Measuring and improving the Productivity of Knowledge Workers Poonam Chug September 2, 2020

Measuring and improving the Productivity of Knowledge Workers

Measuring And Improving The Productivity Of Knowledge Workers

In organizations across the world, knowledge workers are one of the most important, expensive and fastest growing categories of employees. Coined by Peter Drucker in his book,  The Landmarks of Tomorrow (1959),  the term “knowledge worker” is defined as high-level workers who apply theoretical and analytical knowledge, acquired through formal training, to develop products and services. He noted that knowledge workers would be the most valuable assets of a 21st-century organization because of their high level of productivity and creativity.

While there is no debate surrounding their role in improving business outcomes, there are often concerns about how best their productivity can be measured and how their efforts can be further optimized.

But how do you measure intangible knowledge with standard measurements techniques and analysis?

Challenges in measuring productivity of knowledge workers:

Using traditional measures of Key Performance Indicator (KPI) does not work for knowledge-based workers. There’s also the fact that the most vital part of the work your knowledge workers do happens in their minds. Several knowledge workers have observed that their most winning solutions have happened outside of “work” – while resting or dining with friends. The bottom line is that – knowledge workers have varied experiences and outputs and their ideas may not always result in a tangible product, making it impossible to draw a single, standard measure or outcome, that would apply across all situations.

What’s the right approach to measuring?

Organizations should consider building situationally relevant metrics for a specific type of knowledge work. For instance, for a software development team, there could be metrics like development cycle length, number of bugs in software, sales volume, and so on. However, and this is key, it’s important to consider the supporting actors impacting these metrics – such as the sales and marketing teams – did they do a good job of pitching the product? And to the right target audience? Was the marketing message effective?

Furthermore, a knowledge worker’s productivity is not effectively measured when done on an individual basis since knowledge workers typically work in collaboration with others on specific, complex tasks. Therefore, businesses should look for unique variables or proxy measures that have visibly impacted productivity, rather than depend on standardized assessment techniques.

A quick primer on improving productivity by Peter Drucker

According to Peter F. Drucker, an increase in productivity was directly tied to the knowledge-based workforce becoming more responsible for their productivity. However, this can only be made possible when organizations actively support them by enabling them to achieve their productivity goals.

There are a few methodologies/strategies Drucker has offer in order to navigate this optimization process:

First of all, organizations must remain wholly committed to improving workforce productivity, which translates to achieving more with less. To achieve this goal, Drucker said organizations must aim at being able to produce at least 50 percent more within the next 8 to 10 years without increasing the number of people employed; this means they must aim to raise the productivity of people at an annual rate of 4 to 5 percent.

Below is an overview of three main components of The Drucker framework for improving the productivity of people:

1. Control Assignment of Opportunities

It’s crucial to match the right talent with the right opportunity. This requires a deep understanding of the strengths of each individual and particularly, of those who’ve showcase exemplary performance. Where or how best can you place them to drive increased outcomes?

“It requires, secondly, that as far as possible people are assigned where the application of their strengths can produce results. It requires that they are assigned to opportunities, and that those opportunities are the right ones for them.”

Ensure that your hiring is geared for performance. Also your best performers should be assigned to high-grade opportunities, rather than misutilizing their time and effort by having them invest into a advisory role for weaker performers. This is crucial to driving high productivity growth.

2. Eliminate distractions and ensure complete concentration

Equipping your knowledge workers for optimal performance requires, as a first step, that you eliminate impediments and roadblocks to better performance. These can be sidetracking activities such as endless meetings or report generation and so on. These activities don’t have much impact as far as improving outcomes and also take vital time away from concentrating on the job and the task at hand. Unlike a defined task, Drucker emphasizes that with knowledge work, productivity improvement requires the elimination of any activities that do not contribute to performance and on the other hand, destroy productivity and motivation.

3. Make Continuous Learning an Organizational Priority

Today’s evolving market landscape needs a workforce that prioritizes continuous learning and training. Continuous learning doesn’t imply or replace professional training courses, which are critical in their own right.

Continuous learning offers its own benefits and addresses a different set of goals. Back in 1974, Peter F. Drucker wrote: “[Formal and informal continuous learning] satisfies the need of the employee to contribute what he has learned in improving his own performance to the improvement of his fellow workers’ performance, and to a better, more effective, but also more rational way of working.”

There are also several informal channels that are extremely beneficial to increasing an individual’s productivity. Think on the lines of a simple coffee gathering or an internally organized webinar, where your employees can discuss best practices or success strategies.

Continuous learning can be achieved via both formal and informal channels, but it must be done in an organized manner to be effective.

4. Streamlining and reengineering work processes

The above mentioned concepts — assignment control, facilitating complete focus and integrating continuous learning into the job role and the organization as a whole — are incredibly well-crafted – in increasing workforce productivity. These processes must be introduced in a streamlined method and ongoing restructuring is crucial to ensuring they perform optimally. Ensure that you’re also equipping knowledge workers with critical feedback, so they are able to leverage it to enhance their work and overall efficiency.

Driving Knowledge Worker Productivity With Modern Intranets

Modern Intranets act as a central information hub by bringing all your business apps including LoB, content management, and BI in a unified interface. Here are a few ways they play a key role in improving knowledge worker productivity.

1. Measure and improve productivity with intranet analytics

If you’re using a SharePoint intranet, consider using a SharePoint analytics tool that provides insights on the intranet usage trends across departments, locations and roles. It shows the most and least visited intranet pages, top performing content, employee engagement across sites.

These insights help in optimizing the employee experience, recommending the right content to knowledge workers and improving their productivity.

2. Improve Information Discovery

Knowledge workers spend an average of 2.5 hours every week finding the information they need within their enterprises, says an IDC report.

This translates to just over 30% of the total time each employee puts into work. For a 5000 employee enterprise, it is an equivalent of a whopping GBP 4 million – spent on neither improving the topline nor the bottomline!

Enterprises today are flooded with humongous amounts of information generated by dozens of siloed applications. In order to unlock the value of this information and make informed decisions, organizations need modern digital tools like cognitive enterprise search and AI-powered knowledge mining capabilities. These digital workplace technologies make information easily discoverable and accessible.

Acuvate’s Mesh 3.0, World’s First Autonomous Intranet, is equipped with AI knowledge mining capabilities like automated metadata generation, taxonomy recommendations, content tagging and classification which make enterprise information easily searchable.

In addition, Mesh also features a cognitive enterprise search option which connects your organization’s third-party apps and acts as a centralized search engine for employees to find information.

If you’d like to learn more about this topic, please feel free to get in touch with one of our digital workplace consultants for a personalized consultation.