Early on, I realized that continuous learning in the workplace is essential to move businesses forward and stay competitive. Yet I noticed that many organizations hadn’t fully embraced or found ways to offer the support their people needed to achieve and apply continuous learning. Around the same time, I was reading more from Peter Drucker and his thinking on knowledge workers and a knowledge society.
A Day of Drucker 2021
Continuous learning for knowledge workers
Peter Drucker introduced the concept of knowledge workers in his 1959 book, The Landmarks of Tomorrow. Much of the work done today is by knowledge workers – someone who brings value to an organization based on their specific knowledge area. Throughout history, this often wasn’t the case, as people would study as an apprentice and after a certain amount of time would be considered fully trained in everything they’d ever need to know about their trade.
Today, companies are realizing the power of upskilling and cross training their staff, especially after the volatile 15 months we’ve just experienced. More and more online education tools are becoming widely available, such as MOOCs (massive open online courses). And while these tools are very helpful at the individual level, taking the knowledge gained, applying it to the organization and ultimately seeing value can still pose a challenge.
Learning and teaching organizations
I’m reminded of this quote in The Daily Drucker from May 28: “Knowledge workers must have continuous learning built into their tasks. And a knowledge organization has to be both a learning organization and a teaching organization.”
Throughout my career as a senior technology and business leader, I have pursued training in all types of methodologies—like Agile, Lean Startup and Design Thinking—but still struggled to pull out the best of each and apply them to unique workplace situations. In 2009, we formed the team at Emergn to solve this problem. We brought the best schools of thought and practices together, and let our clients design their own way of working with our help. We wanted to be a different kind of consulting business. Remembering the words of Peter Drucker, we wanted to teach companies how to become learning and teaching organizations. Once we did our job of helping companies curate best practices and apply them with their people, we wouldn’t be needed again.
This may sound a little bit unorthodox as a consulting business, but it has been successful because knowledge workers want to continually learn, and companies will invest in ways to help them learn and apply those learnings to their unique role. This type of continuous learning doesn’t just benefit people—it benefits the entire organization.
With our passion for the power of learning and through years of experience and research, we created our learning platform called Value, Flow, Quality ® (VFQ). All the knowledge we continue to acquire through client engagements is reflected and continuously updated in our courses, learning materials, tools, and templates.
Remembering Drucker’s insights for the future of knowledge work
I often go back to Peter Drucker’s work and have been a long-time partner of the Drucker Forum. I see his way of thinking as a mindset and realize now how ahead of his time he was. His teachings are relevant today more than ever. As we re-emerge from the pandemic and begin to rethink work again, our people will continue to be our single greatest competitive advantage and benefit.
“Knowledge-worker productivity requires that the knowledge worker be both seen and treated as an asset rather than a cost.”
-Peter Drucker, The Daily Drucker (May 23)
I leave these six considerations from Drucker for managers to consider so that they can improve knowledge worker productivity post-pandemic:
- What is the task?
- Do my people have autonomy?
- Is continuing innovation part of the work?
- Is continuous learning happening?
- Is there a focus on productivity and quality?
- Am I treating my people the way I would want to be treated?
At the same time, knowledge workers should be asking themselves:
- What do I need to learn to stay up to date on what I’m being paid to know?
- What do my colleagues need to know and understand about my knowledge area and how it contributes to the organization and their work?
Continuous learning is a personal journey and a corporate responsibility. We need to challenge ourselves every day as managers, leaders, individual contributors, and knowledge workers.
About the Author:
Alex Adamopoulos is Chief Executive Officer, Emergn Ltd.
This article is one in the “shape the debate” series relating to A Day of Drucker on June 30, 2021.