Just truth, justice and the American way, according to a moderately succesful, self proclaimed colorful, outspoken progressive pain in the ass!

Sunday, January 01, 2006

On his blog http://www.babsonknowledge.org/ Professor Tom Davenport posits a question about why more organizations aren't doing anything to enhance knowledge worker performance. Good question. I'll add my two cents to the discussion:

As you know, this is a question that I’m actively trying to answer. I’m a little convinced (not a lot…) part of the reason is that there’s not enough empirical evidence about how knowledge worker productivity interventions contribute to bottom line performance. Anecdotal evidence is easy to dismiss. (“My situation is different”). Without a body of evidence that can tie these interventions to specific percentage increases in revenue and profit, most executives in most big companies simply don’t have the foresight to imagine the gains that await them. Oh, and “waiting” is a problem too. The time and space between the types of interventions we’ve discussed before and many that you allude to in Thinking and the benefits thereof is generally longer than one quarter! If we (educators, consultants, etc.) could begin to develop a repository of knowledge worker interventions and the resultant performance improvements, I think that would go a long way to moving the issue.

I think this work is hard because examining the issues of KW productivity requires real, expansive thought on the part of CxO’s. In my world, we ask executives to think about technology, physical space and corporate culture not as three separate parts of the equation of a business model but as a single “thing” (the Organizational Ecology) that enables and inspires behaviors. The proper behaviors will lead to increased productivity and success. In my opinion this is an idea that very few people in corporate America really grasp. The idea that building a new office building is inextricably tied to the success of perhaps every HR process in the organization; or that performance plans can be undone by technology implementations. Not because the systems didn’t work as they were planned, but because the design or implementation process was philosophically in opposition to the pay for performance plan (for example). These are hard concepts for executives to grasp. Without strong evidence of the efficacy of these interventions the needs are hard to define and the risks seem great.

All that said I think there’s hope on the horizon. Executive’s penchant for short term rewards spawned Enron, Healthsouth and the likes. More and more enlightened CEO’s are beginning to see that chasing analyst’s quarterly favor can lead to unethical and unproductive behavior in even the best of companies. I think we’ll soon begin to see an emerging understanding that investing time, energy, resources and thought in the near term, though sometimes painful in terms of next quarters’ earnings, is essential for long-term sustainable and ethical growth. Once that begins to set in, it would seem to me that the logic of improving knowledge worker productivity will be much harder to dismiss.