Knowledge Worker Revolution


If I had a magical organizational wand, I would turn old toady CEOs into beautiful princes and princesses who champion the causes of their workers. Unfortunately, there’s not enough magic from Oz to convince most executives that today’s workers are more than mechanical parts to their profit machine. During this discussion, we will explore the concept of knowledge workers in organizations.

Some employees feel they are often undervalued and unappreciated by their managers. For example, my friend, Stan, is a very intelligent person in spite of not attending college. He accepted a new job as warehouse operator. Because of downsizing, he became the only person in that department. Stan created his own cataloging system without a computer. That was impressive.

When Stan was up for a raise, he asked for more money. His supervisor explained that it couldn’t be done. My friend countered that he had optimized their warehouse systems, and the operations depended on his knowledge. His supervisor knew it was true because when Stan wasn’t there, no one could find anything.

Stan got what he wanted. He had become a knowledge commodity. This represents the revolution of knowledge workers on the traditional organizational structure. Therefore, if today’s leaders don’t adequately manage the knowledge workforce, they will be at a competitive disadvantage.

Knowledge workers are a critical commodity. Gareth Morgan, author of Imagination, argues that contemporary use of organizational charts and diagrams are major tools for restructuring. However, this creates a false sense that a new organizational chart can solve all of the organization’s problems. Modern-day bosses feel that “top down” management is best. Clearly, they are mistaken.

Georg Krogh, Kazuo Ichijo, and Ikujiro Nonaka, authors of Enabling Knowledge Creation, maintain that knowledge management (KM) is not one person’s job; everyone in organizations can play a vital role in transferring  information. As a rule, an organization’s knowledge and capacity building depends primarily on its human and social capital. In most contemporary organizations, technology can be a critical tool in supporting the knowledge work.

Yet, knowledge workers create and capture information for the management of knowledge. In fact, KM is performed by individuals who belong to communities of interest where knowledge is shared and accumulated. Therefore, effective management of today’s operations depends on talented and gifted knowledge workers.

How do today’s organizations better engage knowledge workers due an era of sweeping layoffs and outsourcing? 

© 2010 by Daryl D. Green

32 thoughts on “Knowledge Worker Revolution

  1. Adpatation is the key to surviving in today’s market place. Many companies have disolved their employees in order to save money. However in order to ensure success it is vital for companies to keep their intelligent colleagues without ruining the trust in the work force. According to Brennan he says the key to survival is adaptation. He says it is important to ask what the clients want and need and then turn around and have your employees work on new strategies in order to ensure stable business.(1) By doing this your are able to secure your knowledge workers as well as your reputation as a company . After all it is humans who invent systems in order to aid the job market and work force. So why not keep them around and benefit from other and new systems they may bring forth to the table.

    John Brennan

  2. I believe that strong network in the business or community would be one of essential elements to be a strong knowledge worker in the 21st century. According to strategic knowledge management by Dr. Katsoulakos, “only 10-30% knowledge stores in computer and tacit knowledge which people’ heads is the key to an organization’s ability to innovated and respond in flexible and timely manner to dynamic challenges.” Excluded and significant information would be good measurement whether succeed in business or not. A knowledge management shall be based on general information to apply in the business, but completely established by weighted information among selected group. Thus, knowledge management is to build up relationship with clients, customers, or people in the related to the business and create value each transaction and event occurs. In addition, to keep up with new technology, discuss feedback pro and cons, analyze market or customer need, and of course trained skills will be most significant keys in the knowledge management. In consideration of success operation in 21st century, foundation with sharp strategy, healthy organization structure and proactive culture are to be coordinated to be success in the business.
    KBOS Strategic Knowledge Management, by Dr. P Katsoulakcos, 2004

  3. In today organization people need to hassle. If I said hassle I mean that you have to be able to do many tasks in case if the company asks you to do. I know many people have been laid off but if your company needs you they will do everything to keep you. Since all organizations have a management structure that determines relationships between function and position. So if you have many functions, you have more chance to keep your job or at least stay with that company

