Knowledge workers rank high when you consider your valuable business assets.
In fact, their tremendous levels of output and resourcefulness have seen them excel in law, science, technology, engineering, and basically every area of society!
But you cannot expect them to supercharge your organisation if you don’t give them the right tools and support for success.
In this article, we explore knowledge workers in more detail. We’ll share a clear definition, run through the history of the knowledge worker and then share eight steps to help you improve their productivity.
What Is a Knowledge Worker?
In a nutshell, knowledge workers are professionals whose expertise requires them to think for a living.
Knowledge workers’ labour has been described as ever-changing, dynamic and autonomous. They primarily work with information and generate value through their main asset: knowledge.
As such, their roles typically involve analysing and applying knowledge rather than amassing information. Based on their analysis, knowledge workers typically come up with new ideas, slicker processes and better ways of doing things.
As a result, knowledge workers often focus on problem-solving. These roles require both convergent and divergent thinking in order to answer all the questions, both simple and complex, that arise in knowledge workers’ daily work.
The last few decades have underscored the importance of knowledge workers. However, they have played important roles in the development of the corporate world since the start of the 20th century.
In the early 1900s, we saw a shift from manual labour to jobs that required more formal education. As a result, novelist Upton Sinclair coined the terms ‘white-collar’ and ‘blue-collar’ workers.
White-collar workers refer to individuals in more academic roles, whereas blue-collar jobs describe manual labourers. Even today, we often divide these jobs according to Sinclair’s terms.
However, in the late 1950s, management consultant, educator, and author Peter Drucker came up with the concept of knowledge work. He first used the term ‘knowledge work’ in his book, ‘The Landmarks of Tomorrow’.
This was around the time when knowledge-based workers began to outnumber those engaging in manual work. After all, the growth of industrialisation introduced various new types of jobs, mainly fuelled by technological advancements.
Drucker took his idea further and coined the term ‘knowledge worker’ in another book in 1966. In 1999, he predicted that knowledge workers and their productivity would be the most valuable asset of a 21st-century institution.
As the name suggests, knowledge workers excel in industries that require thinking and problem solving. For instance, they typically make moves in industries like science, law, medicine, architecture or technology.
Initially, knowledge workers were regarded mainly as technology-based professionals in the newly digital world. However, the definition has since expanded to include individuals in various industries and roles.
For instance, knowledge workers can be web programmers or designers, physicians, architects, engineers, scientists, accountants, lawyers, researchers and academics. Based on this, its been said that they think for a living, unlike manual workers who perform physical tasks.
These roles are typically ones with higher salaries and relative independence. As a result, knowledge workers are sometimes referred to as ‘gold collars’ instead of the usual white or blue-collar division.
Knowledge vs Information vs Skilled vs Wisdom Workers
Knowledge workers dominate today’s corporate environment. However, there are many industries and roles that need workers who don’t fall into this ‘gold collar’ category.
Often, it’s difficult to understand the differences between all these terms. As such, let’s compare knowledge workers to information workers, skilled workers and wisdom workers.
Information workers typically create information that assists others in making decisions. As such, unlike knowledge workers, information workers tend to only work with data and information, not ideas.
Knowledge workers specialise in specific areas of knowledge, whereas information workers deal with more general information. This often involves details about dates, schedules, plans and costs.
Based on the nature of information these types of workers deal with, information work can often be automated. Knowledge workers, on the other hand, are much harder to replace with technology.
Skilled workers have a specific skill or training that they apply to their work. They might have gained these skills through a degree or on the job.
Unlike knowledge workers, skilled workers are typically manual labourers. As such, their skills are their primary contribution.
Typically, skills change slowly over time. As a result, they are easier to keep up to date. It’s unlikely that your skilled workers need to do much more than keep up with slow incremental changes in their skillset.
Knowledge workers, on the other hand, have to work harder to keep up. In fact, Drucker suggested that these types of workers need additional training regularly. They might even need to reinvent their whole knowledge base multiple times throughout their careers.
Wisdom workers are (mostly) creative-minded individuals. Their primary asset is their emotional intelligence and creative nature.
As a result, one of their main skills is their ability to weave an engaging narrative into their work. And as every organisation has come to realise, customer engagement is a necessity in the information era they operate in.
Considering these characteristics, wisdom workers typically shine in roles like advertisers, web content creators, social media marketeers, public relations officers and many more.
