Got productivity? Why cooperation and accountability can help.

written by Enrique Shadah

Over the last 40 years, several management styles have emerged to increase productivity and streamline operations across sectors, from Just In Time manufacturing to Agile software development. Gains were made but key aspects of the daily work life were ignored. Each new methodology ultimately failed to improve morale, sustain collaboration, or establish a culture of accountability through empowerment.

A knowledge worker is like a mini factory contained within a person. When they can fully understand and define their contributions to the organization, they become more reliable, resilient, and productive.

According to Peter Drucker, there are 6 factors that characterize the productivity of a knowledge worker:

Task definition: Workers have to decide what tasks are needed to do their job

Autonomy: Workers are responsible for their own contributions

Innovation: Workers have unique insights on how to improve their own tasks

Learning: Workers require continuous learning, which in turn requires continuous teaching, in order to maintain optimal performance

Quality: Workers need to define what quality is and when something is done

Value: Workers’ knowledge is a non-fungible asset to (not of) the organization

Yet many business leaders we encounter find it difficult to implement all of these factors to improve the productivity of their knowledge-based workforce. Although each organization has reasons for not achieving the productivity they deserve (based on talent they employ), we distilled a list of common reasons that we observed in a cross-section of our clients:

  • Pre-defined tasks/jobs that do not take into account a worker’s input nor allow for self-reflection
  • Micro-managing workers, curtailing their autonomy
  • Inflexible approval guidelines for changing (and improving) how tasks/jobs are accomplished
  • Perennial focus on inputs (e.g., hours worked) versus outputs (e.g., the quantity of the work)
  • A lax definition of output quality
  • Salaries are seen as cost that needs to be contained

We believe knowledge worker productivity can improve substantially by embracing time-tested techniques wrapped around a framework of cooperation and mutual accountability. Our early implementations suggest better alignment amongst workers, better tasks definition, reduction of extraneous tasks, and improvements in worker morale that led to more output per worker.

Expert Collective is now seeking business leaders who want to tackle the challenge of improving the productivity of their knowledge workforce by piloting this approach. Are you ready to do things differently?

Drucker, P. (Winter 1999). “Knowledge-Worker Productivity: The Biggest Challenge.” California Management Review, vol. 41, No. 2, p. 83-84.

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