“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” (Peter Drucker, 1999).
In the 20th Century, people were employed for their hands and feet – that is, they were employed in the most part for manual labour: production line and assembly jobs, the making and selling of products, farming and mining. The most valuable assets of 20th Century companies were their production equipment and the amounts of employees that could use the same productively and efficiently. The manual worker was thus involved in repetitive work, doing the same thing day-in and day-out. This daily routine, often doing menial tasks, mostly required a person’s “physical presence” at a workbench, their muscles or technical abilities.
The 21st Century has brought in the age of the “knowledge worker”, where people generate and use knowledge to secure an income – they think for a living. As the knowledge worker “owns” the assets (their mind, computing ability and stored knowledge), Drucker suggests that they need to keep it up to date and use it to deliver the greatest contribution. He further points out that their careers will outlast most businesses and so they cannot and should not rely on their employers for this development. What Drucker is saying here is that there has been a shift – people are now not employed just for their hands and feet, but also for or only for their heads.
Is the “head” enough though? Does a company not want something far more profound than just a brain? In most of the literature on the “knowledge worker” subject, emphasis is placed on the primary task of “non-routine” problem-solving that requires a combination of convergent, divergent and creative thinking. Whilst this may be an important skill, I believe that business today needs much more than just a brain – companies all over the world are motivated out of a passion to manufacture something qualitative, serve well, advertise using feelings as the key docking point with a potential customer, and even show concern for human rights and/or environmental issues. In other words, businesses are “emotional” entities – as such they need knowledge workers who can channel emotion effectively into a product, a client relationship and communication with the potential consumer at large. Companies need emotionally intelligent employees who can work well together in teams and who can relate the “passion” of the brand to colleagues and customer alike. Apart from the brain, businesses also need energy and ownership (emotional buy-in) from employees to survive and potentially thrive in a highly competitive environment.
As such, leaders should consider employing people for “heads and hearts” to achieve balance with the following:
- Staff, who use their intellect to convert ideas into products, services or processes
- Staff, who are problem solvers rather than production workers
- Staff, who live out the nuanced passions of the brand
- Staff, who exhibit emotional intelligence abilities and who translate the same into effective team relationships
- Staff, who can emotionally connect with clients and develop sustainable relationships with customers
- Staff, who buy into and live out a well-established set of company values
Real contribution that should be valued by companies today is one that involves both the head and heart of the employees – not only the ability to use the intellect to solve problems and creatively channel knowledge to produce effectively, but also the emotions to connect with the brand, with company values, with fellow employees and with customers as a whole. This more holistic approach will lead to sustainability and potential future growth.