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Effective Knowledge Work - Book Review

1 March 2012

Dr. Moria Levy

"Effective Knowledge Work: Answers to the Management Challenge of the 21st Century" parallels Drucker's renowned 1999 book, and this connection is not arbitrary. Published in 2011 by two academic researchers, Klaus North from Germany and Stefan Goldenberg from Denmark, the book was crafted in collaboration with the Drucker Institute and published by Emerald (Journal of Knowledge Management). It takes an academic stance while seamlessly integrating practical ideas and blending real and hypothetical case studies, delving into various facets of knowledge work envisioned for the next five, ten, or even twenty years.


The book explores the following key areas:

  1. Identifying knowledge workers and elucidating the importance of investing in their advancement

  2. Knowledge Worker Management

  3. Cultivating a knowledge-centric culture

  4. Utilizing computing support in knowledge work

  5. Managing information effectively

  6. Understanding the role of knowledge management

  7. Methods for measuring knowledge workers' contributions


The book's significance is twofold— academically and practically—especially considering the scarcity of literature on the management of knowledge workers. While not always a straightforward read, the book is undeniably instructive. Below is a distilled overview of its primary themes.


Identifying knowledge workers and elucidating the importance of investing in their advancement

Knowledge workers are engaged in roles characterized by high knowledge intensity. Professions such as engineering, science, teaching, consulting, banking, management, medicine, law, and art fall under this category. Over recent years, there has been a notable rise in the percentage of employees transitioning into knowledge work.


Distinguishing between knowledge work and material work involves several aspects:

  1. Input:

    a. Knowledge work requires information and knowledge.

    b. Material labor involves materials.

  2. Productivity:

    a. Knowledge work results in the generation of information and knowledge.

    b. Material labor yields an actual product or service.

  3. Purpose of the Work:

    a. Knowledge work is intangible.

    b. Material labor deals with tangible outcomes.

  4. Activity:

    a. Knowledge work encompasses information processing, creation, and the utilization of knowledge.

    b. Material labor involves the processing of physical materials.

  5. Skill:

    a. Knowledge work is intellectual.

    b. Material labor is manual.

  6. Tools:

    a. Knowledge work employs information and communication tools.

    b. Material labor utilizes physical tools.


These aspects serve as the foundation for defining knowledge workers and knowledge work: work centered on intellectual skills, producing intangible outputs, and deriving added value from information processing and creativity, particularly in the development and communication of knowledge. From a process standpoint, knowledge work involves creating added value through research, analysis, construction, reflection, integration, synthesis, planning, development, channeling, documentation, and learning. Researchers identify prototypes that excel in various facets of the relevant skills.


Investing in knowledge workers and knowledge work is of significant importance to various stakeholders:

For the Employee:

Enhanced Effectiveness: Investing in knowledge workers enables employees to improve the effectiveness of their work, consequently increasing their value to the organization.


Job Security and Attractiveness: Improved effectiveness contributes to job security and enhances an employee's attractiveness within the organization.


Career Advancement and Self-Employment: Successful knowledge work can lead to career advancement within an organization. In some cases, knowledge workers may opt for self-employment, positively impacting employability, wages, optimal time use, multitasking, and overall productivity.


For the Organization:

Performance and Success: As emphasized by Drucker in 1999, the effectiveness of knowledge workers is the most influential factor in an organization's performance and success.


Competitiveness: Advances in knowledge workers directly impact structural competitiveness, encompassing factors such as innovation, quality, and reputation. Indirectly, it influences cultural competitiveness by fostering a workforce passionate about investing their energy and thought.

For the Country/City:

Economic Impact: Countries or cities with more knowledge workers tend to experience a higher gross national product per capita (GDP). Knowledge workers serve as the primary growth engine, significantly contributing to the economic development of their localities.


Knowledge Worker Management

Managing knowledge workers is more complex than overseeing employees with clearly defined roles. Several aspects must be considered for the optimal management of knowledge workers:


Factors Enhancing the Effectiveness of Knowledge Work:

  1. Creating Ownership and Recognition:

    a. Ensuring the employee understands expectations.

    b. Providing resources for accurate task completion.

    c. Offering opportunities for the employee to leverage their expertise.

    d. Regularly acknowledge and appreciate the employee's work.

    e. Recognizing the employee as an individual.

    f. Assigning a mentor to support the employee.

