Guest Blog: Knowledge Worker Productivity
Experiment of One, by Naomi Stanford, PhD
I am a knowledge worker. I don’t make physical goods. I don’t receive calls as in a service center, or process a given number of invoices a day. My work is not ‘measurable’ in any quantifiable or objective way.
My job title is ‘Senior Advisor’ which gives no clues as to what I am advising on, or how I come to be ‘Senior’ at it. (I think ‘senior’ equates to more expert than others in the same field of advising, rather than my age compared with others).
My field is the nebulous one of ‘change and transformation’, or sometimes ‘organization development consultant’. Basically I work in the domain known – thank you Douglas McGregor (1960) – as ‘the human side of the enterprise’ with all the politics, messiness, relationships, idiosyncrasies, complexities, and diversity that are inherent in workforce comprising the large organization from which I draw my salary.
So what do I do as a knowledge worker, beyond attending countless meetings, which unfortunately don’t, in fact, count in a numeric sense to any measurement of my effectiveness? I seem to do what other knowledge workers do – read and research a lot, accumulate thoughts and reflections, process or analyze the data and information from researching and thinking, convert it into something that could be (and sometimes is actionable) usually only with the help of others – rarely can I action something that is directly attributable to my contribution.
So here’s an example: We have an appointee to a new role in the organization – Executive Leadership Director. She and I had a conversation about the scope and direction of the role. It is there for her to carve out as she feels fit. After an hour of discussion we had covered some lines of action she could take forward if she chose to, and I promised to send her some articles on network theory, developing communities, and the situations in which face to face meetings might be more appropriate than ‘virtual’ meetings. I sent her the articles.
So how productive, in terms of added value to the organization, was this hour of conversation that included drawing on my knowledge of leadership development, offering non-traditional approaches to it, and supplementing the meeting with follow-up articles. I don’t know. Worse, I don’t know how to find out. Even worse, most of my time is spent on things like this which involve my knowledge, skills, expertise, time, and resources, and I don’t have any effective way of measuring their organization value.
So, having found out that there is a lot of difficulty measuring the value and the output of knowledge workers, and this is likely to become a huge organizational issue if we don’t solve it before we move into the ROWE (Results Only Work Environment) state, I’ve decided to try an experiment of one. I am going to work out how to measure my value and productivity in a way that is replicable and scalable within the organization.
Where to begin? With Peter Drucker – one of my favorite writers on management. Drucker defines six factors for knowledge worker productivity (1999). He says that:
- Knowledge worker productivity demands that we ask the question: “What is the task?”
- It demands that we impose the responsibility for their productivity on the individual knowledge workers themselves. Knowledge workers have to manage themselves.
- Continuing innovation has to be part of the work, the task and the responsibility of knowledge workers.
- Knowledge work requires continuous learning on the part of the knowledge worker, but equally continuous teaching on the part of the knowledge worker.
- Productivity of the knowledge worker is not — at least not primarily — a matter of the quantity of output. Quality is at least as important.
- Finally, knowledge worker productivity requires that the knowledge worker is both seen and treated as an “asset” rather than a “cost.” It requires that knowledge workers want to work for the organization in preference to all other opportunities
So what is the task? I can scale it at an organizational, department, group, or individual level. It is to invite people to work differently from their established ways to deliver the goals of the organization: innovative products and services, enhanced customer intimacy, operational excellence, and zero environmental foot print. If they accept the invitation my role is then to help them develop and implement the new ways of working –including behaviors, competences, systems, processes, and structures realignment as necessary.
I then (according to Drucker) have to manage myself and my productivity. OK – I can do that and I like doing that. I have a whole list of things that I’m working on. But that is insufficient to know in terms of value and productivity. Suppose I think of each thing on the list as an invitation.
I extend the invitation, I get an accept, a decline, a tentative. With the person (client) I’ve extended the invitation to, we decide the next step. Having taken the next step I could ask for an evaluation of my services on a simple scale perhaps.
How valuable to you was the input from me on xxx topic, in relation to achievement of the organization’s goals of developing innovative products and services, enhanced customer intimacy, operational excellence, and zero environmental foot print? (Rate 1 – 6)
We start the piece of work. I could then ask the same question at periodic intervals but ask for some qualitative comments in relation to my capabilities of:
- Innovation in terms of the work task
- Responsiveness to them as a customer
- Contribution to their delivering their goals/implement
- Efficiency and timeliness of delivery
So now I’ve enrolled on Rypple (now Work.com), the online feedback tool that I’ll conduct the experiment with. I’ll alert my immediate team to this and then fan out to my clients. It’ll be interesting to see if feedback like this (assuming I get it) counts as measurement of performance when it comes to performance review time. My views on performance reviews are neatly summed up in the WSJ article ‘Get Rid of the Performance Review‘ so no need to state them here.
For more on Measuring Knowledge Worker Productivity, check out this webinar!