Category: Knowledge Workers
It is well and truly said that “We stand on the shoulders of giants.” All that we achieve or accomplish is built on a foundation laid by those who have gone before us. Nowhere is this truer than in my own case, and I would like to begin this column by acknowledging two sets of giants to whom I owe a great deal–and to whom this column owes a great deal.
Because knowledge workers exercise a great deal of discretion in their work, it has become exceedingly important to management for knowledge workers to be energized and committed to the organization and to the work they do for it. In a word, they should be “engaged.”
One of the major issues in today’s world of work is often referred to as “engagement,” which refers to a supposed characteristic or quality of certain employees that accounts for why they go the extra mile, why they contribute more of their discretionary effort. We are told engaged employees work harder and they work smarter.
This month’s column focuses on the actions-outcomes matrix. It is a tool for thinking about and examining what Tom Gilbert called “worthy performance.” The matrix suggests four basic kinds of performance issues. Let’s begin by reviewing “worthy performance.”
If authorities like Harvard’s John Kotter are to be believed, two out of three change management initiatives fail. I have been involved in many change efforts over the years, ranging in scope and scale from organization-wide transformation to minor process improvements.
A paper I wrote titled A Puzzle Solved describes a situation in which a sales manager asked me to look into a situation that was puzzling her. The request was more or less informal and had nothing to do with the project on which I was working. To shorten a long story, the situation involved a top-performing sales rep who would inexplicably call in sick in the middle of a hot streak of sales.
For thousands of years, most work was manual work, that is, it was materials based, and working was a visible activity that entailed using one’s muscles more than one’s mind. Owing to its highly visible nature and its materials-base, manual work could be prefigured, that is, others could figure out what needed to be done and how, and then pay (or coerce) others to carry out these prefigured routines.
If figuring out what to do is a defining characteristic of knowledge work, then what we ordinarily think of as problem solving is a core skill or competency for knowledge workers–if not the core competency.
Somehow, somewhere along the way, we have managed to divorce performance from work. The two of them need to be remarried. To perform–in the sense that that term has any meaning at all in the world of work and working–is to achieve some result of value. It is to accomplish something; hence, Tom Gilbert’s focus on “accomplishments as the chief indicator of performance.”
Instructional designers and developers are prime examples of people who do what is called “knowledge work.” So are performance improvement professionals. In examining their performance, we are well-served by considering the nature of recognition–and its fit with accountability.
A recent report from Deloitte suggests that organizations have spent $720 million in pursuit of this enticing but elusive goal and will more than double their spending to $1.5 billion (see the link at the end of this column). The same report also suggests that most if not all of that money has been wasted. It seems employee engagement eludes us still. In this brief column I will speculate as to why employee engagement is wanted and why it remains beyond our grasp.
No one of them will unlock a successful change management effort; all five are needed. In this column, I will briefly review each of them.
When goals are matched by appropriate actions, there is alignment between the two. When conditions are conducive to performing as expected, there is support for those actions. When the performer receives accurate, timely feedback about progress and achievement, control of performance is enabled.
From time to time I fancy myself a toolmaker to knowledge workers. By “tool” I mean any device that assists the worker in doing the work. One of the more common classes of tools used by many knowledge workers are the models, diagrams, and schematics they use to represent the phenomena with which they grapple.
By Fred Nickols There is no better instance of knowledge work than that done by the performance improvement professionals who are members of ISPI; namely, performance engineering. My goal in this column is to lay out what I see as the heart of the value proposition offered by ISPI; that is, developing, documenting, disseminating, advancing, […]