The term “knowledge worker” joined our business lexicon courtesy of Peter Drucker; the concept of “knowledge work” first appeared in his 1959 book The Landmarks of Tomorrow.
For the most part we all understand that knowledge workers access and apply information to answer questions, solve problems and generate new ideas. Knowledge workers interact with tools and systems that enable communication and information sharing. They acquire new information and use it in a creative manner. They produce, distribute, and share their knowledge with others. They never stop learning and acquiring new knowledge.
We often ascribe this moniker to scientists, engineers, programmers, design thinkers, creatives, academics, attorneys, and the like. Hollywood versions of the knowledge worker include Professor Indiana Jones, David Levinson (the Jeff Goldblum character) in Independence Day and Olivia Pope.
They “think” for a living.
Sounds like what we should expect of HR leaders…doesn’t it?
Yet far too many HR leaders, caught up in the grinding gears of the corporate machine, are losing out on providing real value (their knowledge) to their organizations. There are far too many HR functions where every moment is filled with tasks. Busy busy busy. Activity after activity after activity. All in a misguided attempt to demonstrate to CEOs/Owners/Leaders that HR is needed.
But knowledge workers – meaning HR leaders – need time to pause, review, research, read, and ponder. They need to explore hypotheses before acting. When making decisions and weighing “can” they do something versus “should” they do something, they need time for contemplation and evaluation.
Sometimes HR Leaders need to prioritize merely getting together with peers to think collectively. Every meeting doesn’t have to be about getting through an agenda, giving updates on task accomplishment (busy! busy! busy!), or racing though a post-mortem on a problem or incident. It should be about gathering with peers for an off-site discussion or forming a community of practice. It can be heading to a conference or event for the day rather than cranking out yet another report that no one will read. (Busy busy busy. See how busy I am?)
At other times HR leaders need to purposefully carve out the time for silence and concentration during the workday; grab a cup of coffee, turn off the phone and put on some headphones in order to scroll through the internet or page through a book to foster ideas.
Unfortunately that’s viewed as idleness in far too many organizations. “Susie, our HR Manager, wastes a half hour every day scrolling through websites,” an organizational leader once said to me. “She’s not even working! I need to write her up!”
So yes; it’s often about finding an organization (and a boss) who supports creativity and intellect. A boss who encourages their HR leader to use their brain. A boss who realizes – or to whom it’s explained – that it’s not about formatting and running reports; rather it’s about designing the strategy behind the report data.
Sssshhhh. It’s time to think.
“No problem can withstand the assault of sustained thinking.”—Voltaire