Rewarding Knowledge Workers

Before you get on to the main purpose of this blogpost, spend a few seconds on the following video, which most of you would be familiar with.
I am sure many of you would have watched this video on TV and online platforms. This ad has it all, a great humor quotient which would ensure high recall and conveys the product positioning in a comprehensive manner.

(For readers who don’t understand Hindi language, here is the message conveyed in the ad – After the sales guy makes pitch about luxury yatch, the customer asks him “What mileage does this yatch give?”, which is an intended sarcasm built in the ad to highlight the fact that Indian automobile customers have become attuned to purchase mileage efficient cars since past, thanks to successful track record of Maruti Suzuki’s fuel efficient cars in India and hence customers look for utilitarian benefits even in a hedonistic product)
The ad imparts great learning that one cannot measure every product with the standard metrics. One needs to tweak the metrics that match the context, in order to provide better justice.
A couple of personal experiences have made me realize that performance of new age knowledge workers are yet evaluated based on traditional metric like ‘no. of hours spent’. I have often hear from my friends that they need to prepare daily activity sheet and enlist all activities they were involved for the 8.5 hours they spent at the office premises. I wonder, if such monitoring would help the cause. I feel following factors definitely do not help this practice of evaluating knowledge workers based on number of hours they put in for a project-
1) Time wastage: I wish bosses, think for a while to realize how much time would the executive spend in recollecting his/her activities and preparing the excel sheet (the lifeline of modern corporates). Those few tense moments to show what they did, could be used productively for a better purpose.
2) Demotivating: I hope bosses realize that its so demotivating for knowledge workers to be asked to report their activities. It is as if questioning their commitment, which clearly signals the organization’s lack of trust in their knowledge workers.
3) Labourer treatment: Let’s accept the fact that knowledge workers are well-educated and are mature enough to understand their responsibilities (I don’t deny the exceptions). The performance of a knowledge worker should be evaluated by the qualitative output and overall contribution to the project or the progress of the organization. Evaluating their hour-wise activities is as if counting number of bricks laid by the mason or the square feet of wall whitewashed by the whitewasher during the day.
4) Thinking is not time bound: Ask a knowledge worker if his brain works for a project only during the 9 – 5.30 period. I am sure there would be very few of them. The passion, interest level of a project forces knowledge worker to continuously think and find solutions during any part of the day. Can a boss compensate all those hours that a knowledge worker thinks about the project? If I am not wrong a knowledge worker spends 80-90% of his/her time in thinking while the rest in executing his thoughts. I just wonder, how can a knowledge worker fill up his activity sheet and account for couple of hours he spent thinking, conceptualizing the execution.
5) Depreciating trust: A knowledge worker would loose trust with the organization and wouldn’t be self-motivated enough. The knowledge worker too would start thinking in terms of hours put rather than the quality of task to be completed. The commitment would decrease substantially, and he/she would start staring at the clock for most part of the day.
6) Accrued knowledge: Bosses need to understand and respect the fact that knowledge workers have substantial amount of accrued knowledge which they put into practice for a specific project. He/she is not going to start afresh for a project but good amount of past experience would contribute. If the project task is paid on hourly basis, how would they consider the contribution from accrued knowledge?
I recently finished reading the book “Employees First, Customers Second” by Vineet Nayar (Follow him on Twitter at @vineetnayar or @vineetsblog). I quote a verbatim from his book – “Entire knowledge economy is built on the trust that employees and their employers have in each other; there really is nothing else. It is only this relationship- the one between employees and the organization – that keeps a company going” (pg. no. 169).
Now, some bosses might argue that their clients pay them on these metrics and hence they don’t have an alternate option. Well, my answer to those lame excuses is that, you should know how to change the course of wind and always get swept by its power.
My only message to “bosses” through this blogpost is to avoid seeing your knowledge workers as labourers and do not fix a price tag on their hourly contribution, but try to appreciate their dedication, commitment, passion for the particular project – the desired output would follow!
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2 Replies to “Rewarding Knowledge Workers”

  1. In general, I agree with your comments. However, as a business owner, I know it is also important for us to understand how each team member is spending time, so that we know what it costs us to produce products, services, and yes, even knowledge.

    I like to think of "thinking time" as part of "new product creation" — and I do not expect employees to do something tangible with all of their work hours if they are part of a team that is charged to produce intellectual property.

    Enjoyed your post!

  2. Hello Barbara,
    Glad to know, you liked my post. Yes, I agree with your thoughts. I just meant that an employee's hourly productive shouldn't be tracked, however the overall productive definitely should count.

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