The need to improve the quality and output of knowledge workers

McKinsey Publishing’s ‘What Matters’ posted ‘Using technology to improve workforce collaboration’ by James Manyika, Kara Sprague and Lareina Yee on October 27, 2009:

“Knowledge workers fuel innovation and growth, yet the nature of knowledge work remains poorly understood—as do the ways to improve its effectiveness. The heart of what knowledge workers do on the job is collaborate, which in the broadest terms means they interact to solve problems, serve customers, engage with partners, and nurture new ideas. Technology and workflow processes support knowledge worker success and are increasingly sources of comparative differentiation. Those able to use new technologies to reshape how they work are finding significant productivity gains. This article shares our research on how technology can improve the quality and output of knowledge workers.

Knowledge workers are growing in numbers. In some sectors of the economy, such as healthcare providers and education, they account for 75 percent of the workforce; in the United States, their wages total 18 percent of GDP. The nature of collaborative work ranges from high levels of abstract thinking on the part of scientists to building and maintaining professional contacts and information networks to more ground-level problem solving. […]

For companies, knowledge workers are expensive assets—earning a wage premium that ranges from 55 percent to 75 percent over the pay of workers who perform more basic production and transaction tasks. Yet there are wide variations in the performance of knowledge workers, as well as in their access to technologies that could improve it. Our research shows that the performance gap between top and bottom companies in collaboration-intense sectors is nine times that of production- or transaction-intense sectors. And that underscores what remains a significant challenge for corporations and national economics alike: how to improve the productivity of this prized and growing corps of workers (Exhibit 1). […]”

To see the full article, footnotes and exhibits please visit ‘Using technology to improve workforce collaboration’

“[…] Consider the collaborative creative work needed to win an advertising campaign or the high levels of service needed to satisfy public citizens. Or, in a similar vein, the interplay between a company and its customers or partners that results in an innovative product.

Raising the quality of these interactions is largely uncharted territory. Taking a systematic view, however, helps bring some of the key issues into focus. Our research suggests that improvements depend upon getting a better fix on who actually is doing the collaborating within companies, as well as understanding the details of how that interactive work is done. Just as important is deciding how to support interactions with technology—in particular, Web 2.0 tools such as social networks, wikis, and video. There is potential for sizeable gains from even modest improvements. Our survey research shows that at least 20 percent and as much as 50 percent of collaborative activity results in wasted effort. And the sources of this waste—including poorly planned meetings, unproductive travel time, and the rising tide of redundant e-mail communications, just to name a few—are many and growing in knowledge-intense industries. […]”

“[…] But most companies are only beginning to take these paths. That’s because, in many respects, raising the collaboration game differs from traditional ways of boosting productivity. In production and transaction work, technology use is often part of a broader campaign to reduce head counts and costs—steps that are familiar to most managers. In the collaboration setting, technology is used differently. It multiplies interactions and extends the reach of knowledge workers. That allows for the speedier product development found at P&G and improved partner and customer intimacy at Cisco. In general, this is new terrain for most managers. […]”

“[…] Web technologies can diminish the wasted efforts. Take the case of “searching”: inefficiencies arise when a staffer is unclear about which colleague within the organization may be tapped for specific knowledge to solve a problem. One remedy is network mapping, a technology that plots work relationships among individuals, reducing search time by providing insights into the pools of knowledge within the company,

Meanwhile, as more of knowledge workers’ output involves digital content, other forms of waste multiply. Fact checking, annotations, and edits lead to handoffs and serial revisions that we term “interpretation” waste. Similarly, as this digital information often must serve audiences across distribution channels—printed documents, PowerPoint slides, and videos, for example—inefficiencies arise from “translation.” At times content is needlessly reworked or even distorted as it crosses channel boundaries. […]”

As you can see below, BizSphere‘s knowledge management approach lets employees upload ‘user generated’ resources into the area ‘Community Content’. Another area you cannot see here would be ‘Official Content’. In all areas employees get to rate resources, to comment on them and to see how many of their peers downloaded them. One click on the left on ‘Contacts’ gives you visibility to who the subject matter experts for what you are looking at are and options to contact them. This reduces the search time by providing insights into the pools of knowledge within the company as talked about in the article above.

user generated content and comments as well as rating from peers

Gerhard Gschwandtner (@gerhard20), the Sales 2.0 and Sales Enablement expert from, commented on the slide show:

“Great presentation! I think that this solution is head and shoulders ahead of some of your competitors I’ve written about recently in this post ‘Is Sales Enablement just Lipstick on a Knowledge Management Pig?’


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