Skills and Characteristics
Knowledge workers spend vast amounts of time engaged in coming up with new ideas and strategies. This type of work typically requires a certain set of skills.
Based on the nature of their roles, there are some skills that all knowledge workers need to some degree:
1. Specialised Knowledge
Knowledge workers have specialised factual and theoretical knowledge about a specific topic. To gain this knowledge, most knowledge workers spend years specialising in their roles.
2. Finding and Accessing Information
These workers typically need to be adept at finding and accessing resources and information.
We live in a knowledge economy and face information overload on a daily basis. As a result, it’s essential that knowledge workers can filter through this sea of information and stimuli.
3. Analysing and Utilising Information
Finding information alone is not enough. Knowledge workers also need to know how to analyse and apply information. After all, this is the only way to use the new knowledge in useful and innovative ways.
4. Good Communication
Effective communication seems like an obvious skill, but many people struggle to communicate knowledge successfully.
Good communication skills ensure your knowledge workers can share their expertise with others. As a result, the benefit of their knowledge multiplies.
5. Growth Mindset
We live in an ever-changing corporate world. Technology and innovation develop day by day, changing our working environments.
To ensure knowledge workers help to fuel this innovation without fear, they need to have a growth mindset. This helps knowledge workers to spot new ideas and strategies about how to improve things.
Benefits of the Knowledge Worker
Knowledge workers are an essential part of your intellectual capital. But what exactly are the benefits of having these types of workers within your organisation?
1. The Knowledge Economy is Booming
We currently live in a flourishing knowledge economy, and many corporate activities are knowledge-intensive. This is an environment where your knowledge workers can shine!
It’s well-established that investing in company training can boost the brain power of your company. The more knowledgeable your employees are, the more valuable they are. And as a result, you can improve overall productivity and performance.
Knowledge workers create tangible assets. This means they generate wealth for their companies. The power is inside them!
2. Knowledge Workers Are Technical in Nature
The pace of digital transformation is showing no signs of slowing. Software design, cybersecurity, cloud computing, app design, database administration, web development… Nowadays, the list of technological jobs is endless.
With knowledge workers possessing technical mindsets, they are more in demand than ever before. They are ready to spring into action and help you keep your organisation competitive, regardless of new technological advancements.
3. Competition Is Growing
Organisations around the world are having to work harder than ever before to stay competitive. After all, new advancements and innovations make it easier for competing companies to stand out.
This means that other organisations have to keep pace in order to grow and gain their share of the market.
We have talked about knowledge workers’ tendency to innovate and come up with new ideas, as well as their growth mindset. These are fundamental characteristics when it comes to keeping your organisation competitive.
Your knowledge workers could be your best asset when it comes to taking your company in the right direction. Their knowledge can help you to find the right processes, developments or strategies to help you take your organisation to the next level.
Setting Your Knowledge Workers Up for Success
Knowledge workers are known for their hunger to learn and analyse information. Their specialist expertise means they are often superstars when it comes to the nitty-gritty theoretical knowledge of their industry’s most detailed frameworks.
It’s easy to assume your knowledge workers will do most of the work by themselves when it comes to operating in your organisation. After all, they have knowledge nobody else does. It only makes sense to let them get on with it and do their thing, right?
Wrong! In the end, your knowledge workers are just humans, like all your other employees. They need to be motivated and engaged to reach their full potential.
As such, let’s explore some of the ways you can ensure your employees are set up for success.
1. Focus on Business Goals
Knowledge workers have the power to deliver valuable, maybe even crucial, innovations at your organisation. However, for them to be able to do so successfully, you first need to ensure they are fully aligned with your strategic business goals.
Regardless of the size of your business, you need some goals that give you a clear focus and sets targets for your teams to work towards. And then, you need to ensure every individual across your company understands and finds these goals motivating.
One way to do so is to make sure your targets are achievable, clear and well-defined. You can, for instance, follow the SMART rule to form goals that are attainable yet easy to understand.
In addition, you need to ensure streamlined internal communications. You should frequently communicate your organisation’s mission, vision and values, as well as strategic business goals.
2. Provide Real-Time Communication Tools
Knowledge workers are at the core of innovation within organisations because of their specialist knowledge. As a result, they need to constantly communicate with leadership and stakeholders.
However, their communication is not limited there. Your knowledge workers need to be closely connected with all teams across your organisation in case your other employees need support, insights or additional information.
As such, you need to ensure you have effective real-time communication tools across your organisation. This eliminates any communication barriers and ensures seamless team and cross-functional collaboration.
