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The Future of Work – Peter Drucker’s view

Peter Drucker was one of the first to introduce the notion of knowledge work. Since the 1960s he advocated a shift in how we do work and what that means for corporations. He predicted that the prominence of the large corporations (1950 big business employed a third of American workforce; vs. 8% today)and its command-and-control structure will diminish in favor of orchestrating and “writing the score”. Instead of running a business in Talyorism way of fixed input and predictable output, the work is to define the results, work to your and other’s strengths,  determining how to make a contribution and accepting that knowledge workers outlive their organizations. This means, they are responsible for the own development and should create opportunities themselves.

Productivity speaker David Allen states it as this: “What’s tricky is defining what “done” means, and then defining what “doing” looks like. In other words, your work is not self-evident. You have to define it. And even though people are giving you stuff to deal with, they’re not pre-digesting it for you. I don’t know anyone who got their current job and who was given a list of the 63 projects—clearly defined—that were going to be required to fulfill their job requirements, and the 153 action steps they needed to take to make that happen. And that’s what’s new: In the old days, you just showed up and the work was self-evident. Today, everybody has to have their own individual responsibility to define what their work is—at both the outcome level and the “how-do-I-allocate-my-own-resources-to-make-this-happen” level. We haven’t been trained to think that way.”

In turn, it means that corporations have to treat individuals as if they were volunteers and accept the fact that they do not know most of the time or the details of a person’s work or how they spend it – highlighting the need for trust and self-management. In “Management Challenges of the 21st Century”, Drucker defined six factors for knowledge worker productivity:

  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 workers.
  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.

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