Unleashing the Power of Today’s Knowledge Worker

These days, most jobs involve knowledge work, where an employee’s main contribution is subject-matter expertise, which in turn drives a growing need for individuals to take responsibility for managing their own performance.

As work transitions into a more autonomous environment, businesses need to communicate a meaningful purpose that resonates with each employee.

Consequently, the role of “managers” is transitioning to that of true “team leaders” and “coaches.”

But for employees to embrace taking personal responsibility (also known as discretionary effort), they need to be highly motivated by the organization. As work transitions into a more autonomous environment, businesses need to communicate a meaningful purpose that resonates with each employee.

Leaders should think of creative ways to interact with their employees that drive a motivated and engaged team

Here are a few ideas to keep in mind when connecting with your employees on an individual level:

The authoritative management style is fading

The powerful concepts of motivation defined by Professors Edward L. Deci and Richard M. Ryan’s “self-determination theory” (SDT), points to three psychological needs:

  • autonomy – control of one’s own life (free will),
  • competence – the ability to master one’s environment, and
  • relatedness – the ability to interact and form relationships with others.

In the past, a predominant focus for management has been on shaping the next generation of leaders through extrinsic rewards/perks such as pay and promotions. As research has shown, the effects of monetary rewards tend to be short-term and may even backfire if better rewards are not continuously extended.

The non-routine nature of many jobs calls for subject matter expertise, collaborative problem-solving, and tacit knowledge that accompanies unstructured work and relationships. Intuitively, managers know that recognizing people who consistently put in that “extra” effort is directly linked to high levels of motivation and engagement. As a result, leaders of autonomous workers need to deliberately seek out and identify their top performers. 

Create Thoughtfully Designed Employee Interactions and Touch Points

The art of creating consistent employee touch points that lead to high-quality exchanges requires an internal commitment, particularly from its leadership team. The challenge is sustaining a high level of employee interaction over time and across borders. Ultimately, the value of these efforts needs to be embedded in the culture. One of the many key responsibilities of leadership is to evolve the company story by recognizing new developments and achievements through multiple channels of communication.

Technology helps to transcend geographical borders, but if the message is not meaningful at the individual level, it will not be heard. Of equal importance is how these messages are reinforced in person within teams. If a team leader does not bring the message to life, it is just another communication that gets filed away. 

Employees Bring Energy to their Role and the Company

Employers should not see themselves as the dog and the employees as the tail. Most   businesses rely on the energy that employees bring to their roles; and that is driven from the quality of the employee experience. If a company’s mission and values resonate with employees, they will genuinely care about the results and consequences of their own performance, as well as the overall organization. 

Businesses can control non-human resources like data and finances. However, controlling people is an illusion in today’s work environment, where employees exercise their free will and make choices. It is the employee’s choice if they wish to put in discretionary effort, be ambitious, or learn a new skill. 

Often the best people to transform existing jobs into something more are the employees themselves. It is the role of management and HR to facilitate this process and learn from it. Successes can be replicated by applying enhancements to jobs once an individual demonstrates proficiencies and capabilities that go beyond average. A key source of motivation is the collective engagement from the entire organization through leaders that inspire a meaningful purpose. When this occurs, the company’s overall performance becomes a multitude of self-fulfilling prophecies.