Managing the Knowledge Worker LO18748

Tue, 28 Jul 1998 12:40:33 -0400

Replying to LO18729 --

I am responding to both the messages LO18703 and LO18729.

I read the thread on Managing the Knowledge Worker with great interest
and found two items that I had to respond to.

In LO18729 John Zavacki wrote:

> When leadership cannot
> create an environment which continuously improves quality at the
> technical, behavioral, and cognitive levels, we end up with negative
> reinforcing loop such as GM is facing in Flint. A basic process has
> not
> been managed.

In the case of the GM strike, I think there are many realities that
have not been taken into account on both sides of the problem.

On the management side, they have not realized that the workers in
their plants, however little formal education they have had, are really
knowledge workers and do have a much greater awareness of what is going
in their environment than management will give them credit for.
Management or leadership, if you will, has been putting much effort into
managing the process, they have **not** however been managing the basic
relationship with their workers - i.e. they have not been building Trust
or Democracy in the workplace.

On the union side, the unions must at some point come to the
realization that they are becoming a smaller and smaller force in the
American political and social landscape, since we have been moving
toward a service economy (knowledge work) for decades and have either
become productive to the point that a factory needs fewer and fewer
workers for the same output or the jobs have been transferred to
developing nations. The unions must also give up their immediate
reaction that anything that management propose is immediately bad for
the workers.

The best illustration comes from the book by Richardo Semler,
"Maverick." He put into practice, with many mistakes along the way, the
radical management ideas that have been floating around. One of his
first steps was to remove the worker search stations at the exit to his
assembly plant, because searching a worker upon exiting the plant is a
demeaning experience. How, after all, can you build trust with the
workers when proof of your distrust is waiting at the gate at the end of
the workday. He replaced the searches with a sign that read "If you have
inadvertently taken anything that belongs to the plant, please bring it
back." What happened? The union fought bitterly against having the
search stations removed? Why, when this would seem to be something the
union would celebrate as a victory? First the union approached the event
with the view that whatever management does for the workers **must** be
bad for the workers. Second, most of the workers relied on the search
stations to prove to management that they were in fact "innocent." In
other words, while living in a system devoid of Trust (guilty until
proven innocent) the workers need some proof for management that they
were in fact not guilty.

In the case of the GM strike, both sides need to realize that neither
will survive very long without the cooperation of the other. If the bare
financial or quality performance (as measured internally) do not drive a
company out of business, then the advances that a competitor makes will
in the long run. If the next innovation in the automobile industry is
producing more brands through innovative management structures similar
to what Saturn does now drives a GM out of business, then **both**
"management" and the "union" have gotten what they bargained for but
**not** what they really wanted in the long run.

In LO18703, Tom Abeles wrote:

> I am not so sure that the US knowledge worker has a sinecure any more
> than
> the The Academy in the US is immune to global competition. And that
> the
> knowledge worker may be the next group to become unionized,
> perchance?
> thoughts?

I for one do not believe that unionization of the knowledge worker is
a good thing nor do I believe that we (the US and Western Europe) can
simply export Knowledge Work to developing countries the way we can
export manufacturing jobs.

I have worked in environments in which my work "ethic" clashed in big
ways with unionized knowledge workers. The fact that these workers were
strongly unionized killed most of the flexibility and creativity that
you really need to be a successful knowledge worker. The attitudes that
pervaded this environment were the same that you find in a unionized
assembly plant - "I have a **right** to my job." "I demand job
security." and "Anything that management proposes must be bad for the
workers." As pointed out, you cannot manage knowledge work the way you
can manage an assembly line, so productivity goes down hill fast and
with it the job security and other perks that the workers were seeking
to gain in the first place.

As far as exporting knowledge work is concerned, the only work that
can be successfully exported in the long run is work that can be
routinized - in other words, work that is not real knowledge work.
Consider the software industry as an example, the "threat" that much of
software development could be exported to India or China has been around
for several years. Why have there not been the upheavals within the
software industry that there have been in manufacturing? Why is the
unemployment rate in this sector so low if exporting jobs is so easy?
The answer is relatively easy. The economics (business cases) do not
work out they way they are presented or for the most part assumed. The
development that goes on in India and China may have a very high
technical quality to them, but it is devoid of the cultural, legal etc.
frameworks that each American or Western European developer brings to
work with him or herself every day. To remedy this, you have three
choices. Either you only use these offshore software for pure scientific
or engineering software development, or you bring the developer to the
host country to become "acculturated" after which the developer will be
reluctant to return home permanently, or you must continually fly your
development team to your country to interact with the end-users of the
system so that your travel costs will more than offset your savings from
off-shore development. It is the same reason that we cannot export legal
advice (law firms) or management consulting offshore just because there
are some highly educated people there.

Eric N. Opp



Learning-org -- Hosted by Rick Karash <> Public Dialog on Learning Organizations -- <>