For instance, you can use tools like Slack or Microsoft Teams to provide a platform for company-wide, team-based or individual communication. Similarly, tools like Trello or Taskworld help you to drive projects forward with much-needed transparency.
3. Eliminate Silos with Knowledge-Sharing
Knowledge workers cannot perform to their full potential if they work in siloed organisations. After all, silos make it increasingly difficult to share or distribute important information or expertise.
Unfortunately, siloed teams are a big issue in today’s corporate environment. A whopping 40% of organisations say that each of their departments have their own agendas.
Taking all this into consideration, you need to provide extensive knowledge-sharing opportunities for your knowledge workers. After all, without this, your organisation may suffer as your knowledge workers won’t be able to prioritise properly and drive innovation.
Luckily, knowledge-sharing is easy with an effective social learning culture! Learning technology solutions, like learning management systems (LMSs), come with social learning features that enable your knowledge workers to share their expertise effortlessly.
4. Encourage Cross-Departmental Collaboration
Continuing from the previous point, silos in the workplace do not only affect knowledge sharing but also cross-departmental collaboration. This means that your employees, including your knowledge workers, cannot get the most out of each other’s expertise.
To ensure effective coordination, you should revamp your business structure to focus on collaboration.
Collaborative organisations typically include a networked and non-hierarchical structure. These companies provide an open, honest and trusting culture, which often leads to an engaged and valued workforce.
As your knowledge workers enjoy more autonomy and flexibility, they typically have more room to come up with new ideas. Similarly, collaboration ensures your workers have the resources to share and shape their ideas into action plans that result in desired business outcomes.
5. Drive Innovation and New Ideas
Throughout this article, we have talked about how knowledge workers are often the driving force behind new ideas. But they shouldn’t be the only ones participating in the implementation of new processes, strategies or solutions.
After all, these kinds of employees are typically experts in specific fields or areas. While they may have great ideas and suggestions based on their knowledge, they might not be achievable or doable for your organisation as a whole.
As such, you need to ensure that all projects are transparent so that each member of your organisation can bring in their expertise to shape the idea or innovation.
6. Monitor Latest Industry Trends
It’s part of your knowledge worker’s job to stay up-to-date with the latest industry developments, trends and best practices. But they also get bombarded with vast amounts of information on a daily basis.
This can quickly become overwhelming for your employees. Organisations may neglect this issue if they don’t understand the impact that information overload can have on their employees’ productivity levels.
Luckily, you can make your knowledge workers’ lives a bit easier by helping them find the most relevant information and trends. For instance, you can implement solutions that automatically find and deliver information from reliable sources.
This eliminates lengthy waits to find the right information as these tools deliver it right to your workers’ fingertips. As a result, these trends are easily accessible and findable at all times.
7. Embrace Mobile
With the emergence of remote work in recent years, more and more knowledge workers are now working remotely or in a hybrid environment. In fact, Gartner forecasted the number to go up from 27% in 2019 to 51% by the end of 2021.
This remote switch has caused a surge in organisations moving to mobile learning and mobile-first communications. If you haven’t already, it’s time to consider embracing the power of mobiles!
After all, as you already know, one of the best ways to ensure your workers’ success is to enable easy access to information and instant communications. Implementing a mobile-first or mobile-friendly solution is an excellent way to drive their productivity.
8. Keep an Open Mind
Knowledge workers don’t focus solely on innovation. They also drive change management initiatives in your organisation.
The world we live in is constantly changing and evolving. This is reflected in the corporate world. As a result, organisational change management has become an important component of every business plan and strategy.
Your knowledge workers have the power to transition your organisation. But as most of us know, change is not always easy to accept or achieve successfully. As such, you need to keep an open mind and support your knowledge workers’ change management efforts.
Similarly, the success of new initiatives is driven by how well the rest of your organisation aligns with and accepts change. You need to analyse and identify the benefits of these change efforts in order to communicate them effectively throughout your organisation.
Knowledge workers are a powerful business asset who have the power to influence your whole organisation. But like other employees, they cannot succeed in an isolated or unsupportive environment.
Following these eight steps ensures your workers have the right tools and support to reach their full potential. Then they can focus on steering and supercharging your organisation with their knowledge and innovation.
Hungry to learn more about how to keep your intellectual capital engaged? We have just the thing for you! Download our guidebook, ‘150 Nifty Engagement Tips’, today!