Will HR-policies reflect the new job requirements of knowledge workers?

Photographer Matty Franklin http://www.flickr.com/photos/mattyfranklin/
Photographer Matty Franklin http://www.flickr.com/photos/mattyfranklin/

The first assumption I make here is that knowledge workers are passionately interested in the return on investment of their activities (value-added work, non value added work or my nightmare work required by unfunded mandates).

The second assumtion I make is – based partially on my own behavior and experience – that these workers focus on optimizing value added work and on reducing non value added work always with their customer in mind.

This implies amongst others an increase in productivity through the production and production capability balance described by Stephen Covey, in the The 7 Habits of highly succesful people.

But what intrigues me now is what this dependency implies for HR-policies (amongst other the salary cost structure of organizations, reward and recognition and son on). And this in times that we see spectular increases in the productiviy of knowledge workers

The found post gives an impression how Brand Velocity’s Jack Bergstrand act and react on these interdependencies.

What do you think?

Source http://www.businessweek.com/managing/content/may2009/ca2009051_721238.htm

The Drucker Difference May 1, 2009, 1:57PM EST text size: TT

By Rick Wartzman

Brand Velocity may well be the smartest company you’ve never heard of.

Jack Bergstrand, who used to oversee information technology at Coca-Cola (KO), launched the consulting firm five years ago with a goal of more than just making money. He wanted to take on what Peter Drucker identified as the single greatest business challenge of our day: enhancing knowledge-worker productivity.

“The most important, and indeed the truly unique, contribution of management in the 20th century was the fiftyfold increase in the productivity of the manual worker in manufacturing,” Drucker declared in 1999. “The most important contribution management needs to make in the 21st century is similarly to increase the productivity of knowledge work and the knowledge worker.”

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But figuring put how to lift the output of those who use their brains more than their brawn—a group that now accounts for at least one-quarter, and perhaps as much as half, of all employees in the U.S. and other developed nations—is no easy feat. Most organizations, even as they engage in knowledge work, continue to rely on processes that come straight out of Frederick Taylor‘s “scientific management” principles of the early 1900s.

It’s an awful fit. “The underlying system that made manual work successful is the very same system that constrains our ability to move forward faster in the Knowledge Age,” Bergstrand writes in his newly published book, Reinvent Your Enterprise. (Full disclosure: Bergstrand is donating a portion of book sales to the Drucker Institute, the nonprofit think tank that I run.) In fact, the differences between old-line manufacturing and knowledge work are stark: Manual work is highly visible; knowledge work is largely invisible—it happens between people’s ears. Manual work is highly specialized; knowledge work is, as Bergstrand points out, much more “holistic.”

Manual work tends to be stable; knowledge work is ever-changing. Manual work focuses on the right answers; knowledge work must zero in on the right questions. Manual work involves a lot of structure with relatively few decisions; knowledge work emphasizes less structure with more decisions.

But this isn’t to say there’s no structure at a firm like Brand Velocity. Far from it. Bergstrand and his colleagues have taken “a clean sheet of paper,” as he describes it, and methodically thought through everything they do: how and where and under what conditions they hold meetings; how they buy equipment, from PCs to paperclips; how they compensate employees; and much more.

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Brand Velocity is based in Atlanta, but in some sense that’s an illusion. It has no fixed assets. Headquarters is little more than a mailing address and a secure 64-square-foot space it leases to store sensitive documents.

When someone from Brand Velocity gets together with a client—the firm provides counsel on giant IT projects—they rent out a conference room for a couple of hours from Regus, which operates a string of posh business centers around the world. Many of those who are ushered into the appointed meeting place by a receptionist never realize that they’re not actually at a Brand Velocity facility. Bergstrand calls this setup “traditionally virtual.”

The underlying idea here—and the same holds true for functions such as payroll and legal affairs and data storage, all of which are outsourced—is that rather than own and manage buildings, Brand Velocity is left to concentrate on what it does well. Having no central office also gives knowledge workers the mobility and flexibility they crave. Many at Brand Velocity plug in from home.

Supplies are also handled in an unusual fashion. Every quarter, the 10 Brand Velocity employees are each given $6,000 to buy what they need, from new computers to pens. If they spend more, it comes out of their pocket.

See the interview or read more at  http://www.businessweek.com/managing/content/may2009/ca2009051_721238.htm

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5 thoughts on “Will HR-policies reflect the new job requirements of knowledge workers?

  1. Glad to see you posting info about “Reinvent Your Enterprise.” As I had mentioned previously, in response to one of your other posts, it’s got great information on our challenges in business today.

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