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Knowledge workers


									Knowledge workers in today's workforce are individuals who are valued for their ability to act and
communicate with knowledge within a specific subject area. They will often advance the overall
understanding of that subject through focused analysis, design and/or development. They use research
skills to define problems and to identify alternatives. Fueled by their expertise and insight, they work to
solve those problems, in an effort to influence company decisions, priorities and strategies. What
differentiates knowledge work from other forms of work is its primary task of “non-routine” problem solving
that requires a combination of convergent, divergent, and creative thinking (Reinhardt et al.,
2011). Also, despite the amount of research and literature on knowledge work there is yet to be a
succinct definition of the term (Pyöriä, 2005).

The issue of who knowledge workers are, and what knowledge work entails, however, is still debated.
Mosco and McKercher(2007) outline various viewpoints on the matter. They first point to the most narrow
and defined definition of knowledge work, such as Florida’s view of it as specifically, “the direct
manipulation of symbols to create an original knowledge product, or to add obvious value to an existing
one” (Mosco and McKercher, 2007), which limits the definition of knowledge work to mainly creative work.
They then contrast this view of knowledge work with the notably broader view which includes the handling
and distribution of information, arguing that workers who play a role in the handling and distribution of
information add real value to the field, despite not necessarily contributing a creative element. Thirdly,
one might consider a definition of knowledge work which includes, “all workers involved in the chain of
producing and distributing knowledge products”(2007), which allows for an incredibly broad and inclusive
categorization of knowledge workers. It should thus be acknowledged that the term “knowledge worker”
can be quite broad in its meaning, and is not always definitive in who it refers to.

Knowledge workers spend 38% of their time searching for information (Mcdermott, 2005). They are also
often displaced from their bosses, working in various departments and time zones or from remote sites
such as home offices (2005).

Knowledge workers are employees who have a deep background in education and experience and are
considered people who “think for a living.” (Cooper, 2006). They
include doctors, lawyers, teachers, nurses, financial analysts and architects(2006). As businesses
increase their dependence on information technology, the number of fields in which knowledge workers
must operate has expanded dramatically.




The term was first coined by Peter Drucker ca. 1959, as one who works primarily with information or one
who develops and uses knowledge in the workplace.

Weiss (1960) said that knowledge grows like organisms, with data serving as food to be assimilated
rather than merely stored. Popper (1963) stated there is always an increasing need for knowledge to
grow and progress continually, whether tacit (Polanyi, 1976) or explicit.

Toffler (1990) observed that typical knowledge workers (especially R&D scientists and engineers) in the
age of knowledge economy must have some system at their disposal to create, process and
enhance their own knowledge. In some cases they would also need to manage the knowledge of their co-

Nonaka (1991) described knowledge as the fuel for innovation, but was concerned that many managers
failed to understand how knowledge could be leveraged. Companies are more like living organisms than
machines, he argued, and most viewed knowledge as a static input to the corporate machine. Nonaka
advocated a view of knowledge as renewable and changing, and that knowledge workers were the
agents for that change. Knowledge-creating companies, he believed, should be focused primarily on the
task of innovation.

This laid the foundation for the new practice of knowledge management, or "KM", which evolved in the
1990s to support knowledge workers with standard tools and processes.

Savage (1995) describes a knowledge-focus as the third wave of human socio-economic development.
The first wave was the Agricultural Age with wealth defined as ownership of land. In the second wave, the
Industrial Age, wealth was based on ownership of Capital, i.e. factories. In the Knowledge Age, wealth is
based upon the ownership of knowledge and the ability to use that knowledge to create or improve goods
and services. Product improvements include cost, durability, suitability, timeliness of delivery, and
security. Using data (attributed to Ann Andrews, citation?), in the Knowledge Age, 2% of the working
population will work on the land, 10% will work in Industry and the rest will be knowledge workers.

[edit]Knowledge      work in the 21st century
Davenport (2005, p. 4) says that the rise of knowledge work has actually been foreseen for years. He
points to the fact that Fritz Machlup did a lot of the early work on both knowledge as well as knowledge
work roles and as early as 1958 stated that the sector was growing much faster than the rest of the
economy with knowledge workers making up almost a third of the workforce in the United States
(Davenport, 2005, p.4). “According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development
(1981), by the beginning of the 1970s around 40 percent of the working population in the USA and
Canada were classified to the information sector, whereas in most other OECD countries the figures were
still considerably lower” (Pyöriä, 2005, p. 118).

