How to become a productive knowledge worker

It may come as a surprise to some people (though not all), but there is currently a high demand to learn the Thai language among people in Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia.

The trend was noted in Matichon by Sompong Jitradab of Chulalongkorn University’s education faculty in a research study on preparing human resources for the planned initiation of the Asean Economic Community (AEC) in 2015.

The implication of demand for Thai-language skills among our neighbours is there will be higher competition in the labour market when the AEC is formed. A threat to Thai manual labourers will be inevitable when foreign workers are prepared to earn less _ and perhaps work harder.

On the other hand, the AEC will open a potential flood of knowledge workers from other neighbouring countries, particularly those who have the advantage of English literacy. And as we have seen in recent reports, the terrible state of English skills in Thailand does not bode well for this country’s ability to thrive under the AEC.

What should Thai workers do?

1. Manual labourers have to upgrade their skills in order to become knowledge workers.

2. Ordinary knowledge workers should transform themselves into productive knowledge workers.

This is in line with the book Management Challenges for the 21st Century by Peter Drucker: “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.”

What do productive knowledge workers look like?

Mr Drucker defined six major factors determining knowledge-worker productivity:

– Knowledge worker productivity demands we ask the question: “What is the task?”

– It demands we impose the responsibility for their productivity on the individual knowledge workers themselves. Knowledge workers must manage themselves. They have to have autonomy.

– Continuing innovation has to be part of the work, the task and the responsibility of knowledge workers.

– Knowledge work requires continuous learning on the part of the knowledge worker but equally continuous teaching on the part of the knowledge worker.

– Productivity of the knowledge worker is not _ at least not primarily _ a matter of the quantity of output. Quality is at least as important.

– Finally, knowledge worker productivity requires he be seen and treated as an “asset” rather than a “cost”. It requires that knowledge workers want to work for the organisation in preference to all other opportunities.

From these factors, I propose that to be productive, knowledge workers must:

– exercise sound business judgement;

– demonstrate accountability and innovation;

– pursue self-learning;

– accept coaching;

– produce high-quality work; and

– see the value and meaning of work.

Self-learning is a subject that is rarely discussed and deserves more attention. Let’s re-examine it in three aspects:

1. What is the principle of self-learning?

2. How do you plan it?

3. How do you execute the plan?

What is the principle of self-learning? Knowledge workers must understand that the responsibility of self-learning belongs to them, not to the organisation.

Why? Because knowledge workers know best what to do. What does one need to learn in order to deliver better-quality work? Most of knowledge workers’ input is data or information. They process the input by thinking. Then they deliver the output as meaningful information, insight or plans. They do a lot of thinking work. The boss is not able to see the “work in progress” much.

Case in point: a marketing director at a service firm must produce a new marketing campaign every year. This year he’s aware of the social network trend. The target market is keen on using it. Unfortunately, he has not done social network marketing before. Thus, he’s aware of the need to learn more about Facebook marketing. He’s the one to identify the learning need on the subject, not a chief executive or human resources director.

How do you plan it? From the case in point, once the marketing director has realised the accountability for self-learning belongs to him, he will need to take initiative for it.

A self-learning plan consists of several options. One needs to understand the 70/20/10 model. It is a learning and development model based on research by Michael Lombardo and Robert Eichinger at the Center for Creative Leadership. The model describes how learning occurs:

– 70% from on-the-job experiences, tasks and problem solving;

– 20% from feedback by working around a mentor or coach;

– 10% from courses and reading.

The marketing director’s development plan probably looks like this: read, attend seminars, hire a coach and apply what you learned.

How do you execute the plan? Once the plan is developed, then the execution. The marketing director asks friends he knows from the Marketing Association of Thailand about books and seminars. He reads and attends the seminars. He asks his daughter to coach him on Facebook. Then he applies what he learned to a pilot project with a small segment of existing customers.

If you’re a knowledge worker, don’t wait to be trained; take a learning journey by yourself. As Ronald Gross quotes in the book Peak Learning: “The more you learn, the more you earn.”