Monday 5 January 2015

The challenge for Knowledge Workers in a heirarchical culture

Percentage of people in each country who agreed with the statement
"It is important for a manager to have precise answers to most of the
questions their subordinates may raise about their work".

The best definition of a Knowledge Worker is "someone who knows (or learns) more about their job than their boss does". 

This definition means that the Knowledge Worker adds knowledge to their daily tasks. They do not blindly follow orders - they use knowledge to develop approaches and strategies for delivering their objectives.  They are hired not just to do work, but to think as well. 

Managing a knowledge worker therefore is a different proposition from managing a manual worker. You cannot micromanage, you do not need to supervise, but you need to give clear objectives and empower the knowledge worker to deliver the best solution.  Part of that empowerment is developing Knowledge Management Attitudes, Habits and supporting Framework, so the knowledge worker can always find the best knowledge to help them make the best decisions.

However the idea of "knowing more than the boss", can be really difficult in hierarchical cultures. 

The graph shown here is taken from the book "The culture map", and is based on work by Andre Laurent at INSEAD. Andre asked hundreds of European managers about leadership issues, and one of the questions he asked was  "Is it important for a manager to have precise answers to most of the questions their subordinates may raise about their work". In other words, "should a manager know more than their subordinates".

We can see the results above. Less than 10% of Swedes agreed with this statement, compared to nearly 60% of Spaniards.  I suspect that in some of the more hierarchical non-European cultures, such as China, Russia, the Middle East, Japan and India, the proportions supporting this statement would be even higher.

It would be tough to be a knowledge worker in these cultures. Although you need to "add knowledge" to do your job well, your manager is convinced (or nearly 60% convinced in the case of Spain) that he or she should know best. Conflict is likely to arise between the knowledge worker's higher knowledge level and the managers perceived need to be the knowledge holder.

So how do we address this conflict? I would suggest three approaches

  1. Openly discuss the cultural issue, and the barrier this may cause to Knowledge Management, and therefore to the success of the knowledge-based business.
  2. Discuss the new role of the manager, which is to set the expectations and goals rather than to provide answers
  3. Develop the Knowledge Management Framework which allows the knowledge workers to find the answers they need  

1 comment:

"c" the value of ideas said...

It is not so much, knowing more the boss, as it is knowing how to get the answers faster and better than the boss.

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