  2. Information, Communication, and Teamwork:

    a. Furnishing necessary information for task performance.

    b. Supplying tools for managing information, particularly in the post office.

    c. Providing tools for the effective use of communication channels, including peer relations.

    d. Allowing uninterrupted time for task concentration.

    e. Cultivating trust within the team.

  3. Self-Management:

    a. Striking a balance between structure and the freedom afforded to the employee.

    b. Balancing time between learning and performance.

    c. Reducing administrative tasks in the employee's workload.

    d. Implementing efficient time management practices, such as minimizing travel, unnecessary conversations, and other time-consuming activities.


Factors that enhance the manager's role as a leader of knowledge workers:

  1. Personal Conduct:

    a. Leading by example, displaying behaviors familiar to the employee.

  2. Providing an Appropriate Work Environment:

    a. Creating a conducive physical workspace.

  3. Establishing Conditions for Improved Knowledge Work Effectiveness:

    a. Implementing the conditions detailed earlier.

  4. Boosting Employee Motivation:

    a. Utilizing both intrinsic and extrinsic incentives, with the latter addressing hygiene factors.

  5. Employee Leadership:

    a. Establishing high standards and fostering a challenging work environment.

    b. Facilitating career planning for employees.

    c. Promoting teamwork and ensuring optimal utilization of skills

    d. Encouraging continuous learning and fostering space for innovation.

    e. Treating employees as valuable assets rather than burdens.

The authors introduce various models, each considering some of the abovementioned factors.


Cultivating a knowledge-centric culture

Cultural organizational strategies that foster practical knowledge work include:


1. Reducing Burnout of Knowledge Workers (Promoting Increased Creativity):

a. Organizational Culture Level:

i. Prioritizing the health and well-being of individuals.

ii. Cultivating an environment that promotes independence and diversity.

iii. Fostering a supportive staff atmosphere.

iv. Creating an environment conducive to experimentation and feedback.

v. Designing a physical workspace that encourages communication.

b. Work Management Level:

i. Avoiding contradictions in defining work objectives.

ii. Ensuring congruence between tasks and available resources.

iii. Aligning tasks with existing or learnable knowledge.

iv. Ensuring alignment between expectations and the professional level desired by the employee.

v. Preventing conflicts between personal and professional life.

c. Personal Level (Employee):

i. Being mindful of daily routines and conserving energy.

ii. Recommending a 5-minute break once an hour.

iii. Avoiding excessive fatigue and taking time off after stressful days.

iv. Discouraging the use of addictive substances as coping mechanisms for stress.

v. Establishing a designated time zone free from work engagement.

vi. Engaging in open discourse with colleagues about personal problems.

vii. Creating a professional space where the employee has control over tasks.

viii. Emphasizing the importance of adequate remuneration and employer appreciation for the work performed.

2. Development of Learning and Abilities:

a. Filling in knowledge gaps.

b. Cultivating a new understanding of what is being learned.

c. Developing additional capabilities and values.

d. Recognizing existing abilities, especially when individuals seek consultation from the employee.


Utilizing computing support in knowledge work

Computing plays a fundamental role in supporting the effectiveness of knowledge workers. Recommendations include:

  1. Industrialization: Focus on standardizing computing subjects. Additionally, consider computerization a component of the industrialization solution, incorporating the potential transfer of industrialized work execution to regions with more cost-effective labor.

  2. Adapting Information Systems: Tailor information systems as much as possible to individual needs. While uniformity and standardization are preferable, the ability to personalize these systems can significantly enhance their usefulness by improving data and action accessibility for employees.

  3. User-Friendliness and Convenient Performance: Emphasize user-friendliness and streamline performance for optimal usability.



The following is a list of system components that can contribute to the work of knowledge:

  1. Activity-Detection:

    a. Examples: Identifying opportunities and risks, pattern recognition, and conducting market research.

    b. Components: Communication systems, search mechanisms, forecasting tools, business intelligence, and visualization.

