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Managing Knowledge Workers


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A knowledge worker is someone who is employed because of his or her knowledge of a subject matter, rather than ability to perform manual labor. They perform best when empowered to make the most of their deepest skills.

Published in: Education, Business
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Managing Knowledge Workers

  1. 1. The views expressed in this presentation are the views of the author/s and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Asian Development Bank, or its Board of Governors, or the governments they represent. ADB does not guarantee the accuracy of the data included in this presentation and accepts no responsibility for any consequence of their use. The countries listed in this presentation do not imply any view on ADB's part as to sovereignty or independent status or necessarily conform to ADB's terminology. Managing Knowledge Workers Olivier Serrat 2013
  2. 2. Landmarks of Tomorrow "Productive work in today's society and economy is work that applies vision, knowledge, and concepts—work that is based on the mind rather than on the hand," wrote Peter Drucker in 1959 in Landmarks of Tomorrow. In Management Challenges for the 21st Century, published in 1999, Peter Drucker's lifelong analysis of the shift to knowledge work imparted one more prescient expression: "The most valuable assets of a 20th-century company were its production equipment. The most valuable asset of a 21st- century institution, whether business or nonbusiness, will be its knowledge workers and their productivity." The Next Society will be a knowledge society.—Peter Drucker
  3. 3. Management Challenges for the 21st Century More than 50 years after Peter Drucker coined the term "knowledge worker", assumptions about people working in organizations are less and less tenable: they are not subordinate employees retained around the clock and they do not rely on their organization for livelihood and career. There is life in hierarchies still. Yet, in the United States, Europe, and increasingly elsewhere, the largest single group of workers are knowledge workers who may practice at an organization but might not be its employees. And, even if they are in full-time employment, few are subordinates. For the authority of knowledge is surely as legitimate as the authority of position.—Peter Drucker
  4. 4. From Costs to Assets Knowledge workers produce and distribute ideas and information rather than goods or services. By definition, they are individuals with different aspirations from the hierarchy- conscious personnel of the past; they are also mobile and they do leave. Hiring talented people is difficult but keeping them is even harder. So, to plug the drain of human capital in a competitive knowledge economy, knowledge workers should be treated as an asset rather than as a cost. Preferably, they should be managed as though they were partners (or at least volunteers). Mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself, but talent instantly recognizes genius.—Arthur Conan Doyle
  5. 5. The New Managerial Task Making knowledgeable people perform is not a matter of making them work harder or more skillfully. Naturally, they are dedicated and such interventions are beside the point. Rather, the managerial task relates to removing obstacles to performance and then channeling efforts into areas that will contribute to the accomplishment of an organization's objective. For that reason, managing talented workers for performance is best understood as a process of influence. A manager is responsible for the application and performance of knowledge.—Peter Drucker
  6. 6. On Managing Talent … To begin, establish a framework in terms of culture, structure, and style of management in which the talent of knowledge workers can flourish. In exercising this process, accommodate these people's preferred ways of working. The result is that knowledge workers understand, identify with, and see how their own contribution can be enhanced. They put their best abilities to the test. They challenge and achieve. Hire people who are better than you are, then leave them to get on with it … Look for people who will aim for the remarkable, who will not settle for the routine.—David Ogilvy
  7. 7. On Managing Talent … To build such a framework, (i) recognize outstanding talent wherever it is found; (ii) establish clear task objectives and performance standards in consultation with each knowledge worker; (iii) extend incentives, rewards, and reinforcements that meet the motivational patterns of each knowledge worker; and (iv) provide opportunities for improvement. As organizations redesign in the knowledge economy, they will have to quickly address the elemental issue of motivation. Reliance on such staples as wages, fringe benefits, and even promotion may soon be passé.
  8. 8. … With Knowledge Managers Certainly, knowledge workers require knowledge managers, not bosses. These new-era managers need to set and enforce on themselves exacting standards for their performance of those functions that determine ability to perform. Time and again, traditional managers exercise no leadership at all but only position power. Managing knowledge workers requires that managers themselves act as good follower and team player as well as leader and technologist. I believe the real difference between success and failure in a corporation can be very often traced to the question of how well the organization brings out the great energies and talents of its people.—Thomas J. Watson, Jr.
  9. 9. … With Knowledge Managers Since the process of influencing the performance of knowledge workers is mainly developmental, managers need also to hone skills in appraising, coaching, mentoring, and providing feedback. One measure of their effectiveness will be by the quality of the (internal and external) relationships that they create. The knowledge economy is pruning status, power, and upward mobility from the managerial role. From now on, would-be new-era managers will be asked to reply convincingly to a simple question: Why should a knowledge worker want to be managed by you? Most of what we call management consists of making it difficult for people to get their work done.—Peter Drucker
  10. 10. Further Reading • ADB. 2008. Managing Knowledge Workers. Manila. • ——. 2009. Growing Managers, Not Bosses. Manila. • ——. 2010. A Primer on Talent Management. Manila. • ——. 2010. Leading Top Talent in the Workplace. Manila.
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