  4. I suggest firms engage these knowledge workers by empowerment, and implementing leadership development for those workers. If a company truly wants to retain a valuable knowledge worker, there are 2 reasons to show them you care. First, offering the possibility to develop them as leaders shows the workers that you care about their individual growth. The knowledge worker will feel appreciated and develop trust with management. They will be less likely to seek other employment. Second, developing the knowledge worker as a leader will open the door for them to teach future subordinates in what they know. If the new leader successfully passes on that knowledge, the company has ensured that knowledge wouldn’t be lost if the employee were to leave or use leverage in negotiating a pay raise.
    Another idea is to promote success stories. If a worker develops a turn-key idea, post it in a company newsletter or acknowledge them at the next company meeting. This will show them that you care, and show others that hard work pays off.


  5. Retaining knowledge workers is necessary for managers because laying them off means that the organization is throwing away an asset. Moreover employers spend a lot of money and time to recruit workers which necessarily does not guarantee that a knowledgeable worker will be hired. Therefore engaging knowledge workers in an era of sweeping layoffs and outsourcing is far more important than ever before. In order to do so employers should train and make knowledge workers feel they are contributing than your competitor is luring away. Employers should not be the victim and compete now with these employees on their side than later against them after losing them to competitors. Employers should think of questions like what will the competitor offer for an employee this valuable and whether he/she should offer more. Next it is important to acknowledge the employees and making them feel like they are wanted and appreciated. Finally find out what has value to your employees? Is it basic respect (in Asian cultures an important factor in retaining employees deals with ‘loss of face’)? A trip to Hawaii? Or leaving an hour early for a job well done?
    In conclusion understanding what your employees want, appreciating them, giving them respect, and take proactive actions is a good way to start engaging knowledge workers.


  6. In order for organizations to retain and ease the concerns of knowledge workers brought on by the increasing number of layoffs and continued outsourcing, organizations must give those workers a feeling that their opinions matter, they are a member of a team, continually challenge, and above all an asset to the greater organization. The way that companies can achieve this is through management development courses, employee satisfaction surveys, team building exercises, and promotion from within policies. When employees feel like they have a real future with an organization and that their suggestion are being heard, retention of knowledge workers will be high.

    An example of attempting to retain employees and develop their workforce, Wal-Mart has implemented a college assistance program to employees that have worked for Wal-Mart for at least one year. The program is through an online university. Through this, the company hopes to solve its high employee turnover which it admits has been plaguing the company for years.


  7. I agree with Jae parker in the fact that building a good network in todays society of numerous lay offs and outsourcing is a great factor in employees keeping there jobs, as for organizations there are many ways in which they can engage and retain these knowledge workers, the most effective i’ve found comes in a number of shifts that the organization can induce to take place in the mind of these employees:
    From:Personal Acheivement through career.
    To: Personal Identification beyond work.

    From:the workplace is my office.
    To: the workplace is wherever I am.

    From:Technology is a tool.
    To: Technology is a part of me.

    From: Trust is developed in person.
    To:Trust is developed offline and online.

    From :Training.
    To: Growth.
    the focus of these shifts came from changes in the attitudes and behaviours of workers, starting with the generation of baby boomers down to what we know as knowledge workers in todays society.

    How workers can Engage knowledge workers.

  8. I feel it comes back to the old saying “It is not who you know, but what you know.” The good old boy system has ran its course and more and more workers are tired of being looked over for a position just because they are not one of the “gang” so to speak. They begin to realize that knowledge is power and any individuals can increase their power by taking a college course, researching information on the internet and by freelancing. The CEO’s, management, and business owners are realizing that they need and depend on those individuals to positively increase their bottom line. The good old boys system does not meet these needed qualifications.

