Management April 15, 2013 Last updated September 18th, 2018 1,232 Reads share

Want A Thriving Business? Focus On Leading The Knowledge Worker!

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I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t have a clue how to create a great marketing strategy.  I’m also not that great at choosing colors for interior design (some say I’m color blind).  And while I know how to operate a multitude of electronic devices – smart phone, laptop, desktop, remote controls; I don’t know how to create an app for the smart phone.  (How do they get all that information in such a tiny place anyway?)

The Knowledge Worker

Yet I know there are individuals who know how to do this and much more.  As early as 1966 Peter Drucker wrote about the knowledge worker:

“Every knowledge worker in modern organization is an “executive” if, by virtue of his position or knowledge, he is responsible for a contribution that materially affects the capacity of the organization to perform and to obtain results.”

That sounds a little high-level to me, so let’s break it down.  We all think and make decisions – every minute of every day.  Think about this: most of the time (about 80%) we are not even aware that our gut – our subconscious mind – is making decisions for us, based on our natural thinking and decision making ability.  Since we all think and decide, we have the ability to impact business performance – if we give ourselves and the people we work with, the ability to use their talents in the best way possible.

The term “executive” doesn’t mean “owner” or “manager.”  It can mean anyone in a business, from the unskilled and uneducated to the skilled and educated employee.  The key is to understand that we are in a knowledge-based economy.  If we can learn how to increase the use of each person’s knowledge strengths in a business setting; performance, results, customer satisfaction, profits, and growth all result – we all win.

So why is it that almost every day I talk with an employee or a business owner and hear frustration: “I love meeting and greeting people, why do I have to work in the back office crunching numbers all day?”  Because someone has to, but does it have to be you?  “I wish I knew why my key employee comes in late every day and grumbles when I ask him to do something?”  Because maybe you haven’t asked him what will motivate him better?

If you are a business owner and complain regularly about your employees, do you wonder why they still come to work every day, or why they haven’t taken another job?

Related: Master The Art Of Employee Motivation With These 8 Tips 

The old is still at work

It’s not often that I will find someone who recognizes the name Frederick Taylor, the father of scientific management – the management scientist who helped to coin the term – the one best way.  But I can assure you that all managers and leaders at one time learned the one best way, or created the one best way, and used this practice to guide the management and leadership of their company and employees.  Assembly lines thrived, factories were constructed, and the economy grew – and grew.

Scientific management worked by exercising a high level of managerial control over employee work practices.  The assumption was that employees did not need to think or make decisions.  And yet, over 100 years later, the old is still at work, leading and managing the knowledge worker in occupations and industries where the one best way does NOT always apply. So is it hard to figure out why our businesses are not growing and performing better?

What can we do to lead and manage better?

Let’s assume we all want to increase the growth and performance of businesses.  If we learn how to lead the knowledge worker better then we can develop more thriving businesses.

  • Do we know how to measure each person’s decision and thinking strengths?
  • Have we structured our decision making, planning, marketing, advertising, and other systems to maximize the use of each employee’s knowledge?
  • Are we using practical leadership techniques to motivate each of our employees to perform at a higher level?

Related: Leadership Tactics To Get The Very Best From Your People

Look at the tasks each employee performs.  Do they require –

  • Versatility in dealing with people, job functions or systems?
  • Stability and dependability?
  • Understanding and communicating with others?
  • Planning and organizing?
  • Teamwork?
  • Empathy?
  • Interpersonal communication?
  • Concrete organizing?
  • Big-picture thinking?
  • Conceptual thinking?
  • Just do it mentality?
  • Strong, practical thinking?
  • Long range planning?
  • Use of logic?

Measure and match

Once you understand the thinking and decision-making required of each task and job, measure it in each employee.  Is there a match – or a mismatch?  Once you understand the measurement results, do you understand how to lead, manage, and motivate your employees to perform at a higher level?

Leading and managing

I’ve worked with a number of clients who have learned to let their employees use their talents.  The clients learn to lead and manage by enabling their employees to use their decision making talents more, in work settings that increase the use of their talents – and decrease the use of their non-talents.  Here are some examples:

  • Asking a work crew how they can mow a lawn, trim shrubs, or rake leaves more efficiently – having a discussion – and understanding the need for someone to be able to pay attention to detail and get the job done.
  • Rearranging the duties of the employee with high empathy and need to get the job done on the customer service desk.
  • Asking the carpenter for his advice on the layout of the work so he can use his conceptual thinking skills.

Related: Easy Ways Managers as Leaders Use Sharing And Caring For Success

Learning to lead our knowledge workers requires assessing their talents and ours, learning how to use that knowledge of these talents to modify our leadership and management techniques, putting in place a plan to increase business productivity and profit, and learning that there is no longer one best way.  The age of the knowledge worker – 47 years later – can be realized, with focused effort.  Let’s enjoy the challenge to innovate, create, and think – to our growth and performance.


[1] Peter Drucker in The Effective Executive (1966)

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Warren Rutherford

Warren Rutherford

Warren runs The Executive Suite, providing leadership & executive coaching programs, professional recruitment, One Page Business Plans, and franchise coaching services to businesses. Located in Hyannis, MA Warren is expert at people management, helping business executives hire, manage, and motivate others smarter. . He serves as the Director of Coaching Programs for Innermetrix, Inc. He is accredited in a variety of assessment and coaching methods. He is an ardent advocate of innovation, creativity, and inspirational change in business in life.

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