We may be in the second decade of the knowledge-worker era, but companies still have much to learn about what makes such workers tick.
More than 15 years ago, Peter Drucker heralded the beginning of the knowledge era. Since then, companies have made many attempts to leverage what they know and to increase their workers’ productivity. To bring together vast amounts of explicit knowledge, they have invested large sums in content repositories; to help people track down others with tacit expertise, they have experimented with open offices, mobile technologies and online directories. Much of this has been a waste of resources. In fact, five years ago Drucker likened our current understanding of knowledge- worker productivity to our understanding of manual-labor productivity in 1900. Translation: We’ve got a long way to go.
To reorient managers more fruitfully, SMR asked three leading management thinkers to explain what we’ve learned and how we can do better in the future. For Hammer, the focus should be not on the worker but on work processes and eliminating non-value-adding work. Leonard contends that companies should foster master-apprentice relationships to get the most out of their knowledge. And Davenport urges companies not just to experiment with ways of improving knowledge-worker productivity (as many already do), but to carefully measure the results of their experiments in order to learn what works and what doesn’t.