Knowledge Solutions October 2008 | 12 Managing Knowledge Workers by Olivier Serrat Rationale 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. Assumptions about people working in organizations are less and less tenable. One misleading notion is that they are subordinate employees retained around the clock; another is that they rely on their organization for livelihood and career.One hundred years ago, in the United States and Europe, the largest single group of workers labored in agriculture. Sixty years later, it consisted of technical, professional, and managerial people. Today, it is made up of knowledge workers who may practice at an organization but might not be its employees. And, if they are in full-time employment, fewer and fewer are subordinates.
What of it? Observers make out that working habits are shifting from lifetime employment in a single organization to portfolio work.Knowledge workers produce and distribute ideas and information rather than goods or services. They are individuals with different aspirations from the hierarchy-conscious personnel of the past; they are also m obileandtheydoleave. Hiringtalentedpeopleisdifficult. Keepingthemismoredifficultstill. So,toplugthedrainofhumancapitalinacompetitiveknowledgeeconomy, 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).Managing Talent 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 asaprocessofinfluence. Tobegin,establishaframeworkintermsofculture,structure,and styleofmanagementinwhichthetalentofknowledgeworkerscanflourish. In xercising e 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. To build such a framework, • Recognizeoutstandingtalentwhereveritisfound. Establishcleartaskobjectivesandperformancestandardsinconsultationwitheach Knowledge Solutions knowledge worker. • Extend incentives, rewards, and reinforcements that meet the motivational patterns of each knowledge worker. • Provideopportunitiesforimprovement.
As organizations redesign in the knowledge economy, they will have to quickly address the elemental issue of motivation. Consider the major rewards typically provided to workers for effort (irrespective of the type of worker). Wages,forinstance,cannotbeconsumedatwork.
Fringebenefits(suchasleave,healthandmedical insurance, pay for overtime, or proceeds from stock purchase plans) yield satisfaction only when workers leave theorganization. And,sadly,promotionoftenmeanslittlemorethanabiggeroffice,aresoundingtitle,ora specialparkingplace. Isitsurprisingthenthatsomanyworkersperceivetheirjobtobeaformofpunishment? Thefieldofmotivationisstillwideopen:buttheorganizationsthatthrivewillhave(moreappetizing)menus ofbenefitoptionsfromwhichknowledgeworkerscanchoose. .. 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. Many reach thetopbybeingtoughandself-affirmativeorbybeingthekindofpersonthatothersfeelsafeinfollowingor promoting.Yet managing knowledge workers requires that managers themselves act as good follower and team playeraswellasleaderandtechnologist. Sincetheprocessofinfluencingtheperformanceofknowledgeworkers is mainly developmental, they 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-benew-eramanagerswillbeaskedtoreplyconvincinglytoasimplequestion:Whyshoulda nowledge k worker want to be managed by you? Contact Olivier Serrat, Head of the Knowledge Management Center, Regional and Sustainable Development Department, Asian Development Bank ([email protected] org).
For further information 2 Managing Knowledge Workers Asian Development Bank ADB, based in Manila, is dedicated to reducing poverty in the Asia and Pacific region through inclusive economic growth, environmentally sustainable growth, and regional integration.Established in 1966, it is owned by 67 members—48 from the region. In 2007, it approved $10.
1 billion of loans, $673 million of grant projects, and technical assistance amounting to $243 million. Knowledge Solutions are handy, quick reference guides to tools, methods, and approaches that propel development forward and enhance its effects. They are offered as resources to ADB staff. They may also appeal to the development community and people having interest in knowledge and learning. The views expressed in this publication are those