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Critical Mistakes Most Leaders Make When Leading Knowledge Workers.
By Bea Fields
Friday, 11th November 2011
 

Unless you have been living under a rock, you probably know that we are no longer living in the Industrial Age.

You remember that era…a time where machines and things were the drivers of our economy and people were there to simply “run and churn” those machines.  Machines, things and people were replaceable.  It did not take a brain surgeon to run machines.  It just took an able body who acted like a robot to turn on a machine, run the machine or work an assembly line.

Well, here we are today…the year 2011, and while some companies have truly “gotten” that we are now in the era of the knowledge worker, many modern day companies are still trying to lead based on the rules of the Industrial Revolution.

Those rules included:

  • Start at the bottom, working on the assembly line or in the mail room and hope you work your way up to the top (a hierarchical form of leadership was the norm).
  • Pay your dues for 20 years and then ask for a promotion.  You may get it or you may not.
  • Don’t rock the boat!  We have about five people who are making decisions, and you will do as we say, and you ARE replaceable.
  • No feedback meant all was okay, and then suddenly, a worker was called in and handed a pink slip for “not supporting the way we do things…we are a hierarchy, and you are trying to fight that!”
  • People were treated like commodities…disposable commodities, so trust was not par for the course.
  • Command and control styles were encouraged.
  • Just be quiet about what you have seen and know, and do your job, and you will be just fine.
  • Passion, purpose and voice were “too touchy/feely” so they were never discussed.
  • The worth of a person was measured by the number of hours they put in and how quickly and effectively  they could run a machine or assemble a product
  • The more hours your worked, the more loyal you were, the more valuable you were to the company.
I could go on and on about the rules of the Industrial Age.  My point to you is that the above set of rules is  outdated and not in sync with today’s knowledge worker.  Information, creativity and brain power are now our most valuable assets, yet companies are not leading based on this idea. 

The following will spell out the 7 most common mistakes I see leaders make with today’s knowledge worker and how you can not only avoid them but shift your strategies so that you get the most out of your knowledge workers.

1. Discouraging knowledge workers to find and then use their own voice.

The new employee wants to know that they can be truly authentic in your organization and be able to bring their own unique voice to your company.  Giving your knowledge workers permission to speak up and to use their own voice will inspire them to actually contribute new ideas and strategies to help your company thrive.

2. Not offering current, up to date training.

Today’s knowledge worker was raised on a diet of knowledge, and they actually crave more knowledge.  Because of the internet, the knowledge worker knows that at any hour of the day, they can go online and find more new information.  Offering training in a second language, leadership or managerial skills or marketing and sales skills and delivering this training using digital media and shadowing will hold the attention of the knowledge worker and will actually help the knowledge worker build out their skill set for a stronger career down the road.

3. Training the knowledge worker using old classroom-style training methodologies.

The Industrial Revolution brought the world a lecture/chalkboard/classroom format, and it worked.  But times have changed.  We now have the internet, social media sites, cell phones with texting and internet capability and digital mechanisms to enhance learning.  It is critical to understand that the knowledge worker of today often comes to the workforce with an environment induced form of ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder).  This is not to suggest that the new knowledge worker has ADD, but the majority of young men and women between the ages of 22-32 will admit that because of their use of social media, cell phones and instant messaging (and using them all at the same time), their brains have been trained to focus for a short period of time and then flip to a new thought or activity and that this occurs hundreds of times each day.  By using new media, shadowing and experiential training, you will be able to grab and hold the attention of the knowledge worker much better and for longer periods of time than in using the classroom/lecture/power point method of training.

4. Excluding the knowledge worker from team decisions.

This is one area that is a constant concern with the knowledge worker.  They feel that their opinions, ideas and contributions are not valued, so they are deliberately excluded from strategic meetings which could be enhanced by their contributions.  The new knowledge worker wants to know that they are helping the companies they serve be better, “make a difference”, be more profitable or help to conjure up the next big idea that will put your company on the map.  At the end of the day, the new knowledge worker needs to be invited to sit at the table senior leaders, and it is critical that you take their ideas, suggestions and contributions seriously.  These men and women will be your future leaders, and it is imperative that you show them that their minds and ideas do count and you want them in on your most critical discussions.

5. Treating the knowledge worker like a disposable commodity.

If you are a leader, and you are seeing your knowledge worker as a commodity to use for a short period of time and then send them out the door, you are not only doing a disservice to your employees, you are building a brand that says you value things more than people.  This attitude simply won’t fly in today’s world.  Consumers are watching companies more and more to see if they can spot that you have a high level of emotional intelligence, and your knowledge workers will be the first to know if you are “using” them just to drain their brains and then send them packing.  The knowledge worker wants to be treated as a valued member of your team…a human being and not a machine or a thing.

6. Trying to inspire the knowledge worker by offering more money.

This is probably one of the biggest mistakes you can make as a leader or manager of the knowledge worker.  Young hires between the ages of 22-32 truly have a different set of values than those of their parents.   While they all agree that they do need enough money to be able to live, they truly value time over money, friends over big titles and promotions and opportunities for ongoing learning over getting paid overtime.  When trying to inspire the knowledge worker, offering them two hours off on Friday to spend time with friends, to contribute back to the community or to take an extra course at a nearby location will be much more valuable than offering them a few extra bucks to work harder and longer hours.  This demographic of workers have watched their parents work their fingers to the bone just to keep up with the Joneses, and then watched as their parents were downsized, laid off or fired.   To work longer hours just to please the boss and make overtime pay is not the carrot you will want to dangle under the nose of the knowledge worker, but time off or extra learning will have the knowledge worker’s mouth watering.

7. Discouraging dreams and passions.

In my experiences, I have been quite saddened to see leaders throw water on a burning passion of the new knowledge worker.  The new worker of today will come to your organization with big ideas, dreams and passions, and these should be encouraged, cultivated and woven into the decision making for your company.  If the knowledge worker feels that her dreams are being supported, she will stick around your company much longer than if she is told to “be realistic” and just put that dream on hold.

At the end of the day, a leadership process where senior leaders are communicating the worth, potential and possibilities to their new knowledge workers, the future for your company can be bright and limitless.

Bea Fields is the President of Bea Fields Companies, Inc. and the Founder of Five Star Leader Coaching and Training, a leadership consulting firm currently serving over 800 clients world-wide.  Along with Scott Wilder, Jim Bunch and Rob Newbold, she is the co-author of Millennial Leaders: Success Stories From Today’s Most Brilliant Generation Y Leaders. The new book explores and analyzes Generation Y – the young adults currently between the ages of 18 and 30 – from a socio-economic standpoint.

The book highlights 25 members of this generation who have already made a name for themselves, and provides crucial insights for business and political leaders seeking to tap into this demographic. Along with Corey Blake and Eva Silva Travers, she is also the author of Edge: A Leadership Story, which was named a finalist in the 2008 National Best Book Awards in the category of Business/Motivation.

www.beafields.com

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