BusinessDictionary.com defines knowledge workers as “employees such as data analysts, product developers, planners, programmers and researchers who are engaged primarily in acquisition, analysis and manipulation of information as opposed to in production of goods or services.” The term, first coined in 1969 by management authority Peter Drucker, originally illustrated the difference between manual workers—the bulk of the workforce at the time— and those who work primarily with knowledge.
However, over the course of more than four decades, in many companies—including Dow Chemical—the line between manual and knowledge workers has blurred. Increasingly more corporate leaders recognize that every worker in an organization can potentially contribute knowledge at any point in the work process. The once rigid divide between those on the floor and those in the offices is crumbling under the overwhelming evidence that front-line workers possess valuable, practical know-how about how their organizations function—insights that their knowledge worker counterparts might not have. And when broad input is encouraged across all departments and levels of an organization, corporate leaders have more data on which to base decisions.
It’s clear that decisions and policies that are founded on accurate and comprehensive data can positively affect performance, workflow, productivity, strategy and most importantly, the bottom line. And while collaboration and communication are key to sharing data, the truth is that there are still organizations that practice a strict division between knowledge workers and the rest. So what can corporate leaders do to implement the necessary changes to include every worker’s knowledge?
Six Steps to Creating an Organization of Knowledge Workers
The process of desegregating the workforce and actively fostering a culture of knowledge workers can be a long one, and there may be employees in an organization who are slow, or even resistant, to change. Especially senior workers may find it difficult to either adopt new technologies or break down the barriers between different levels. However, patience and persistence are likely to pay off. The following six steps are suggestions for those business leaders who truly want to capitalize on the knowledge of their entire workforce.
- Introduce an information democracy. Instead of restricting company information to knowledge workers, make sure the entire workforce has access to as much information as is prudent and legal. When employees understand the relationship between individual and collective performance and results, they’re more likely to be motivated to go the extra mile. For example, at Dow Chemical, inventory numbers, day sales and other data are shared company-wide.
- Encourage interaction. Gone are the days when a sales person on the floor could only dream of talking with a senior executive. Facilitate interaction between all departments and levels so the exchange of information can flow unobstructed.
- Adopt information technology to facilitate interaction and collaboration. Create a directory that enables one-click access to every other worker, as well as business reports and applications, and encourage the use of videoconferencing, instant messaging and telemeetings. By enabling workers to access one another easily, no matter where they are, they will find it easier to collaborate.
- Know the front line. Though many senior executives may know how long a front-line worker has been with a company or what positions he has filled, few truly understand what somebody on the floor can contribute. Make a point of knowing worker’s education and previous work experience, and it will become easier to find the right person to supply the appropriate information.
- Include the front-line in the decision making process. By engaging front-line workers in decisions, they become engaged in their organizations’ successes. And by being engaged, they’re more likely to contribute information that would otherwise be overlooked.
- Recognize broad input. Once the necessary changes are made, institute a rewards system for those who use broad input. Managers who base their actions and decisions on information from multiple levels and departments deserve to be recognized and rewarded with promotions and/or salary increases.
Fostering a culture in which every worker is a knowledge worker is an essential aspect of corporate leadership and business success. Understanding and implementing the necessary steps can not only lead to better business performance, but also to a more unified workforce.
Source: http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/knowledge-worker.html; http://www.businessweek.com/managing/content/jan2011/ca20110110_985915.htm; http://hbr.org/2013/09/make-time-for-the-work-that-matters