Companies have traditionally aimed to differentiate their products or services to gain competitive advantage. However, products and services are easy for competitors to mimic. The iPhone for example, unique when it was first launched, must now compete with a range of touchscreen devices offering very similar features.
To retain or gain market leadership, companies must look instead to get the most from their knowledge workers. These are the individuals with the skills and expertise companies require to achieve their vision. However, studies reveal that knowledge workers currently spend up to 40% of their time on non-essential activities. The results are slow processes, high unit costs and bored, disengaged workers.
To help knowledge workers work better, faster and less expensively, leaders must optimise environment, technology and processes.
Addressing the talent-management challenge
The priority for leaders seeking to get the most from their knowledge workers should be to allow these workers to focus on core activities: developing strategies, critical problem-solving, innovation and collaboration.
For example, Pfizer’s pfizerWork programme recommends allowing knowledge workers to choose which parts of their jobs they should outsource so they can free up time for more strategic activity. As a result, the time, effort and cost of getting work done are reduced. PA expert in employee productivity Jordan Cohen designed and successfully piloted the pfizerWork programme in his role as Head of pfizerWorks prior to joining PA.
Core to developing an environment that helps organisations to maximise knowledge-worker productivity are the following principles:
Enable autonomy, skill development and collaboration
Giving knowledge workers autonomy makes them more productive. Rather than tell them exactly how to do a job, managers should set objectives and leave workers to decide how to meet them.
Workers, new or experienced, need the chance to hone their skills and continue learning. If workers want to investigate R&D or market strategy, for example, companies can pave the way with internal ‘shadow programmes’ or reimbursement for external education.
Collaboration allows work in one area of the company to be used as a building block by another area to achieve the next level of innovation. Technology, co-location and social activity can all promote collaboration between knowledge workers. With the right technology, even knowledge-worker outsourcing need not be a bar to collaboration.
Create a great experience
Leaders must ensure that the complexity of a large organisation does not inhibit knowledge workers from doing all they could to increase competitive advantage. For example, they should not have to analyse raw data. Providing knowledge workers with high-quality data analysis as an input allows them to apply their experience, knowledge and creativity to the full.
However, leaders should also recognise that they do not need to protect knowledge workers from obstacles. Problem-solving creates an atmosphere of collaboration and creates momentum for innovation.
Focus on quality
Knowledge workers need to be stimulated by an organisation-wide expectation that they will produce high-quality outputs. Leaders must create standards to which all workers should adhere, with the goal of reducing rework.
Organisations are starting to recognise that, when the world economy emerges from recession, they will need to compete through innovation, rather than through traditional approaches such as product and service differentiation. Knowledge workers are key to helping them achieve their aspirations.
Read an Interview with Jordan Cohen in the Financial Times.
To maximise knowledge-worker productivity and get your business fit for the future, please contact us.