Knowledge Workers: Special Challenges at the Highest and Lowest Levels

October 1, 2010 by · Comments Off 

Over the years, we have worked in companies of all sizes to help them grow their businesses and adapt to changing global and local markets. So we have to confess that we have had our share of experience with employees within our client companies that do not buy into the vision that we have put forth here about knowledge workers. The greatest skepticism comes at both ends of the employee spectrum—the highest-level and the lowest-level knowledge workers. Read more

Are Managers Even Necessary?

September 27, 2010 by · Comments Off 

Do knowledge workers need to be “managed?” Many will tell you no. This view says that if workers are smart enough to be “knowledge workers,” then they are smart enough to organize themselves. This thinking is also consistent with the view of networks as living organisms capable of self-organization.

There are a few interesting examples of a “leaderless” approach to management. One is the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, which has no conductor and fills all other leadership roles on a rotating basis. Another example was Ternary Software, a small development shop that was run democratically from 2001 to 2006 through consensus (one of the founders has since left the company to productize and evangelize this management approach). Read more

Are Workers a Cost or a Resource in Your Organization?

September 13, 2010 by · 2 Comments 

Businesspeople today are facing two simultaneous challenges: the current lackluster economy and the shift to the knowledge economy. The lackluster economy makes it tempting and often necessary to cut headcount. People are one of the major expenses in a business and are often seen as a cost as opposed to a resource. But success in the knowledge economy depends on a strong cadre of people to fuel your intangible capital. People are both the source of knowledge and the medium by which your organization learns, adapts and innovates.

Why do we make this distinction? Read more

How Many Workers Are Knowledge Workers?

September 9, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

The change in the American workforce has been evolving slowly over the past century. Over this time, the dominant jobs have shifted from materials extraction and processing to information processing. The trend was constant and consistent over the century for the primary and tertiary sectors. The secondary sector actually peaked at 50% in 1960 and then trended back down to end the century where it started. The following chart is from PBS The First Measured Century (a fun book and website). Read more

Lessons in Structural Capital: The Checklist Manifesto

March 5, 2010 by · 3 Comments 

There are two levels to the story of The Checklist Manifesto, a great new book by physician Atul Gawande.

The first level is about checklists: how to make them, how to use them and the extraordinary results that come from using them. The examples include hospitals that virtually eliminate hospital-acquired infections through the use of a simple checklist used in the operating room just prior to cutting the patient open. Other great examples are provided from the field of aviation. He explains that airline pilots not only have pre-flight checklists, they also have notebooks with sets of check lists to guide them through different kinds of crises. Construction provides another set of examples: how to assemble a complex skyscraper  by coordinating the work of dozens of subcontractors. There’s even an example about the rock bank Van Halen’s inclusion of a clause requiring a bowl of M&M’s with all the brown candies removed as a way of the band ensuring that the other requirements in their contracts related to the safety of the staging were also read and followed. Read more

The New Kapital

October 1, 2008 by · 2 Comments 

I’ve seen a number of interesting discussions recently on the role of human capital in business. It is interesting to contrast these varied views of the role of experts versus mainstream employees–and the implications for leadership, compensation and profits:

The first is Roger Martin’s article entitled “Capital vs. Talent: The Battle Rages On” in the latest magazine from the Rotman School of Management Read more