Managing the Knowledge Worker LO18756

Richard C. Holloway (
Wed, 29 Jul 1998 20:05:37 -0700

Replying to LO18749 --

I'll take a stab at responding to your question, Ben--outside of the
context that Drucker presented (and he's certainly presented some valid
points of differentiation).

Industrial workers represented what Ford described as "hired hands."
These employees were not hired for what they knew--but, instead, for the
use of their handiwork as directed by supervisors, managers, and
engineers. Hands are not generally marketable at any different level than
agricultural workers were during pre-industrial times.

Skilled hands (some knowledge attached) became increasingly important in
some industries. Most often, though, industries grew these skilled hands
through apprenticeship programs (colleges, unions, etc). Because most of
these skills were unique to a particular plant or company, there wasn't a
lot of mobility. There was also a guiding belief that employment was a
lifetime relationship.

Knowledge workers are "hired knowers" rather than hands. Knowledge, as a
commodity, is the only one that adds value for the seller as well as the
buyer, and both get to keep it. As an added bonus, knowledge is
mobile--it works just as well in one part of the world as another in a
multitude of industries that need that particular knowledge. Employment
relationships are considered as temporary, knowledge workers market their
skills to the most attractive buyer.

There are now people (machinists, joiners, fishermen) who are in what was
formerly "industrial" work who have become "knowledge workers." Not all
of them--but those who have specialized knowledge and skills.

For instance, there are almost no automotive mechanics qualified to work
on all makes of automobiles less than 10 years old. They require special
training and certification annually on a multitude of automotive
engineering and computer systems. Master mechanics are certainly
knowledge workers nowadays--much different than in 1955 when just about
anyone with some mechanical aptitude could work on a vehicle.

One last point--industrial workers (hired hands) didn't have contracts--or
if they did, they served the employer much more than they did the worker
(sort of like the contracts that people sign when they enlist in the armed
forces). Contracts were limited to "professionals" in the organization.
While this is still true in many organizations, more and more companies
are going to contracted employment relationships. It doesn't change too
many aspects of employment, though. In Washington State, for instance,
employment is still at the employer's will regardless of contracts. The
risk of firing someone who has a contract is, at most, paying off the term
of their contract. Very often, this isn't an issue either if the employer
can show evidence of breach.

hope this hits the mark!


"Most organizations are not designed, they grow. Indeed, there are several
studies which draw biological analogies to describe organizational phenomena.
But not all organizations adapt equally well to the environment within which
they grow. Many, like the dinosaur of great size but little brain, remain
unchanged in a changing world."   -Charles Handy

Thresholds--developing critical skills for living organizations Richard C. "Doc" Holloway Olympia, WA ICQ# 10849650 Please visit our new website, still at <> <>

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