Peter Drucker on Knowledge Worker Productivity
"The most important, and indeed the truly unique, contribution of management in the 20th Century was the fifty-fold increase in the productivity of the MANUAL WORKER in manufacturing. The most important contribution management needs to make in the 21st Century is similarly to increase the productivity of KNOWLEDGE WORK and the KNOWLEDGE WORKER."Drucker (1999, p135)
The idea of 'knowledge worker' was first described by Peter Drucker in his 1959 book 'The Landmarks of Tomorrow'. Since then, many of his books have run commentaries on the development of knowledge work and the knowledge worker. In recent years this has tended to include the theme of knowledge worker productivity. Drucker was amongst the first to predict the shift of business and the economy from success because of their ability to make products, to success from the ability to generate and use knowledge. He has often described the rise in the productivity of manual work as one of the key events of the 20th Century. He also points out that the productivity of knowledge workers and service workers has remained steady, and in some cases declined. He therefore suggests that knowledge worker productivity is the most important challenge for management in the 21st Century as the quote at the head of this page shows. Drucker (1999, p142) describes six major factors determining knowledge worker productivity.
1. "Knowledge worker productivity demands that we ask the question: "What is the task?"
2. It demands that we impose the responsibility for their productivity on the individual knowledge workers themselves. Knowledge workers have to manage themselves. They have to have autonomy.
3. Continuing innovation has to be part of the work, the task and the responsibility of knowledge workers.
4. Knowledge work requires continuous learning on the part of the knowledge worker, but equally continuous teaching on the part of the knowledge worker.
5. Productivity of the knowledge worker is not - at least not primarily - a matter of the quantity of output. Quality is at least as important.
6. Finally, knowledge worker productivity requires that the knowledge worker is both seen and treated as an 'asset' rather than a 'cost'. It requires that knowledge workers want to work for the organization in preference to all other opportunities."
He also adds that to be successful, the knowledge work must be focused as part of a system, on the needs of the customer and business strategy.
Drucker points out that many knowledge workers have many activities beyond their core task which take up their time and remove their concentration, thereby impacting productivity. He strongly advocates concentration of effort, with other tasks minimised or delegated (1992 p85).
Drucker's final contribution in the field of knowledge worker productivity is his insistence that knowledge workers need to learn to manage themselves. This builds on points two, three and four of his six factors. He quite simply points out that since the knowledge worker owns the assets (the knowledge) then they need to keep it up to date and use it to deliver the greatest contribution. He points out that their careers will outlast most businesses, and so they cannot and should not rely on their employers for this development.
The material on this website covers all of the points raised by Drucker on knowledge worker productivity, and much more besides.
Other good Drucker quotes:
The most valuable assets of a 20th-century company were its production equipment. The most valuable asset of a 21st-century institution, whether business or non-business, will be its knowledge workers and their productivity." (Drucker 1999, P135)
Knowledge worker productivity is the biggest of the 21st century management challenges. In the developed countries it is their first survival requirement. In no other way can the developed countries hope to maintain themselves, let alone to maintain their leadership and their standards of living." (Drucker 1999, p157)
"making knowledge workers productive requires changes in attitude, not only on the part of the individual knowledge worker, but on the part of the whole organization." (Drucker, 1999, p156)
"All organizations say routinely 'People are our greatest asset'. Yet few practise what they preach, let alone truly believe it." (Drucker 1995 p77)
"We know now that the source of wealth is something specifically human: knowledge. If we apply knowledge to tasks we already know how to do, we call it 'productivity'. If we apply knowledge to tasks that are new and different we call it 'innovation'. Only knowledge allows us to achieve these two goals." (Drucker 1992 p23)
"In knowledge and service work they [capital and technology] are tools of production. Whether they help productivity or harm it depends on what people do with the, on the purpose to which they are being put, for instance, or on the skill of the user." (Drucker 1992 p81)
Drucker P.F. (1999) Management Challenges for the 21st Century, Butterworth-Heinemann, Oxford
Druker P.F. (1995) Managing in a Time of Great Change, Butterworth-Heinemann,
Oxford Druker P.F. (1992) Managing for the Future, Butterworth-Heinemann, Oxford
Dr Ian Gregory, 2004