For many of us, the employees we hire are often referred to as “knowledge workers.” The most common definition of that term I’ve come across is, “Knowledge workers are workers whose main capital is knowledge.” In other words, we hire knowledge workers and pay them to think. We hope that they are smarter than we are in whatever their expertise is supposed to be.
“Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person, they are almost indistinguishable.” — David W. Augsburger, Caring Enough to Hear and Be Heard
My observation is, though, that we hire these workers, and instead of listening to them, we tend to tell them what to do. And, then we wonder why they get discouraged and leave.
According to studies reviewed by Daniel Pink and reported in his 2009 book Drive, we know that what motivates knowledge workers is having Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose. What they mean by autonomy is that we have clearly defined values, well-defined projects and we hand those projects over to them and let them run with them. No micromanaging!
Many employees want to grow and increase their value to the organization. They want to continue to master their field of expertise. If the knowledge worker believes that they are not being challenged to learn more and gain more skill, they will consider their situation to be career limiting. They will leave to find more challenging work.
Continuous life-long learning is highly valued by many knowledge workers. As employers, we should not only accept the challenge of providing an environment conducive to that learning, we should actively promote staying up to date on our rapidly changing world.
I believe all workers want to have a vision that is compelling and “bigger than themselves.” It’s not easy to develop such a vision. It is much easier to pay attention to the SMART goals and other KPIs. However, if those goals and KPIs are not clearly in service of a compelling vision (making more profit is NOT a compelling vision for anyone except, perhaps, the owner/shareholder), then we wind up with a disengaged workforce. Productivity and effectiveness are greatly diminished without a compelling vision.
An Envelope of Trust
All this adds up to the business leader building a culture of trust within the organization. If I’m not willing to give you a project and let you work on it without micromanagement, then the conclusion is you do not believe I have the technical competence or that I have the organization’s best interest at heart. If the concern is a lack of technical competency, then the onus is on leadership to bring the employees up to speed. If the concern is that the employee doesn’t have the company’s best interest at heart, then leadership has either hired the wrong employee, has proven that they do not have the employee’s best interest at heart, or is not living the values espoused by the company. Either way, it is incumbent on leadership to develop and maintain an “Envelope of Trust.”