  2. Activity-Innovation:

    a. Examples: Developing processes, products, services, and areas of innovation.

    b. Components: Text-sensitive search systems, agents, and collaborative communities.

  3. Activity-Teamwork:

    a. Examples: Finding contacts, fostering idea development, establishing standards.

    b. Components: Expert detection systems, social networks.

  4. Activity-Management:

    a. Examples: Change management, employee incentives, and project management.

    b. Components: Shared project management and web-based communication systems.

  5. Activity-Learning:

    a. Examples: Learning from experience and networking relationships with colleagues.

    b. Components: E-learning systems, expert communities, defining capabilities and intentions, and facilitating collaborative activities.


Computer support facilitates resource conservation, increased profitability, and enhanced opportunities, particularly in the following areas:

  1. Efficiency for Individuals: Includes support for personal devices such as cell phones and related equipment.

  2. Collaboration: Encompasses collaborative work areas, conference calls, and other tools.

  3. Support: Involves using systems like CRM, ERP, portals, and more.

  4. Information Search: Emphasizes efficient tools for searching and retrieving information.

  5. Shared Knowledge Utilization: Encompasses eLearning, organizational portals, WIKIs, and other shared knowledge platforms.

  6. Planning and Control: Provides tools for planning and controlling various aspects of work processes.


However, implementing computer systems is a complex task. Here are some recommendations:

  • Focus on Productivity: Prioritize systems that enhance overall productivity.

  • Integration into Workflows: Ensure seamless integration of computer systems into existing workflows.

  • Leverage Existing Knowledge Culture: Draw on the strengths of the existing knowledge culture within the organization.

  • Engage Opinion Leaders: Seek assistance and support from opinion leaders within the organization.

  • Create Analogies Between Employees: Use analogies to foster collaboration and bring different employees closer.

  • Management Attention: Ensure active attention and involvement from management throughout the implementation process.


Managing information effectively

Amidst the extensive computing support, managers and employees must learn to navigate the information overflow it generates. Utilizing enterprise-level assistive tools involves:


  1. Careful Adoption of Technologies: Ensure a thoughtful approach to adopting new technologies.

  2. Assistance in System Difficulties: Seek assistance when encountering challenges in computer systems; avoid attempting to solve everything independently.

  3. Prioritizing Knowledge Needs: Prioritize and maintain a well-organized system for critical information.

  4. List Management: Employ list management techniques to track crucial information and tasks.


At the manager level, assistive tools include:

  1. Containing Gaps: Acknowledge that one doesn't need to know everything at all times.

  2. Identifying Knowledge Holders: Always know who possesses specific knowledge and when to contact them.

  3. Specialization for Certain Employees: Impose subspecialties on specific employees to optimize knowledge distribution.

  4. Engaging Professional Knowledge Communities: Seek assistance and support from professional knowledge communities.


For employees, lifting assistive tools involves:

  1. Information Separation: Distinguish between essential and non-essential information.

  2. Gradual Reduction in Information Overload: Gradually and systematically reduce the volume of information received.

  3. Immediate Filtration: Filter incoming material promptly rather than accumulating a large pile for later review.

  4. Setting Boundaries: Be courageous to say "no" to information during overflow situations.

  5. Recognition of Collective Knowledge: Acknowledge that not one person knows everything, but everyone knows something. Be open to seeking help from others.


Regarding communication channels, including email, face-to-face meetings, phone calls, conference calls, portals, etc., decisions should be made based on the following parameters:

  1. Speed of Response/Feedback: Evaluate the speed of receiving responses or feedback on transmitted information.

  2. Variety of Message Types: Consider the variety of message types that can pass simultaneously on the same channel.

  3. Parallel Conveyance: Assess the parallelism of conveying messages across multiple channels and to several people simultaneously.

