Lead, Don’t Manage, Knowledge Workers

Guest post from James Hlavacek:

To improve
innovation and growth, knowledge workers must be led, not managed. Too many
policies born of bureaucracy are an enemy to creativity, so the more
unnecessary distractions a company can remove from its employees, the freer
they will be to contribute more creative ways. Management must reduce the
administrative and on the job hassles for its employees by:
• Hiring people
who are curious and knowledgeable about the job, the industry, the company;
• Limiting the
number and length of meetings;
• Encouraging
employees to network internally and collaboratively to continually seek the
best and most efficient practices and solutions to problems; and
• Rewarding
experimentation and avoiding penalties for mistakes made in
the pursuit of
better solutions to customer needs.
workers are self-directed, not other-directed, which means that they must be
provided considerable autonomy. Out of respect for the knowledge they’ve gained
over years, even front-line plant workers need freedom to “do their thing” as
professionally as possible on their own. If they need help or clarification,
they will ask for it.
People at all
levels of a company, both degreed engineers and factory-floor craftspeople, are
needed to design user-friendly new products and assemble prototypes that users
can experiment with in the field. Today’s knowledge workers gain valuable
information from every project and customer. They take their knowledge home
with them every night and with them from company to company, including to competitors,
if they feel mistreated. True knowledge workers are focused first on their
professions and secondly to their current employer. Empowered knowledge workers
make the best decisions for both their own development and for the good of the
organization as a whole—because they realize that both will benefit from
organizational health.
profits are the lifeblood of an organization, the financials come last. High
costs and poor financial performance are lagging indicators, not leading ones.
Financial viability is not a function of balance sheets and income statements,
but the result of a focus on employee empowerment and engagement. Both drive
higher customer satisfaction, which, in turn, leads to new customers and
retention of previous ones. To quote Steve Jobs: Today’s leaders must think
differently and shift their focus on their employees, not their financials. Be
accountable first to your employees, not just to accountants. In short, by
first doing your best to support and empower your employees, you’ll drive your
organization to achieve its mission and purpose and it will achieve its
financial goals as a secondary effect.
Walk around
your plant and ask employees what things are causing bottlenecks, frustrations
and disconnects. Request suggestions for how to improve processes, what
customers are saying, and where communication breakdowns occur. Conduct annual
employee engagement surveys, asking a wide range of questions, but be sure to
follow up with actions that demonstrate you are listening and willing to
improve anything in the culture that stands in the way of knowledge workers.
Hlavacek, Ph.D
., has over 40 years of global experience as a
businessman, strategy consultant, and management educator. He has written five
books including his latest Fat
Cats Don’t Hunt
. He has been a board member of both Fortune 100 companies
and successful venture capital startups. http://www.corpdevinst.com/fatcatsdonthunt.html.