Monday 21 September 2020

Who are the knowledge workers?

The knowledge workers represent one of your two main stakeholder groupings for Knowledge Management implementation. But who exactly are they?

Image from Creazilla
Public domain licence

Firstly we can eliminate from the group "knowledge worker" anyone who is purely a manual worker - someone who follows orders or preassigned inflexible procedures. Labourers on a construction site, fruit pickers in a field.  These are not the customers for KM.

However they could become knowledge workers.

Toyota led the way in showing that assembly line workers could become knowledge workers, if you involve them in analysing the work they do. Kaizen-style meetings provide a format where the manual workers can become knowledge workers, accountable not just for doing the work, but improving the way the work is done.

If we eliminate any manual workers that remain, we are left with a group we can call  decision makers.  These are people who use knowledge and judgement in order to make decisions and solve problems in the course of their work.  The better the knowledge they have access to, the better the decisions they will make, and the better their performance will be.

This definition of knowledge worker includes people such as;

  • Engineers making design decisions
  • Programmers writing code
  • Doctors prescribing for a patient
  • Sales staff deciding how to sell to a customer
  • Lawyers trying to decide the best legal solution
  • R&D scientists trying to develop new technology
  • Government staff determining policies
  • Aid and development staff trying to design and apply interventions
  • Medical staff making decisions about patients
  • Soldiers making decisions on the battlefield
  • Maintenance engineers trying to decide how to maximise the utility of equipment
and so on.

Also, don't forget the managers

Then there is a group which is often neglected in KM initiatives - the middle and upper managers. 

Management also make decisions, and often very big decisions, with costly implications. They also need access to the best knowledge they can find, and if the KM program cannot help them they will need to hire in expensive external consultants. 

So the following are also knowledge workers;

  • Project managers making decisions on major (and minor) projects
  • Divisional managers making decisions about market penetration
  • Sales managers deciding how to enter new markets
  • Plant managers deciding how to optimise their plant
  • Senior managers deciding how to set up new business
  • Senior managers making decisions about acquisitions and divestment
  • Technical managers, making decisions about developing organisational capability
and so on

One of our clients focused their KM applications at senior level, and likened this to "KM removing the thorn from the lion's paw". If you solve the lion's problems, the lion will always be on your side!

The biggest decisions are made at the highest level, and there the need for knowledge may be greatest and the application of knowledge can yield the best return. That's where some of the thorniest issues can be resolved through the application of Knowledge.  That's where some of your most influential knowledge workers reside.

How to address the knowledge workers in your KM program

Early in your KM implementation program, identify your customer base, and determine how best to support them.

  1. Conduct a stakeholder analysis
  2. Clarify who the knowledge workers are, at all levels
  3. Get to know their knowledge needs
  4. Ask how they would like KM to support them in their work
  5. Find out their high-value knowledge
  6. Determine the places where KM will add greatest value
  7. Don't forget the middle and senior managers- solving their KM problems will often add more value than solving lower level problems, and what is more will gain you that much-needed senior support. 

Contact us if you need help in analysing your stakeholders - at all levels in the organisation.

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