    As far as the networking system, once again, it is what you know. If you know how to start up a new business, and you have the knowledge and funds to accomplish it, then networking does not benefit the desire to open a new business. However, it does affect the outcome of the business. The more people you know the more you can tell about your new business, and there begins the domino effect. In conclusion, organizations and business need to walk a very fine line of knowledge and outsourcing. On one side of the fence is employees that can take over the production process, yet management need their expertise to continue to operate. On the other side of the fence managers want a higher profit, so they outsource the work to other countries. This fence situation brings us to the ultimate questions for managers, do you trust the employees or do they not trust you?

  9. To better engage knowledge workers during a stressful time among today’s workforce, management must increase the level of trust. With the increase in technology, knowledge workers are valuable to any company or organization; therefore, managers and leaders should be encouraging and build a strong level of trust with the workers. When a level of trust is acquired, the workers gain a sense of loyalty to their company. Worker engagement and employee retention are closely intertwined with loyalty. Loyalty influences how involved workers become in their occupation and lessens the chance of employee turnover (Frank, Finnegan, & Taylor, 2004). For knowledge workers to be loyal, they must understand that their work is critical to the company or organization’s operations. Upper management can engage a worker through expressing their trust in his or her knowledge and ability to perform. It is important that managers and leaders provide knowledge workers with encouragement and trust to increase their loyalty, involvement and performance in the workplace.

    Frank, F.D., Finnegan, R.P., & Taylor, C.R. (2004). The race for talent: Retaining and engaging workers in the 21st century. Human Resource Planning, 27(3), 12-25.

    • I agree with Rachel and would like to add that trust can be built in the organization by changing the organizational culture. I maintain that using measurable objectives to track agency goals and report to the agency workforce could be a way to prove that the knowledge worker is invaluable. Promoting knowledge management “in the pragmatic terms of critical success” (Ash, 2010), is what Ash considers key to alleviating any notion that knowledge is enigmatic. The organization must ask itself, what outcomes do I want to improve by advocating for, rewarding and capturing knowledge? Proving to workers that the executives value knowledge in a tangible way improves organizational culture and attitudes, builds morale and creates a valuable feedback loop.

      Ash, J. (2010). Promote knowledge management in the pragmatic terms of critical success factors. Retrieved from

  10. To better engage knowledge workers companies and firms must participate in an extensive mentoring program. According to Katherine C. Adams, “competitive advantage is the result of smarter employees. Mentoring programs provide a method of transferring expertise from one employee to another, spurring innovation” (1). This is extremely relevant in the current state of the economy where layoffs are rampant. By creating a program where mentoring is standard it keeps all the information learned from other knowledge workers, current knowledge workers, or laid off knowledge workers information within the company where the firm can continue to strive for their competitive advantage.


  11. Examples of knowledge workers abound in today’s workplace. For example, in the IT department I manage we have a talented staff of technology professionals whose expertise and skills are not so much about “doing” but rather knowing “the right thing to do”. They are paid and valued for their knowledge. These employees are key to the business, and have leveraged themselves to the point that the business knows how vital they are to maintaining a functioning campus. As a result, even through recent layoffs at Maryville College, IT workers have remained largely unscathed, and in fact have received additional training dollars and time off to seek professional development.
    There is a downside to this for the business however that I think has to be mentioned. In IT we call it “beer truck theory.” The gist of this amateurish theory is thus: Sally is a knowledge worker whose expertise and skill set is second to none. She has valuable knowledge that would take several months of training a new person if we were without her suddenly. What happens if Sally goes out to lunch today and gets run over by a beer truck? The moral is of course that while having knowledge workers is great, making sure to cross train other employees to cover your bases in the case of worker loss(more routinely via two-weeks notices than Budweiser) is a vital part of successful business. Otherwise, an organization can find themselves with a single point of failure.

