Peter Drucker on Knowledge Work & The Role of Managers

Peter Drucker is brilliant.

In today’s knowledge-based society, most of us use our heads in order to earn a living. Unlike farmers and factory workers who used physical labour. We apply our specialized knowledge to work – whether it is the accountant, the software designer, the trainer, the engineer, the architect. All are knowledge workers.

The challenge within organizations is how to make their individual work-output gel together into a product or a service. What is the essence of a manager’s challenge in an organization?

All executive leaders, any first-rate professional intent on achieving supreme clarity on the subject ought to read and internalize Drucker’s words which I reproduce. The subject in question is – What is the essence of manager’s challenge in an organization, especially when it comes to knowledge-specialists? Drucker refers to these specialists as career professionals.

Here is Peter Drucker at his incisive best.

“Career professionals – and particularly the specialists-need a manager. Their major problem is the relation of their area of knowledge and expertise to the performance and results of the entire organization. Career professionals therefore have a major problem of communication. They cannot be effective unless their output becomes the input of other people. But their output is ideas and information. This requires that the users of their output understand what they are trying to say and to do. But, by the nature of their task, they will be tempted to use their own specialized jargon. Indeed, in many cases, they are fluent only in their own jargon. It is the job of the manager to make the specialists realize that they cannot become effective unless they are understood, and that they cannot be understood unless they try to find out the need, the assumptions, and the limitations of their “customers”, the other people( also often, specialists in their own areas) within the organization. It is the manager who has to translate the objectives of the organization into the language of the specialist, and the output of the specialist into the language of the intended user. It is the manager, in other words, on whom the specialists depend for the integration of their output into the work of others”

This short excerpt illuminates the nature of managing in general & knowledge-workers in particular. This fundamental understanding is so crucial to the success of any training or consulting design around the subjects of collaboration, communication, teamwork, leadership, productivity & workplace effectiveness in knowledge-based organizations. If we can get trainers, managers, and leaders to really “get” this, we are on our way to building a very strong foundation for effective knowledge work.

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