Over 50 years ago, long before majority of today’s workforce was born, the social scientist and father of modern management, Peter Drucker said that a time would come when the ability to think and adapt will become more valuable than physical labour. He stated that information would change the way people work. We have been in that “time” for over two decades now, however it is more evident today that in order for organisations to sustainably compete, the ability to learn, unlearn and relearn is key. This is an era where employees are sought after for their ability to think, solve problems, create, and innovate. Experts with the most emergent, agile and adaptive thinking ability are sought after as they are better aligned to the dynamics of the environment. Today’s business avenues demand for more strategic improvisation and discretion in uncertainty. Employees are expected to be more and more autonomous. Knowledge workers are subject matter experts, whose main resource is information. Their work is non-routine and requires ample strategic thinking towards problem solving. They are called to be specialists in their respective capacities, ideally even knowing more than their managers.
Leveraging knowledge workers for the future
Knowledge workers perform best when empowered and trusted to make the most of their experience, skills and abilities. Trust them by tasking them with continual organisational enhancement. Knowledge workers are game changers. They have immediate and future impact. Their ideas, experiences, interpretations and judgments contribute to the evolvement of the entire business ecosystem. The right work environment enables knowledge workers to facilitate the flow of knowledge, in turn, the establishment and maintenance of a learning organisation. Peter Senge said, “a learning organisation is one where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning to see the whole together”. As earlier stated, the concept of knowledge workers is not new, however some organisations are still not fully leveraging their people’s capabilities towards the inevitable evolution of skills.
Many organisations are now endorsing broad learning and multidisciplinary skills as an approach to ensure their people’s knowledge remains relevant, is retained and that the organisation is able to adapt through learning. What is being referred to as conventional learning in today’s economy is certainly not what it used to be 10 years ago. In order to leverage knowledge workers, learning approaches must be; in real time, practical, fit for the modern workplace and flexible, thus matching the demands of the tech-driven ecosystem. Today’s knowledge workers are able to use technology prudently and intelligently, in addition to their existing knowledge and experience. Therefore the learning approaches to be considered include the application of; augmented reality, mobile devices and collaborative learning platforms.
Knowledge is an asset for achieving competitive edge. “The great challenge to management today is to make productive the tremendous new resource, the knowledge worker. This, rather than the productivity of the manual worker, is the key to economic growth and economic performance in today’s society.” Peter Drucker. The opportunity presents itself to human resources and knowledge management professionals, to facilitate, amongst other things, a culture of knowledge sharing towards organisational learning. Doing so, with the future needs of knowledge workers in mind.