  4. Regret Capability: Consider the ease with which the conveyor can retract or regret their words.

  5. Reuse Potential: Evaluate how easily the conveyed message can continue to be reused.

  6. Secrecy Maintenance: Consider the ability to maintain and enforce compartmentalization of the message.

  7. Complexity Adaptation: Assess the channel's adaptability for conveying complex messages.


Understanding the role of knowledge management

The role of the knowledge manager is pivotal in ensuring the effective functioning of knowledge workers. The following are essential roles, some of which are familiar in the realm of knowledge management, with additional roles proposed:

  1. Fostering Collaboration: Provide a platform for employees to connect, share information, and collaborate. Establishing knowledge communities can significantly enhance the effectiveness of knowledge work.

  2. Collaborative Coaching and Facilitation Activities: Engage in collaborative coaching and facilitate workshops to enhance teamwork and knowledge exchange.

  3. Measuring and Evaluating Effectiveness: Gauge and evaluate the effectiveness of knowledge-related activities, assisting management and knowledge workers in achieving defined goals.


In the area of trust, which is an innovative field for knowledge managers, the significance of a good coach is highlighted with the following considerations:

  • Better Compatibility: Improve compatibility between the moral aspects and the receiver of knowledge.

  • Reducing Barriers to Knowledge Transfer: Assist in overcoming obstacles to knowledge transfer.

  • Transferring Expert Knowledge: Facilitate the transfer of expert knowledge within the organization.

  • Locating and Handling "Buried" Knowledge: Discovering and managing latent or hidden knowledge.

  • Making Tacit Knowledge Visible: Support making tacit knowledge more visible and accessible.

  • Incentivizing Knowledge Handling Processes: Encourage and incentivize employees to actively engage in knowledge-handling processes.


Tools and methods for knowledge transfer and development that can enhance trust include:

  1. Guidance on Knowledge Transfer: Guide what knowledge to transfer next.

  2. Using Rules of Thumb: Employ rules of thumb to share tacit knowledge.

  3. Storytelling: Encourage storytelling as a means of knowledge transfer.

  4. Asking Questions (Socrates' Conception): Promote the Socratic method of asking questions to stimulate critical thinking and knowledge sharing.

  5. Learning from Doing: Emphasize experiential learning as a valuable method of knowledge transfer.


Two final recommendations for knowledge managers are:

  • Focus: Emphasize the importance of proximity and connection within the organizational structure.

  • Community Assistance: Encourage seeking assistance from the community and emphasize the collaborative nature of knowledge management rather than attempting to handle everything alone.


Methods for measuring knowledge workers' contributions

Pre-Measurement Considerations:


It is crucial to pay attention to and study the primary errors prevalent in performance measurement today:

  1. Incorrect Measurement Focus: Often, the wrong metrics are selected for measurement.

  2. Inappropriate Measuring Bar: Measurements are frequently taken using an unsuitable standard.

  3. Neglecting Important Metrics: Failures occur when measurements overlook critical factors.

  4. Lack of Understanding in Measurement: Measurements are conducted without a clear understanding of their purpose.


Dimensions to Consider When Measuring Knowledge Workers:

  1. Quantity of Outputs: Note: Drucker emphasizes that quality is at least as important as quantity.

  2. Quality of Work: Assess the overall quality of work produced.

  3. Cost/Profitability: Evaluate the cost-effectiveness and profitability of the work.

  4. Timekeeping: Measure time management and efficiency.

  5. Employee Independence: Assess the level of independence demonstrated by the employee.

  6. Efficacy: Evaluate the ability to complete tasks correctly.

  7. Beneficial Outcomes: Measure the ability to achieve positive results.

  8. Innovation and Creativity: Assess the extent of innovation and creativity applied to tasks.

  9. Project Success: Evaluate the success of projects involving the employee.

  10. Responsibility and Meaning of Work: Assess the sense of responsibility and the meaningfulness of the employee's work.

  11. Customer Satisfaction: Measure the satisfaction of clients or customers.

  12. Employee's Perception of Productivity: Gauge the employee's perception of their productivity.

  13. Downtime: Assess the time the employee needs to be more actively engaged in work.


In most models, dimensions 2-3 from the above list are considered, with each model emphasizing specific dimensions.


In the book's introduction, Dr. Doris Drucker, a board member at the Drucker Institute, underscores the challenge of making knowledge work effectively in the current information-rich environment. She welcomes the book for its emphasis on the practical "how," deemed essential in the present context. No further additions are necessary to these words.

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