Tapscott (2006) sees a strong, on-going linkage between knowledge workers and innovation, but the
pace and manner of interaction have become more advanced. He describes social media tools on
the internet that now drive more powerful forms of collaboration. Knowledge workers engage in ‘’peer-to-
peer’’ knowledge sharing across organizational and company boundaries, forming networks of expertise.
Some of these are open to the public. While he echoes concern overcopyright and intellectual
property law being challenged in the marketplace, he feels strongly that businesses must engage in
collaboration to survive. He sees on-going alliance of public (government) and private (commercial) teams
to solve problems, referencing the open source Linux operating system along with the Human Genome
Project as examples where knowledge is being freely exchanged, with commercial value being realized.

Due to the rapid global expansion of information-based transactions and interactions being conducted via
the Internet, there has been an ever-increasing demand for a workforce that is capable of performing
these activities. Knowledge Workers are now estimated to outnumber all other workers in North America
by at least a four to one margin (Haag et al., 2006, pg. 4 ).

While knowledge worker roles overlap heavily with professions that require college degrees, the
comprehensive nature of knowledge work in today's connected workplace requires virtually all workers to
obtain these skills at some level. To that end, the public education and community college systems have
become increasingly focused on lifelong learning to ensure students receive skills necessary to be
productive knowledge workers in the 21st century.

Many of the knowledge workers currently entering the workforce are from the generation X demographic.
These new knowledge workers value life-long learning over life-long employment (Bogdanowitz and
Bailey, 2002). “They seek employability over employment [and] value career over self-reliance” (Elsdon
and Iyer, 1999). Where baby boomers are proficient in specified knowledge regarding a specific firm,
generation X knowledge workers acquire knowledge from many firms and take that knowledge with them
from company to company(2002).

[edit]Knowledge         worker roles
Knowledge workers bring benefits to organizations in a variety of important ways. These include:

   analyzing data to establish relationships                ability to brainstorm, thinking broadly
   assessing input in order to evaluate complex or           (divergent thinking)
    conflicting priorities                                   ability to drill down, creating more focus
   identifying and understanding trends                      (convergent thinking)

   making connections                                       producing a new capability

   understanding cause and effect                           creating or modifying a strategy

These knowledge worker contributions are in contrast with activities that they would typically not be asked
to perform, including:

   transaction processing
   routine tasks
   simple prioritization of work
There is a set of transitional tasks includes roles that are seemingly routine, but that require deep
technology, product, or customer knowledge to fulfill the function. These include:

   providing technical or customer support
   handling unique customer issues
   addressing open-ended inquiries
Generally, if the knowledge can be retained, knowledge worker contributions will serve to expand
the knowledge assets of a company. While it can be difficult to measure, this increases the overall value
of its intellectual capital. In cases where the knowledge assets have commercial or monetary value,
companies may create patents around their assets, at which point the material becomes
restricted intellectual property. In these knowledge-intensive situations, knowledge workers play a direct,
vital role in increasing the financial value of a company. They can do this by finding solutions on how they
can find new ways to make profits this can also be related with market and research. Davenport, (2005)
says that even if knowledge workers are not a majority of all workers, they do have the most influence on
their economies. He adds that companies with a high volume of knowledge workers are the most
successful and fastest growing in leading economies including the United States.
Reinhardt et al.'s (2011) review of current literature shows that the roles of knowledge workers across the
workforce are incredibly diverse. In two empirical studies conducted by Reinhardt et al. (2011) they have
“proposed a new way of classifying the roles of knowledge workers and the knowledge actions they
perform during their daily work” (Reinhardt et al., 2011, p. 150). The typology of knowledge worker roles
suggested by Reinhardt et al. are “controller, helper, learner, linker, networker, organizer, retriever,
sharer, solver, and tracker” (2011, p. 160).

Typology of knowledge worker roles

                                                        Typical knowledge            Existence of the role
  Role                   Description
                                                        actions (expected)               in literature

             People who monitor the                  Analyze, dissemination,
                                                                                    (Moore and Rugullies,
Controller   organizational performance based        information organization,
                                                                                    2005) (Geisler, 2007)
             on raw information.                     monitoring

                                                     Authoring, analyze,
             People who transfers information to
                                                     dissemination, feedback,       (Davenport and Prusak,
Helper       teach others, once they passed a
                                                     information search,            1998)
                                                     learning, networking

             People use information and              Acquisition, analyze, expert
Learner      practices to improve personal skills    search, information search,
             and competence.                         learning, service search

                                                     Analyze, dissemination,        (Davenport and Prusak,
             People who associate and mash up
                                                     information search,            1998) (Nonaka and
Linker       information from different sources to
                                                     information organization,      Takeushi, 1995)
             generate new information.
                                                     networking                     (Geisler, 2007)

          People who create personal or
                                                                                    (Davenport and Prusak,
          project related connections with           Analyze, dissemination,
                                                                                    1998) (Nonaka and
Networker people involved in the same kind of        expert search, monitoring,
                                                                                    Takeushi, 1995)
          work, to share information and             networking, service search
                                                                                    (Geisler, 2007)
          support each other.

