As it appeared in the Daily Nation on September 15th 2020
Dr Lucy Kiruthu
Globally, the number of knowledge workers continues to grow. These are workers whose main contribution to a business is knowledge in a specific field. Knowledge workers generate value to businesses through their expertise and thinking capability. They use what they know, what they have learnt and what they are aware of to solve problems, create new ideas and develop new products and services. These workers are hired to make use of their knowledge. This is unlike other workers who are hired to only perform specific physical tasks. Management guru Peter Drucker coined the term “knowledge worker” in the 1960s. At the time, he felt that employees who did mundane tasks needed to be transformed into knowledge workers. This transformation continues to happen to this day. As a country, we need many knowledge workers, more than ever before.
In some businesses, a machine operator is still considered as a labourer whose only task is to operate the machine. In smart businesses, a machine operator is a knowledge worker who uses the information at his disposal to produce products and to solve problems. This could be said of many other professions. In many businesses, most employees are yet to be recognized as knowledge workers able to think, learn and make decisions. I believe that every employee has the potential of being a knowledge worker. This is because every role, every job requires us to think and to use our knowledge. By recognizing our staff as knowledge workers, it makes them feel the need to become experts in whatever they do.
Today, we swim in a sea of data and information. Knowledge workers can transform data into information and use the information to become better at what they do. Take for example a salesperson who has a good understanding of his customers and the market environment. The main responsibility for such a salesperson is to create value for the customers. Unfortunately, not many businesses can be considered knowledge-based. As such, very few businesses encourage their employees to use the information at their disposal to create knowledge and to support their organizations to achieve their goals. Knowledge helps employees to become more competent, it guides them in doing what needs to be done and in making more informed decisions. Knowledge-based businesses allow for rapid sharing of knowledge among employees. Such businesses also support their employees to learn continuously. What new knowledge have you shared amongst your staff during this COVID-19 pandemic season? What have the employees learnt that would enable them to be better at who they are and what they do?
Knowledge workers require a different kind of business leadership. One that recognizes not only the competence level of employees but also their interests. Such employees need to be supported to reach their full potential by creating an environment that motivates them to be at their best. The contribution that a knowledge worker makes to a business is massive. Today more than ever before, we need employees that are ready and willing to learn and adapt in an ever-changing and complex world. Businesses leaders need to take up this challenge and allow all their employees to be transformed into knowledge workers!
Dr Lucy Kiruthu is a Management Consultant and Trainer. Connect via twitter @KiruthuLucy