How to Make a Knowledge Worker Productive: A Drucker Lesson

Peter Drucker, writing in Management Challenges for the 21st Century, pointed out that knowledge workers need to be thought of as different from more traditional workers. To him KWs needed to be seen and treated as an asset rather than a cost. I am not sure how much the modern company has embraced this yet, especially given some of the ways workers were treated in the recent recession. To Drucker there were five ways to determine a knowledge workers productivity. These include:

  1. “KW productivity demands that we ask the question “What is the task?” To me this should always entail the input from the worker and not just a managers determination.
  2. It requires that we impose the responsibility for their productivity on the individual knowledge workers themselves. Knowledge workers have to manage themselves. They have to have autonomy.” Isn’t this buy in? Isn’t this getting them to own the job?
  3. Continuing innovation has to be part of the work, the task, and the responibility of the knowledge workers.” If the KW is not bringing improvement what continued value do they deliver. Continual resume improvement as performance evaluation has always seemed a good idea to me.
  4. “Knowledge work requires continuous learning on the part of the knowledge worker, but equally continuous teaching on the part of the worker.” The best way to learn something is to teach it. This method allows transfer of knowledge and knowledge retention. Two major issues for companies.
  5. “Productivity of the knowledge worker is not- at least not primarily- a matter of the quantity of output. Quality is at least important.” Obviously there is a need to get work done, but the best work is high quality. A bunch of crap serves no one.

Following Drucker’s advice may give you a different perspective on your knowledge workers. How have you treated yours this past year?

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