             People who are involved in personal
                                                     Analyze, information
             or organizational planning of                                          (Moore and Rugullies,
Organizer                                            organization, monitoring,
             activities, e.g. to-do lists and                                       2005)

                                                     Acquisition, analyze, expert
             People who search and collect           search, information search, (Snyder-Halpern et al.,
             information on a given topic.           information organization,    2001)

             People who disseminate information      Authoring, co-authoring,       (Davenport and Prusak,
             in a community.                         dissemination, networking      1998) (Brown et al.,
                                                                                 2002) (Geisler, 2007)

                                                   Acquisition, analyze,         (Davenport and Prusak,
            People who find or provide a way to    dissemination, information    1998) (Nonaka and
            deal with a problem.                   search, learning, service     Takeushi, 1995) (Moore
                                                   search                        and Rugullies, 2005)

            People who monitor and react on        Analyze, information
                                                                                 (Moore and Rugullies,
Tracker     personal and organizational actions    search, monitoring,
            that may become problems.              networking

Note: From "Knowledge Worker Roles and Actions—Results of Two Empirical Studies," by W. Reinhardt,
B. Schmidt, P. Sloep, and H. Drachsler, 2011, Knowledge and Process Management, 18.3, p. 160.
Copyright by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Reprinted with permission.

[edit]Additional    context and frameworks
Drucker defines six factors for knowledge worker productivity (1999):

    1. Knowledge worker productivity demands that we ask the question: "What is the task?"
    2. It demands that we impose the responsibility for their productivity on the individual knowledge
        workers themselves. Knowledge workers have to manage themselves.
    3. Continuing innovation has to be part of the work, the task and the responsibility of knowledge
    4. Knowledge work requires continuous learning on the part of the knowledge worker, but equally
       continuous teaching on the part of the knowledge worker.
    5. Productivity of the knowledge worker is not — at least not primarily — a matter of the quantity of
       output. Quality is at least as important.
    6. Finally, knowledge worker productivity requires that the knowledge worker is both seen and
       treated as an "asset" rather than a "cost." It requires that knowledge workers want to work for the
       organization in preference to all other opportunities.
The theory of Human Interaction Management asserts that there are 5 principles characterizing effective
knowledge work:

    1. Build effective teams
    2. Communicate in a structured way
    3. Create, share and maintain knowledge
    4. Align your time with strategic goals
    5. Negotiate next steps as you work
Another, more recent breakdown of knowledge work (author unknown) shows activity that ranges from
tasks performed by individual knowledge workers to global social networks. This framework spans every
class of knowledge work that is being or is likely to be undertaken. There are seven levels or scales of
knowledge work, with references for each are cited.
    1. Knowledge work (e.g., writing, analyzing, advising) is performed by subject-matter specialists in
       all areas of an organization. Although knowledge work began with the origins of writing and
       counting, it was first identified as a category of work by Drucker (1973).
    2. Knowledge functions (e.g., capturing, organizing, and providing access to knowledge) are
       performed by technical staff, to support knowledge processes projects. Knowledge functions
       date from c. 450 BC, with the library of Alexandria, but their modern roots can be linked to the
       emergence of information management in the 1970s (Mcgee and Prusak, 1993).
    3. Knowledge processes (preserving, sharing, integration) are performed by professional groups, as
       part of a knowledge management program. Knowledge processes have evolved in concert with
       general-purpose technologies, such as the printing press, mail delivery, the telegraph, telephone
       networks, and the Internet.
    4. Knowledge management programs link the generation of knowledge (e.g., from science,
       synthesis, or learning) with its use (e.g., policy analysis, reporting, program management) as well
       as facilitating organizational learning and adaptation in a knowledge organization. Knowledge
       management emerged as a discipline in the 1990s (Leonard, 1995).
    5. Knowledge organizations transfer outputs (content, products, services, and solutions), in the form
       of knowledge services, to enable external use. The concept of knowledge organizations emerged
       in the 1990s (Davenport and Prusak, 1998).
    6. Knowledge services support other organizational services, yield sector outcomes, and result in
       benefits for citizens in the context of knowledge markets. Knowledge services emerged as a
       subject in the 2000s. (Simard et al., 2007).
    7. Social media networks enable knowledge organizations to co-produce knowledge outputs by
       leveraging their internal capacity with massive social networks. Social networking emerged in the
The hierarchy ranges from the effort of individual specialists, through technical activity, professional
projects, and management programs, to organizational strategy, knowledge markets, and global-scale

This framework is useful for positioning the myriad types of knowledge work relative to each other and
within the context of organizations, markets, and the global knowledge economy. It also provides a useful
context for planning, developing, and implementing knowledge management projects.

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