  12. For companies the ability to take advantage of a financial and economic downturn and to use it to their advantage depends on a whole number of factors – some of them within their control, but others over which they have no control at all. What makes it possible for some companies to come out of a recession relatively unscathed, even healthier and happier than they were before while for other companies it marks the beginning of their downward spiral to oblivion? According to Erin Agin and Tracey Gibson, “Leadership development has evolved with the times. Today, engaging a workforce and grooming young employees for future leadership positions requires a focus on innovation, creativity, and open communication. Leaders of organizations who desire innovation in their business cultures should ask for input in decision making and guide their staff members through creative thinking processes to ensure followers are on the right track. An imperative aspect of innovation is companywide communication that generates trust and encourages information exchange. Management can propel the organization in new and innovative ways and inspire a workforce to meet the company’s vision of innovation by validating innovative behavior each day in ways that appeal to employees. ”

    Agin, E., & Gibson, T.. (2010, July). DEVELOPING AN INNOVATIVE CULTURE. T + D, 64(7), 52-55,8. Retrieved November 16, 2010, from ABI/INFORM Global. (Document ID: 2078540571).

  13. Today, entire manufacturing facilities, instead of just data or clerical work, are being relocated in an effort to optimize geographic, financial, and cultural traits other locations offer, completely rearranging how operations transmit, receive, process, and analyze knowledge information that typically was housed under one roof. The layoffs, however have consumed mostly the lower skilled labor, and transported them elsewhere without actually eliminating the job. The highly skilled knowledge worker however is still utilized but now can be done so at great distances and contracted only when needed.(Reich 2005) Organizations effectively don’t have a choice but to engage knowledge workers to maintain the transference of knowledge with the outsourced facilities. The increase in the need to seek outside assistance with highly technical, customized, and developmental needs will naturally demand a more professional and highly skilled workforce.
    Murray and Westjohn indicate that performance outcome of knowledge intensive business services, KIBS, is “..contingent on the level of differential integr among firms” (Murray 2009). Firms must be able to integrate knowledge with the needs of customers and internal departments. This can be done by working closely with outsourced personnel, sharing information and giving these knowledge workers the avenues necessary to meet shared objectives. (Murray 2009)
    To sum, it requires sharing and integrating to allow knowledge to flow flawlessly through the proper people.

    Murray, J., Kotabe, M., & Westjohn, S. (2009). Global Sourcing Strategy and Performance of Knowledge-Intensive Business Services: A Two-Stage Strategic Fit Model. Journal of International Marketing, 17(4), 90-105. doi:10.1509/jimk.17.4.90.
    Reich, R. (2005, April). Plenty of Knowledge Work to Go Around. Harvard Business Review, p. 17. Retrieved from Business Source Premier database.

  14. Knowledge workers are in many cases the driving force behind a company’s performance and productivity. However, this will only happen if they are managed accordingly. It is said by Thomas Davenport that Knowledge workers could perform much better if we only knew how to manage them. He suggests that they not be treated the same way and they are measured tactfully. For organizations to better engage Knowledge workers, they are going to have to focus on particular jobs and sometimes even particular individuals. There are a whole range of possibilities for differentiating knowledge workers so they all shouldn’t be treated the same.


    Knowledge workers need better management

  15. “Knowledge workers require knowledge managers, not bosses.” So says Oliver Serrat, head of the Knowledge Management Center for Asian Development Bank. Basically, Serrat is saying that when employees are valued as knowledge workers, they do not need their leadership treating them like they are boss vs. subordinate, taking no value in being a leader, just dictating through their position of power. And I whole-heartedly agree with him. Knowledge managers should possess the ability to be a team player, while at the same time being a leader and technological reference. Knowledge workers know that they are a value-added commodity to their respective company; therefore, it is up to management to effectively lead by creating relationships with their employees, building personal skills and congratulatory and uplifting environments for their workers to thrive in.

