Six Factors Determine Knowledge-Worker Productivity

In his book Management Challenges for the 21st Century, Peter Drucker identified six major factors that determine knowledge-worker productivity:

  1. Knowledge-worker productivity demands that we ask the question: “What is the task?” Knowledge workers themselves must define the task.
  2. It demands that we impose responsibility for their productivity on the individual knowledge workers themselves. Knowledge workers have to manage themselves. They have to have autonomy.
  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 quantity of output. Quality is at least as important.
  6. Finally, knowledge-worker productivity requires that the knowledge worker is 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.

Drucker observed that each of these requirements is almost the exact opposite of what is needed to increase the productivity of the manual worker. He also noted that making knowledge workers more productive requires changes in basic attitude, whereas making the manual worker more productive only required telling the worker how to do the job. Furthermore, he said that making knowledge workers more productive requires changes in attitude not only on the part of the individual knowledge worker, but on the part of the whole organization.

Given the differences between manual work and knowledge work, can the same industrial engineering (IE) techniques that have been applied so successfully to manual work be directly applied to knowledge work or do they need to be modified to have an impact? In future posts, I plan to examine each of the six productivity factors listed above and identify the IE techniques that can either be directly applied or applied with modifications to knowledge work.