The 6 Factors of Knowledge Worker Productivity: Chapter 15 – The 6 Factors and Traditional Organisational Models

Over the course of the study and the chapters set out here, our team have realised the power of the 6 factors of knowledge worker productivity.
Our executive team at Advanced Workplace Associates (AWA) have exposed the research to many senior leaders from the United Kingdom (UK), Holland and the United States of America (USA) and in doing so have understood the depth to which the factors go in creating organisations that can fully harness the brainpower of their knowledge workers.
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Increasingly we are of the view that the 6 Factors of knowledge worker productivity provide a solid framework with which to consider how to evolve the workplace management of organisations and their infrastructures. Imagine if a leadership team were to apply the 6 factors across all aspects of their organisation so that every function was focused on creating the conditions to give Knowledge Workers their best chance of being effective? What if leadership teams were brave enough to start again with a blank sheet of paper?
AWA were invited by Regus, the world’s leading serviced office provider, to undertake a workplace study to assess of the effectiveness (or otherwise) of traditional command and control organisations and then to propose an alternative ‘agile’ model that would be scalable and would fix the weaknesses of command and control models. We called it the Kinetic Organisation and a copy of the report can be obtained here.
After conducting a workplace review involving a series of focus groups with senior leaders and an on-line survey, we came to a conclusion. It was that traditional command and control structures had a number of serious flaws which in many ways we have illuminated further in the work we have done on Knowledge Worker Productivity. For instance organisations where ‘the only way is up’ (which is what command and control organisations create) often set leaders in competition with each other. You have to ask yourself whether this is likely to yield high levels of social cohesion and knowledge sharing? I win, you lose arrangements will only ever lead to knowledge ‘hoarding’ not generosity. So my conclusion is that it clearly doesn’t act in the favour of workplace productivity.
Then there’s employee performance management. Objectives are usually set top down with a very imprecise ‘cascade’ so that from to bottom everyone is focussed on achieving a corporate goal. The problem here is that many processes that create new products and service and deliver to customers run across organisations involving different parties that need to act in concert to make things happen. If objectives are set ‘top down’ then this can actually cause people to focus on their part of the process instead of considering the whole. My conclusion is that more objectives should be set at team level and linked to process objectives in order to create the conditions under which everyone is pulling together and being able and happy to share their knowledge and ideas for the organisational good…as opposed to their own departments good.
Picking up another strand, one of the key thrusts behind the idea of social cohesion is that people should be comfortable to contribute freely their knowledge ideas and energy and be happy to constructively challenge each other to create new knowledge and understandings for the good of the organisation. Social cohesion is as much about relationships up and down the organisation as it is about team and community cohesion. Command and control organisations almost always create large power differences between the top and bottom of the organisation. (Indeed, the fact that there is a top and a bottom in itself implies higher is better lower is worse). So are you really prepared to constructively challenge the views or ideas of senior leaders who are way more powerful than you are and have the power to make or break your career?  Can you trust people who are more powerful than you to act in your interests while you are challenging their ideas? Most people who have reached a senior position in an organisation want to stay there. Opening up to challenge from others requires a high level or confidence by senior leaders. I mean can you tell these guys the ‘truth’ without it being detrimental to your future? Anyway, you get my general drift.
But in re-reading the Kinetic Organisation report it’s clear that we inadvertently created an organisational model that supports the 6 factors and creates the conditions under which Knowledge Workers flourish.

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When we developed the Kinetic Organisation model we first set ourselves 6 design requirements which we subsequently called the 6 fundamentals. We said the organisation must:

One.     Allow the enterprise to ‘turn on a dime/ sixpence’, changing without pain to adapt to new threats, opportunities and economic conditions.

Two.     Allow it to keep its promises to clients, shareholders and people.

Three.     Maintain a flexible cost base and infrastructure so that it can ‘inflate’ and ‘deflate’ its operations without incurring penalty costs.

Four.     Create a ‘safe’ environment in which people feel able to contribute and share their knowledge and innovation, constructively challenging to achieve a better end.

Five.     Constantly keep its products, services, people skills, capabilities, processes, infrastructure and costs under review to make sure every element of the business always remains fresh and competitive.

Six.     Allow elements within each structure to be treated and structured in different ways depending on their risks, activities and the markets in which they operate.

On re-visiting the Kinetic Organisation model in the light of our Knowledge Worker Productivity it becomes clear that the Kinetic Organisation model goes some way to creating the right conditions for Knowledge Work to flourish. For too long leaders have believed that the only way to organise is around an archaic command and control model. It’s clear to us that to gain the maximum leverage out of knowledge workers, alternative ways of organising need to be explored. Leadership teams need to be asking themselves some very fundamental questions if they want to improve productivity.
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How can we organise our operations to get the best out of our knowledge workers? What would it mean for leaders, leadership and team behaviours? What might it mean for communication? What would it mean for recruitment? What would it mean for the shape of the organisation and the way objectives and goals are set? What would it mean for performance management? What would it mean for the coaching support provided to individuals? How could we re-focus IT investments and training to help achieve the 6 factors? How would we shape our workplaces to facilitate the 6 factors? Finally, how would we bring the disciplines together to make real change happen?
But the 6 factors are not simply for strategic leaders prepared to take a blank sheet. They also provide guidance for team leaders wanting to improve the performance of their teams and business leaders seeking to take a more evolutionary approach to Knowledge Worker Productivity. They also provide a baseline and philosophy for the design of the workplace. The journey to the 6 factors can start in a number of areas and for a number of reasons.
At AWA we are on a mission to get every leader in the civilised world to deeply understand the 6 factors of knowledge worker productivity and the implications for their organisations. This book is the first of the tools to assist leaders to grasp the fundamentals of the 6 factors. But to enact the 6 factors we’re developing a range of on-line resources, workshops, group exercises and video’s to bring the 6 factors to life.
Call a workplace consultant today on  +44 207 743 7110 to find out more about changing the attitudes of your leaders and employees. Alternatively, you can email with your inquiry. Advanced Workplace Associates are based in London, United Kingdom but now work internationally across the United States of America, Asia and Europe.
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