    Serrat, Oliver. Managing Knowledge Workers. Knowledge Solutions. Retrieved from

  16. In an era of outsourcing and layoffs, knowledge workers have become more valuable than ever. Technology has enabled companies to maximize the talents and abilities of each employee, thus creating the need for versatile and well-trained individuals. With fewer personnel performing an increasing number of tasks, managers are now better enabled communicate with frontline employees when making crucial decisions. Effective knowledge workers should be rewarded with increased decision making authority and empowerment. Jason Rothbart, in an article cited below, recommends increased employee collaboration and communication in order to reduce the amount of intellectual capital lost during layoffs. Advances in technology, such as video conferencing, allow the exchange of knowledge to be achieved both easily and inexpensively. Managers need to establish an infrastructure or “knowledge base” for highly specialized and experienced employees to share their gained knowledge. This is especially important as the notion of a lifelong career with one company is becoming an increasingly foreign concept.

    Rothbart, J. (2009, January 31). Layoffs send people and knowledge packing. ReadWrite Enterprize. Retrieved November 20, 2010, from

  17. Knowledge workers are the growing part of the US workforce and their skills are hard to replace. Today’s organizations can better engage their knowledge workers by learning how to manage them through measuring their performance tactfully and not treating them all the same but rather appreciating and acknowledging what they are bringing to the company. Like Dr. Green’s friend Stan, many employees feel unappreciated and undervalued by the managers. Thomas Davenport, a professor of IT and management at Babson College says “Knowledge workers are going to be the primary force determining which economies are successful and which aren’t. They are the key source of growth in most organizations. New products and services, new approaches to marketing, new business models—all these come from knowledge workers.” Talent drives business performance and better management would retain this knowledge worker.

    Alter, Allan. (2005). Knowledge workers need better management

  18. The deteriorating economy has resulted in companies downsizing; creating a toxic environment for their remaining staff with additional stress and an increased work load. Employers must effectively engage the remaining work force as history indicates that following layoffs many top performers find themselves looking for viable employment options due to fear of additional job cuts. The potential departures of high performers results in lower production but also creates the perception to remaining employees that the company’s top performers fear for the company’s long term viability.

    A recent article by IBM Global Business Services area discuss steps leaders need to take to engage remaining employees during times of economic crisis. Leaders need to:
    • Be visible – take time to keep employees aware of developments that affect them.
    • Be engaging – find ways to make the employees part of the change process.
    • Be values-driven – treat all employees in a respective manner (especially those who have been downsized).

    Burek, E., Deviney, N., Hewitt, A., Horbeek, J., Lesser, E., Payton, H., Peat, W., Ringo, T., Rogers, M., Smith, S., & Van Ballaert, S. (2008) The new economic environment a strategic workforce perspective. IBM Global Business Services. Retrieved from

  19. Management in today’s environment often treats their workers just like their computers or phones. They have become just another commodity. But what are often ignored are the added skills that can be brought to the firm. These workers should be given the freedom to use their skills to provide better or added service. Too often, the employees are over-managed. They feel trapped because their bosses do not want them to overachieve. The manager needs to give the goal and parameters of the task. Then they should step aside and let the knowledgeable worker do the job. To management’s surprise, the employee may actually improve the process or find simpler solutions to issues. Employees can only suffer from over-management.

  20. Companies need to gain trust of their employees. When an employee feels that there is equal trust in the work place then their productivity and attitude will increase. The definition of trust is assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something. As a manager this should reflect in his/her character, this is important in building a successful team.

    I like the “emotional bank account” coined by Stephen Covey in his book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.” What makes building an emotional bank account with your employees so great is because it’s a concept we understand. We build financial bank accounts by adding money into our account. Covey states, “….make deposits through courtesy, kindness, honesty, and keeping my commitments to your employees, build up a reserve. An employee’s trust toward a manager becomes higher.

