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Friday, November 16, 2012

9 Understanding Knowledge Workers

Knowledge workers require more attention to management style than manual workers. This lecture describes how Theory Z management style should be modified according to situations and to individual knowledge worker’s needs.
In the book cited in Lecture 8 Peter Drucker says knowledge workers are not subordinates, they are associates and they must know more about their specialties and specific jobs than their bosses. In the past manual workers were often constrained to be content to have their job, be paid a reasonable wage and treated fairly. In contrast knowledge workers are less constrained and seek those benefits plus:
•           Challenge
•           Opportunity for achievement
•           Responsibility for their work
•           Rewarding mission
Knowledge workers can set their own goals in support of the organization’s goals and participate in organizational planning and decision making. Knowledge workers make decisions affecting the organization’s results just like managers; they plan, execute and measure. They desire accountability for themselves and want poor performers removed from the organization. They desire clear career ladders in spite of today’s environment of limited opportunities for promotions. (This is true for managers, technical workers, & volunteers.)
Knowledge workers are individuals and must be managed as individuals to maximize organizational effectiveness. The effective leader of knowledge workers must recognize that knowledge workers have different strengths, weaknesses, training needs, learning styles, and values. They perform best in certain environments:
•           Big team, small team, no team
•           Highly structured environment, little structure
•           Decision maker, adviser
•           Leader, follower
They can be at different levels of Maslow’s hierarchy at different times due to both the job environment and environments outside their job. This again calls for treating them as individuals rather than as a homogeneous group of workers.
Here are some ways an effective leader can help knowledge workers manage themselves:
•     Help them know their strengths
        Don’t focus on their weaknesses until you know and recognize their strengths. As an objective observer you are be able to better assess their strengths and weaknesses than they are. If they know you understand and value their strengths then they can accept or try to improve their weaknesses without being in fear of their weaknesses.
        Ensure each is in the best environment for his or her strengths and personality
        Some are best when working by themselves, some in a team and some are best at guiding the work of others.
        Get to know them and then guide them into the proper role: Leader/follower, decision maker/advisor, etc.
        Help them keep up with their specialties and develop their career
        Fight for the budgets necessary to help specialists update their skills from time to time.
        Take time to have honest discussions of their career paths and, if you can, help them realize their goals. Don’t make promises you can’t keep. It will undermine your credibility and authority.
        Help them understand how to best communicate with their bosses and coworkers learning     styles (oral, visual, or doing)
        For example, even though you might know that the big boss is an oral learner your workers may not. Make sure you give them guidance if they are going to be briefing people they are unfamiliar with.
        Help them manage their time
        Don’t involve them in unnecessary meetings. Take time to ensure that they understand your instructions and guidelines for any new assignments. Facilitate interactions with other skilled workers whose knowledge or experience they need to utilize. Don’t ask for unnecessary reports. (More on time management later in the course.)
        Help them improve their processes using modern methods (These are defined in later       lectures)
        This means ensuring that they have the proper training, then are empowered to change their processes,  have access to all data (such as financial data) necessary to assess changes to their processes and access to any specialists, such as those skilled in statistics or other special methods of process improvement.
You may be getting the impression that being an effective leader of knowledge workers takes more time than traditional management styles. Actually it’s the reverse. The recommendations described above do take time but they enable workers to manage themselves and thereby save the manager from the constant firefighting of crises that consume most traditional managers. If you’re not convinced reread the next to the last paragraph in Lecture 2.
You should not get the impression that having trained, motivated and empowered workers free the manager from the responsibility of providing leadership. The organization’s leader must have active and intimate involvement in the main activities of the organization. The studies of Gary Lynn and Richard Reilly reported in their book Blockbusters- The Five Keys to Developing Great New Products, reveal that highly successful new products, which they call “blockbusters”, were three and one-half times more likely to have senior managers intensely involved in their development than failed product developments. Empowered workers should handle routine work without management involvement but difficult and important work needs leadership by senior managers. Moreover knowledge workers require more than one type of leadership.
Some excellent advice on managing knowledge workers is found in the popular book The One Minute Manager by Kenneth H. Blanchard and Spencer Johnson. The authors recommend that managers match their management approach to the situation and to the needs of the worker. I’ll only summarize their comments on four management approaches to be used with four different types of workers as you can benefit from reading the book.
•           Directing- Specific Instruction & Close Supervision- For Crises and Workers that are Enthusiastic Beginners
•           Coaching- Directing + Explanations, Solicitation of Suggestions & Support- For Disillusioned Learners
•           Supporting-Facilitates Subordinate’s Efforts & Shares Responsibility for Decision Making- For Reluctant Contributors
•           Delegating-Decision Making and Problem Solving Turned Over to Subordinates-For Enthusiastic Contributors that are Highly Competent & Highly Committed
Note that these authors support Drucker’s view that effective leaders must treat knowledge workers as individuals to the point of changing their management style according to the individual worker’s needs. Also the four approaches defined by Blanchard and Johnson can be viewed as variations of the basic Theory Z management style.
1.         Think about the last crisis in your organization. Did you adopt a “directing” style by accepting the leadership role, giving specific instructions and providing close supervision until the crisis was resolved? Or did you seek to delegate this tough task to someone else?
2.         If this crisis were to reappear rehearse how you will handle it next time.
3.         Pick six of your workers or peers and see if you can classify them as:
a.         Enthusiastic beginners
b.         Disillusioned learners
c.         Reluctant contributors
d.         Highly competent and highly committed enthusiastic contributors
4.         Think about your recent involvements with workers in each of the four categories. Did you adopt your style to the worker’s needs?  Rehearse how you will interact with these workers in your next interactions.

If you find that the pace of blog posts isn’t compatible with the pace you  would like to maintain in studying this material you can buy the book “The Manager’s Guide for Effective Leadership” at:
or hard copy or for nook at:
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