Dickeson--Understanding Knowledge Workers
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.
The world of the knowledge worker is now an ever-expanding universe. This is why Drucker and Papows seek to shift our concentration to them. How are we to enable our own knowledge workers to process expanding information?
Shifting Our Vision
Our challenge in printing is to shift our management vision. We must put productivity increase (by new hardware) and technology on the back burner, and reserve the front burner for our knowledge workers. But, what information and formats are required for them to assimilate that information into decisions and action? Balance sheets and chargeable hours won't serve them now, if they ever did.
In the past, we spoke of "collecting" data. From collecting data, we progressed to processing data into rudimentary forms of information—journal or log entries were collected into general ledger classifications and, thence, to income statements, since the year 1400. Now, our industry must concentrate on the information-to-intellect step in order to make our knowledge workers more productive.
Information to Intellect
That's what has changed—dramatically. It's not just adding a couple of new words to describe ordinary jobs. Our task relationships have turned around. We don't "own" our off-balance sheet knowledge workers. In fact, one could almost say that, in reality, they own the true engine of the printing company.
We've got a long way to go, and I'm not convinced we've even started the journey. When we have industry meetings, what do we still talk about? Press speed, materials waste and CTP—computer-to-plate. So much remains to be done in information presentation to printing knowledge workers. It must aid their assimilation processes. How to proceed?
We know that people assimilate information in a variety of ways. Some get it by hearing it, some by reading, others by diagrams and charts, still others from cartoon pictographs or from video clips. Some get it from Shewhart or Gantt charts, tables or pie diagrams, benchmarking, or Pareto stacks, or pyramids, or symbolic logic.
Some people, like myself, find that actually manipulating data in spreadsheets lends meaning to it, interacting with information. Translating information to dollars—providing monetary impact—gives meaning to top management. Are we thinking about assimilation using multimedia and group interaction for information in printing? Show me some evidence. Please.
In a recent article, I suggested that we must make a transition to electronic "publishing." If "war is too important to be left to the generals," we now declare that "process and administrative information of a printing company is too important to be left to the MIS department." We have to become information "publishers" with our eyes on the prize of information assimilation efficiency, promoting sound decisions and action.
How we gonna do dat?
Who's going to lead us? Who will structure the thinking? Keep us
focused on the task? Will it be the suppliers with extranet linkage to plant information? It seems doubtful that most of them have yet articulated what their own knowledge workers need.
Who shall be the instruments of change? Shall it be the industry associations—GATF, PIA, NAPL, R&E Council, GCA, Web Offset Section? Do they have a culture that promotes change?
What about all the business management software system suppliers? Could Quebecor or Donnelley accept industry responsibility?
Most likely, it will be some now unknown or unsuspected entrepreneur in Keokuk, IA; Cut and Shoot, TX; or Truth or Consequences, NM. You'll find her on a Website on the Internet, and she'll say, "Let there be light."
—Roger V. Dickeson
About the Author
Roger Dickeson is a printing productivity consultant based in Tucson, AZ. He can be reached via e-mail at Roger@prem-associates.com or by fax at (520) 903-2295. Website: http://www.prem-associates.com.