Google measures programmer productivity with metrics created with the help of a team of researchers. These researchers come from a variety of backgrounds – software engineers, cognitive psychologists and behavioral economists. They created a framework called Goals/Signals/Metrics (GSM) to develop the metrics. A goal is the desired output and a signal is how you know the output is achieved. The metric is a proxy for a signal that is measurable.
C) Be transparent about metrics and match rewards (compensation) with results.
- Hold the team accountable.
A) If you want to empower your employees, you need to be accountable by keeping your commitments, supporting employees, and being accessible and available.
B) Communicate expectations with precision and clarity. When communicating expectations, be sure to have a conversation, understand each team member’s capabilities, and coach them to meet expectations.
C) Support the team with the necessary resources. Remove roadblocks.
D) Provide ongoing performance feedback.
E) Provide a psychologically safe environment for team interactions and questions.
Conclusion: Y Combinator co-founder Paul Graham states in his blog post, Knuth: Computer Programming as an Art,
“A programmer who subconsciously considers himself an artist will enjoy what he does and do it better.”
Organizations will be very successful if all knowledge workers feel creative, and to get the most out of it, follow the advice provided.
Written by Shantha Mohan Ph.D.
Did you read?
Blue Backpack Leadership by Leo Bottary.
How to boost your creativity as a CEO by Hussain Almossawi.
CEO Spotlight: TECOBI is revolutionizing and modernizing the way automotive companies communicate with their customers.
Justin Halladay discusses new business ventures and offers tips for other entrepreneurs.
How to Make Better Decisions in Difficult Times by Rick Andrade.
Follow the latest news live on CEOWORLD magazine and get news updates from the United States and around the world. The opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of CEOWORLD magazine.
Follow the headlines from CEOWORLD magazine on: Google News, LinkedIn, Twitterand Facebook.
Thank you for supporting our journalism. Subscribe here.
For media inquiries, please contact: [email protected]