The Rise of the Digital ‘Knowledge Worker”
Technology offers many opportunities to transform how people live and work. However, the digital age will require that leadership and organisational hierarchy adapt to the new realities.
Peter Drucker, who is regarded as the father of modern management, said that “knowledge workers” are people who know more about their work than their bosses.
How can a manager manage the technical activities of people infinitely more skilled than them in defining the tasks required to achieve their mission and deliver customers what they expect?
This question was attempted to be answered by Daniel Pink, motivational expert and author. Pink believes the problem lies in the incentives businesses offer to motivate employees. He says that, aside from paying the bill, there are three things that businesses can do to unlock employees’ potential.
Give your staff a clear purpose to help them understand their role in the larger picture.
Give workers the tools and training they need to feel confident in their work.
Allow staff to be empowered and autonomous to solve clearly defined problems.
Smart organizations embrace a culture that embodies all of the above. Organisations that recognise and reward key workers according to the same standards as their senior managers are a sign of the rise in knowledge workers.
The only way to get promoted is not to do ‘doing’ but to become a people manager. Talent can now move up the pay ladder while utilizing their digital mindset and skills such as design thinking, entrepreneurial learning approaches, agile and lean delivery.
Digital organisations are changing how projects and teams are managed to support this new structure. A ‘team of people’ approach is being adopted, where work is allocated to established teams and not individuals in temporary project structures.
Organisations are also beginning to recognize the value of the agile Product owner model. This is where a team member is responsible in identifying priorities and enabling the group to organize around the work. It is not a senior figure who assigns tasks.
This team-level empowerment and enablement is crucial to unlock the potential of digital knowledge workers. Still, decisions are made based upon a clearly defined vision and a list of priorities. This is based on an in-depth understanding of each customer’s needs.
The move away from a dictatorial culture of ‘command and control’ creates an environment where team members can work autonomously and innovate to find the best solution for their customers and the organization.
Large, established companies that are committed to the rise of digital knowledge workers will face a cultural shift that will likely affect their core business model.
However, if done well, an organisation will reap the many benefits of giving staff the opportunity to grow their skills while keeping clients’ needs at heart of their work.
Are you able to afford not to unlock your digital knowledge workers’ potential?
Symon Cusack is Atkins Global’s Principle Consultant.