Drucker on Knowledge Workers

In his book, The Essential Drucker: The Best of Sixty Years of Peter Drucker’s Essential Writings on Management, Peter Drucker analyzed the ways that management practices and principles affect the performance of organizations, individuals, and society. The book covers the basic principles of management and gives professionals the tools to perform the tasks that the environment of tomorrow will require of them.

These are my takeaways from reading the book.

Drucker asserted that large, knowledge-based organizations are the central reality of today. Many of us working for those organizations are knowledge workers.

In the industrial days, physical laborers relied on the brawn of his muscles or the skill of his hands. The knowledge workers, on the other hands, put to work what he has between his ears (or his brain).

The knowledge worker does not produce a physical product or something that is useful by itself. She produces knowledge, ideas, and information. Consequently, another person of knowledge, must take them as his input and convert them into some meaningful output.

This knowledge conversion process also implies that the greatest knowledge not applied to action and behavior is just meaningless data. Therefore, the knowledge worker must do something that a manual worker need not do previously. A knowledge worker must provide effectiveness, which is “get the right things done.”

One challenge of the knowledge work is that the old system of imposing measurements and tests that we have developed for manual work is not applicable to knowledge work. Neither quantity nor its costs define knowledge work. Instead, knowledge work is defined by its results.

Another challenge is that the knowledge workers cannot be supervised closely or in detail. Therefore, knowledge workers must motivate and direct themselves, and they must do so toward performance and contribution. Drucker described the knowledge worker in a modern organization as an “executive.”

As an executive, the knowledge worker is responsible for a contribution that can materially affect the capacity of the organization to perform and to obtain results. The knowledge workers make decisions, many of them on a regular basis. She also must take responsibility for her contribution, instead of just carrying out orders. Throughout every one of our knowledge organizations, we have people who manage no one and yet are executives.

In summary, when we do knowledge work, we produce knowledge, ideas, and information that support organizational decision-making processes which lead to the outcomes or results the organization seeks.