Once, twice, one thousand times a knowledge worker

by Viv on December 18, 2009

Jay Cross has an interesting article in the December issue of the “Inside Learning Technologies” magazine about making business decisions and the use of business metrics. As I made the claim in Feb that 2009 would be the year of “bad measurement” this is a topic close to my heart.Amongst the exhortations for L&D people to be more business savvy which are hard to take issue with, Jay states that we now work in an environment where a “great knowledge worker can be several hundred times as productive as his peer”.  My first reaction was: how can you believe this is true?

But as I’m in festive mood lets imagine it was true. Here are a few examples of mega-productivity:

  • The person who came up with the idea to change Lucozade from a drink you had when you were ill into a sports drink
  • An internal auditor who uncovered a multi million pound fraud
  • The lawyer or accountant who spotted an error that no-one else had, and therefore saved the firm millions in negligence claims and reputational damage

However, I suspect that in each of these cases the person involved could be said to be just doing their job (albeit to a high standard) and therefore not be the beneficiary of mega-rewards.  The reward structure of professional firms tends to work on the basis that partners are relatively well paid and this acts as a carrot for lower grades to strive towards. However, the widest salary ratio of chief partner to graduate trainee that I’m aware of in a UK firm is only (and I use this word with tongue firmly in cheek) in the region of 100 – nowhere close to 1000.

Lets imagine how being 1000 times as productive would work on the client side. Lets assume that the average lawyer/ accountant can bill their time for £150 an hour. Are there really clients out there that will consistently pay £150,000 for an hour? And, are there advisors out there who are so startingly better than their peers that they can command this much of a premium.

So if in L&D our aim is to enable knowledge workers to become great knowledge workers, we should be looking for ways that we can help achieve great productivity gains. Gut feel is that this is about providing people with opportunities, access to great resources, motivation, structured progression and the habit of managing their own learning.  I’m not sure people becoming 1000 more productive is feasible…maybe it’s just that Jay knows some very poorly performing knowledge workers…

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