Boosting The Productivity Of Knowledge Workers

Fresh evidence this week from McKinsey reinforces the case for an effective process management framework as essential corporate infrastructure in the knowledge economy.

Reporting on its ongoing research into Boosting The Productivity of Knowledge Workers, McKinsey notes that organizations across the world continue to ‘struggle to crack the code’. Information workers typically spend half their time in interactions. The elusive productivity gains are more than just making meetings more efficient [or banning Facebook].

The evidence suggests that wider, more diverse, interactions across the organization’s silos can be especially valuable. So reducing the complexity burden for knowledge workers, to enable more effective interactions, may sound fluffy but actually it is strategic and high value.

In most organizations, says McKinsey, execs find it hard to visualise what knowledge workers do. The processes of the physical factory or production line are far easier to understand and therefore to optimize. Among knowledge workers, ownership and accountability are also often hazy. All of which, the authors suggest, leads to poor decisions:

“Against this backdrop, it’s perhaps unsurprising that many companies settle for scattershot investments in training and IT systems.”

[which is a stunning observation, from such a respected source, but it rings true]

How do get any group to work effectively together and continuously improve? Surely they must have a common language for a start. One that is capable of describing what each of them does, and how it all fits together.

Imagine the orchestra playing without a score. They may be individual virtuousi – but without the score they’re lost. Crochets, bars and staves are their common language. Without it, the first violins are pumping it out in a silo. They haven’t a clue how their notes fit with the woodwind and other parts of the orchestra. The score – a complete description of what each one does, and how it all fits together – is the framework within which the orchestra creates the symphonic sound that its audience pays to hear.

Some still think that process is geeky, career-limiting and an overhead. But actually an effective process management framework is the score for the enterprise. It provides the common language – the end-to-end processes of the organization, expressed in the language of the business and owned by the business. It describes all of its activities, including those of its knowledge workers, and how it all fits together.

And, beyond that basic coordination, it is also the collaborative framework for continuous improvement. It enables the organization to step back from ‘scattershot investments’, to understand itself and focus all its energies – including its knowledge workers – on sustainable improvement. And if that’s not strategic and high value then I’m a geek.

Mike Gammage is VP and Principal Consultant at Nimbus Partners. Mike has worked in performance improvement consulting, and more recently the BPM space, for more than two decades. He is particularly interested in the overlap between two very dynamic worlds: BPM and perfomance improvement (the drive across all industries to standardise, improve and automate) and sourcing and the virtualisation of the enterprise (the drive to create more flexible and lower-cost service solutions through outsourcing, offshoring and shared services). In either case, Mike believes the enterprise needs a single source of truth about its end-to-end business processes, as well as a framework for the design and implementation of change. It also needs to connect the end-user and all other stakeholders to ensure the adoption of change. These are the keys to sustainable transformation and continuous improvement.