Knowledge Worker Community: Is it Over Managed & Under Led?

Thanks to management thinkers such as Peter Drucker, Thomas Davenport amongst others, the concept of Knowledge Worker has definitely become clear. This understanding has led to number of studies showing increased interest in understanding the nuances of managing knowledge workers, the change from blue-collar worker management to while-collar worker management to knowledge worker management! But what we have lost rather may have lost is that – it is only resources which can be managed, not people! The whole idea of human being as a resource needs thinking – because then we may actually start trying to lead rather than to manage.

Managing and Leading are two activities with different objectives requiring their individual practitioners almost conflicting characteristics. Just think! Hence if we subscribe to the view that human beings especially knowledge workers are not plain resources available to institutions and society at large then we need more thinking – Should they be managed or led? Can they be shown the way and let to manage themselves? Should they then be trained / tutored / mentored on understanding contribution over commitment?

The very idea of knowledge workers indicates people who are willing to do the thinking and identify what is best for the accomplishment of an activity. This being the case will it make sense to tell them this is the way ahead or will it make better sense to let them know where we want to go and allow them to contribute in reaching there. There is also a very important second thought to this – the idea of contributing. When a person believes in a cause and contributes to it – he / she gives more into the goal at hand than treating that as an activity imposed by a superior. Since many organizational practices still are incremental improvements over the industrial age habits – and the workers have shifted from blue-collar thinking to knowledge-worker mindset, it is resulting in a friction. Many of us also experience this while leading or being led!

Every leader of repute wants to have more passionate people walk-in to work everyday. If we need to really start seeing passion-filled people walking into glass building everyday it is important to understand the nature of this change. We need to accept, acknowledge and incorporate new techniques, processes to enable knowledge workers to identify and align themselves to what they like to do. Since this requires a certain level of convincing the heart more than the mind, this may not be possible too easily for managers – it may be in the realm of true leaders to make this transition!

Interesting Links This Week: 24-November-2013

Does passion create success? Or Does success stimulate passion? One proposed by Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert and the other by Peter Drucker. Which do you agree with? Here are their individual views – Link: http://thedx.druckerinstitute.com/2013/10/dilbert-meets-drucker/

Who does not have the need to avoid communication these days? Even the most introvert amongst us needs to engage and entertain to spread their message. Everyone who wants to lead has to definitely learn to communicate and really well too. Here are 7 Tips which one can emulate and practice to enhance their communication effectiveness – Link: http://www.inc.com/kevin-daum/7-things-really-amazing-communicators-do.html

The world seems to be facing too many social problems. With the information revolution expanding firmly into the developing world we are getting to know about more challenges that we as a global society are facing or going to face. But who is going to solve these issues? Are we to wait for them to come in the form of non-profits or non-governmental organizations or wait for the government to tackle these? Here is an interesting TED Talk from Strategy Professor Michael Porter of Harvard Business School sharing thoughts on how businesses are well placed to take on this challenge directly.

Listen here – Link: http://www.ted.com/talks/michael_porter_why_business_can_be_good_at_solving_social_problems.html

Planning helps more than plans

Though this seems cliche’d in hindsight, it is very different as a practice. Most entrepreneurs I meet, especially the smallPlanning business CEOs detest planning. Anything abstract such as strategy, vision, planning, etc is seen as a waste of resources. They seem to know what they want! They seem to know where it is available! They seem to know how to get it! However for some inexplicable reason it always seems to elude them! So I asked why? And behold they had answers to that as well – execution, market conditions, industry forces, timing, lack of talent, lack of capital, etc

Do you see a pattern in this? All of these people are smart and intelligent. This made them see opportunities that most others didn’t. This led them to start enterprises. But soon after they got off the ground, they seemed to have stopped doing something right. What could be done  by them in their mind and executed almost individually earlier, now requires a lot more people. And very often most of these people can’t see what these entrepreneurs are seeing. But the entrepreneur fails to see this. He / She wants people to see what they are seeing – it fails!  And people around them get frustrated and disillusioned. The typical reason being they are not able to read and get what is in the mind on the entrepreneur – neither the dream nor his expectations from them. Most often this gap is mitigated if planning as a function is used.

Planning as an activity helps the core group around the entrepreneur see the vision of the entrepreneur. This group works to present their ideas on how this vision can be turned into reality. The approach and set of choices is then turned into plans. By the time the plans are turned into action items for the various members and their teams, most of them know their role in making this vision become reality. They know their contribution. This gets them charged up as individuals and enables them in turn to charge up their teams. They take ownership for what they wanted to contribute.Because as Peter Drucker says, contribution is freedom and this freedom to make it happen comes with a responsibility, but when it is by choice, it is ownership, else it is seen as a burden.

So the next time you as a CEO want to skip the planning session and directly define the goals for the company and how they are going to be achieved – think twice!

A Message for Managers

Every person who runs a company or is given the responsibility to complete a task using a group of people is forced to learn to handle individuals. In today’s world as the transition happens from Gen X to Gen Y, collaboration is the key word. In number of institutions we now have young people leading teams with senior members often twice their age on their teams. In all situations we find the complexity of human handling constantly tending to the north. We have truly made the transition from Frederick Taylor’s world to that of Peter Drucker’s.

In Frederick Taylor’s world employees were managed for efficiency and productivity, while in that of Drucker’s it was more of effectiveness and results – and both were right in their own worlds. As more and more work is getting knowledge based focus on how much more can one churn out in a particular span of time is becoming less important than the quality of output.

While the need to manage or the need for a manager has not changed, the approach that one needs to consider in managing has definitely undergone and continues to undergo drastic change. Not acknowledging this major but slow transformation is beginning to manifest itself in the form of unhappy subordinates, whining bosses, increased attrition, interpersonal conflicts and publicly displayed inappropriate behavior. All this is leading to social degradation at a high level and is hence necessitating an urgent need for all playing the role of manager to start moving from efficiency based management techniques to effectiveness based managing.

While one could have studied and improved the work output of an employee on the shop floor by giving appropriate directions and improved work environment, it may be difficult to force the best advertorial or an innovative design or unique concept by adopting this scientific method of managing (direction oriented). Productivity based incentive, a management technique which worked earlier may also not elicit the desired level of response from the employee. So what works or rather what will make your employee work. This is where the seminal work of Peter Drucker comes to our rescue. He has identified four things that every manager should do:

  • Set Objectives (not give directions)
  • Organizes (makes available relevant work environment and tools)
  • Motivates and Communicates ( this has got renewed emphasis in the knowledge worker community)
  • Measure

In short the focus of the manager today should be more on making his team capable of delivering more, rather than what is their best output. This shift in thinking can make all the difference to the work output of the team and to the success of a manager!