Managing Knowledge Workers

Olivier Serrat, former head of the Knowledge Management Center at the Asian Development Bank, puts a profound question to managers of knowledge workers: “Why should a knowledge worker want to be managed by you?” Serrat’s point is that knowledge workers, who make up a growing proportion of the workforce, seek coaching and mentoring from their bosses rather than traditional top-down supervision. For these workers, the role of management becomes one of removing barriers to performance. To motivate high performance, managers are advised to use influence rather than the power of their position.

Serrat also highlights the mobility of these workers and their increasingly contingent nature. As these workers command a portfolio of skills, they are less dependent on any one organization for their livelihood. To maintain them in the organization’s workforce, therefore, Serrat advises that “they should be managed as though they were partners (or at least volunteers).”