    (2008) How to Build Trust with your Employees: Articlesbase. Retrieved from

  21. Layoffs send people and knowledge out the door. A recent Gartner report urges enterprises to conduct an intellectual capital audit and to establish clear management accountability for maintaining a knowledge and skills database. When planning layoffs, executives should consciously decide which employees hold critical knowledge that is not duplicated in the enterprise and which maintain transient knowledge that is perishable by nature. While knowledge will leave an enterprise during any layoff, management should make an executive decision as to which knowledge they are selecting to leave. In order to engage knowledge workers, management should encourage creativity and provide opportunities. I believe management should push and motivate their knowledge workers to grow – such as serving on a committee or a board.

    Retrieved from…-a071554968.

  22. In todays environment of layoffs and outsourcing because of the downturn in the economy, the best way to engage employees is through open communication and honesty. Employees have access to more technology and news sources today than ever before and it is best to hear the news of a layoff from an employer than from one of these sources. News travels not only from outside of the company, but also within among rumors and gossip which leads to lost productivity and lower engagement.

    The worst thing for an employee is to find out that they are losing their job. Employers need to be receptive to this and not spring it on employees and give them fair notice so they can find another job or prepare for the economic turbulance to come.–Y-Motivating-and-Engaging-Young-Employees.html

  23. In today’s environment of layoffs and outsourcing because of the downturn in the economy, the best way to engage employees is through open communication and honesty. Employees have access to more technology and news sources today than ever before and it is best to hear the news of a layoff from an employer than from one of these sources. News travels not only from outside of the company, but also within among rumors and gossip which leads to lost productivity and lower engagement.

    The worst thing for an employee is to find out that they are losing their job. Employers need to be receptive to this and not spring it on employees and give them fair notice so they can find another job or prepare for the economic turbulence to come.–Y-Motivating-and-Engaging-Young-Employees.html

  24. Knowledge workers produce and distribute ideas and information rather than goods or services. They are individuals with different aspirations from the hierarchy-conscious personnel of the past; they are also mobile and they do leave. Hiring talented people is difficult. Keeping them is more difficult still. So, to plug the drain of intellectual capital in a competitive knowledge economy, knowledge workers should be treated as an asset rather than as a cost. Preferably, they should be managed as though they were partners (or at least volunteers). It is important knowledge workers can see what impact they are having on the company in order to give a sense of involvement and accomplishment. “This can be accomplished by recognize outstanding talent wherever it is found, Establish clear task objectives and performance standards in consultation with each knowledge worker, Extend incentives, rewards, and reinforcements that meet the motivational patterns of
    each knowledge worker.”(1)

    (1) Serrat, O. (2008). Managing Knowledge Workers. Knowledge Solutions.

  25. Claire Linnan wrote “Top managers create opportunities to inspire, compliment, encourage, award and engage their internal clients, in many appropriate ways. It results in low turnover, high performance, employee loyalty and job satisfaction.”

    “Employers spend many hours and extraordinary amounts of money to attract and recruit the right candidates. How do you retain that talent once they are on board? You no sooner get them trained and feel they are really contributing than your competitor is luring them away. Don’t be the victim: Be proactive. Compete now or compete later.”

    Claire Linnan notes that organizations need to learn what successful competitors are doing for their employees. Let employees know they are valued and appreciated.
    I will add that companies should do small things for the employees. Spread respect.

    The Business Review
    Managers should engage employees to keep best workers
    Claire Linnan
    October 8, 2010

  26. One of the most difficult questions a firm must consider is how to identify key talent within their ranks and then how the firm could retain them. A well designed incentive package is a way to both engage workers and retain talent. A firm must consider its incentive package if it wants to keep its greatest talent. Traditionally the first step in designing an incentive package began with a raise in wages. However in today’s economic environment it is pivotal that a firm think outside of the box for opportunities to retain talent. Incentive packages can include valuable non-financial motivators ranging from leadership attention to chances to lead future projects (Getting Beyond Money, 2010). These motivators are potentially as inviting to workers as financial motivators. The firm that has a well designed incentive structure creates greater buy in from its workers. It could lead the firms workers to feel that their company values them and their growth.

    Getting Beyond Money. April 7, 2010. Retrieved November 26, 2010 from Forbes:

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