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Dickeson--Understanding Knowledge Workers

November 1999
Both Peter Drucker, in his new book "Management Challenges for the 21st Century," and Jeff Papows, in "Enterprise.com," speak of "knowledge workers" as replacing blue- and white-collar workers of the past. Knowledge workers are the people in companies who make decisions. They have the "know how" and "know why" of the business acquired through training, or experience, or both. Their decisions translate to actions that establish the policy and competence of the operation. Knowledge workers receive information, assimilate it, decide what to do and execute decisions.

Who Are They?
Trouble is we're not accustomed to the concept of knowledge workers as a special classification of people in our printing business. Who are the knowledge workers in the printing plant? Are they the customer reps? Estimators? Schedulers? Strippers? Press personnel? Bindery people? Materials managers? Accountants? Controller? Fore persons? Chief executive? Sales reps? Other?

Then answer the following questions for each of the above. Does the person receive information about jobs and customers? Assimilate the information? Know how to do the job? Know why tasks must be done? Decide what actions to take? Execute decisions?

If your answer is "yes" for each of the six steps, you've identified a knowledge worker in printing production or administration.

Perhaps your first response to this exercise is: "Good heavens! Knowledge workers are the engines of the printing industry. It really isn't a hardware business." (Isn't it ironic that on the company balance sheet, knowledge workers are valued at zero? That's because general ledger accounting is tracking ownership of assets. Since you don't "own" knowledge workers—the engines that drive the business, the primary assets of the business—you assign no value to them.)

Your second response may well be: "So what? Nothing's really changed by calling those people knowledge workers." Ah, but it has, as the world is now discovering in this new Age of Information. Knowledge workers are the driving force pushing productivity and growth. There is no other reasonable explanation. Mining, agriculture, manufacturing and technology are no longer the impelling economic factors. The World Wide Web, company intranets and supplier-linked extranets are utilities of instant information.

There's a geometric impact resulting from information linkage. With every addition of a node to the digital information link, the need for knowledge power increases by some numeric power. (Add two knowledge workers to a Web network, and the information increases by a factor of four, for example.) As information increases, the demands on the knowledge worker increase.

 

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