The 6 Factors of Knowledge Worker Productivity

Whilst the world has focused heavily on the asset productivity of offices over the last 30 years, reducing the cost of offices per head, often using agile working as a tool for achieving this, it’s becoming clear that the mobility afforded by the latest technology products can be used to aid Knowledge Worker Productivity.

Knowledge work plays an increasingly large part in the economic fortunes of developing countries. Over the last 30 years, we’ve seen a gradual shift from manufacturing to service and now to knowledge-based industries. Knowledge Workers are broadly speaking ‘people who think for a living’. As technology advances, the knowledge economy continues to grow.

Whilst the concept of ‘productivity’ and how to measure productivity in manufacturing and service industries is well understood, it is barely understood at all for knowledge-based sectors. Given its significance to the developed economies, AWAOpens in a new tab. decided it deserved greater focus.

So, in early 2014, The Research Group within our Workplace Performance Innovation Network (PIN)Opens in a new tab. undertook an extensive study involving a review of over 800 academic research papers to answer two key questions:

1. What is known from the world’s academic research about the measurement of Knowledge Worker Productivity?

2. What is known in the world’s academic research about the factors associated with Knowledge Worker Productivity?

The study was undertaken in partnership with The Centre for Evidence Based ManagemenOpens in a new tab.t (CEBMa) a global network of academics that teach and practice ‘Evidence Based Management’ in some of the worlds most respected universities. We partnered with CEBMa because we liked their extremely robust process and their objectivity. We wanted to make sure the results of the study were not skewed in any way and stood the challenge of academic rigour.

Whilst our sponsors BP, the Royal Bank of Scotland, Old Mutual, The British Council, Allied Bakeries, Telereal Trillium and AllSteel were invited to contribute to the setting of the research questions, they had no other influence on the findings, so nobody could point the finger and say the research played to a particular commercial interest. The mix of representatives from sponsors was interesting too involving HR Directors, Chief Operating Officers, Global Heads of Real Estate and Real Estate Directors. This eclectic group later proved to be a valuable resource in the interpretation stage of the programme.

First off CEBMa used its highly scientific ‘Rapid Evidence Assessment’Opens in a new tab. methodology to undertake a review of the world’s most credible academic databases. The REA methodology involves identifying relevant studies, reviewing their contents, filtering for relevance to research questions, grading the research (for instance a randomised trial conducted in a scientific manner scores higher than an expert opinion) and clustering the studies in relation to specific topic areas.

What emerged was an enormous amount of information and knowledge, answers to the research questions and a deep understanding of the world of Knowledge Work and 6 factors that are proven to be associated with Knowledge Worker Productivity.

We believe that when the leaders of worlds Knowledge businesses understand these factors they will have a profound impact on the workplace design of organisations, culture, leadership competences and workplace infrastructure in the future. The findings provide new ‘design requirements’ for everything associated with the organisation. Intriguingly, the 6 factors are all about organisational effectiveness and culture…(not design, technology or agile working) but once they are understood they change everything about the provision of everything and put everything into a single context.

The nature of work itself is changing everyday. To remain competitive, an organisation must adapt to the future of work. By adopting new ways of working and installing them into your workplace, it will enable a workplace transformation that will overall boost workplace productivity.

When is a worker a Knowledge Worker?

As we continue into Knowledge Worker Productivity, it is appropriate to define what a knowledge worker is. The term ‘Knowledge work’ was originally coined by the great Peter Drucker in 1956. Even back then he saw the emergence of new forms of organisation that relied on the creativity, ingenuity, and competence of a new breed of workers, Knowledge Workers, people who ‘think for a living’. The outputs of Knowledge Workers are often intangible, their task may be simply generating ideas. Sometimes the Knowledge Worker is contributing knowledge to others, sometimes papers, reports or designs that lead to the creation of something else – this is the nature of knowledge work. Obviously, eventually, the Knowledge Workers performance and endeavours must lead to something that someone can purchase for money.

So, the first question we asked ourselves was ‘when is a worker a Knowledge Worker’!

Of course, all jobs have some element of necessary skills and knowledge needed to deliver tasks. So, everyone is in some way a Knowledge Worker, however what we’re really talking about are ‘extreme’ Knowledge Workers, where people ‘think for a living’ and where their output is less tangible than a physical good or service. In these roles people are being paid to think, fusing their knowledge with that of others to provide new knowledge which ultimately translates into a commercial value.

Within our Workplace PIN Research Group, we found it helpful to describe a spectrum of Knowledge Work. At the right-hand of the spectrum, jobs require much less dependency on knowledge and a greater dependency on adherence to a well-defined process. These might include delivery drivers, check out operatives in a supermarket or someone who routinely inserts a particular component on a production line. At the left-hand side of the spectrum we have the ‘extreme’ knowledge workers such as researchers, development staff, designers, information technology staff, engineers and creative experts.

Knowledge Worker Spectrum Graph – AWA – advanced workplace associates – London – UK

Between these two ends of the spectrum there are of course many roles with differing levels of ‘Knowledge’ content. We had great fun in trying to decide where an orthopedic surgeon lay on the Spectrum. The surgeon may be routinely replacing hip joints where a reasonable amount of knowledge is needed, but where, by and large, the process is the same time after time. But when we thought more about it more we realized that the orthopedic surgeon’s knowledge really came into its own when something was non-standard or went wrong.

The reason for our exploration of this definition was simple. Whilst what we found could be used as the basis of good management, it has a much more profound impact the further left your job is on the spectrum. To make this research more specific, we had to be specific on the type of work we refer to.

Measuring Knowledge Worker Productivity…it’s not what it seems

Many researchers around the world have been in search of a ‘Holy Grail’ measurement of Knowledge Worker Productivity for many years. Whilst the measurement of work in manufacturing and service organisations is relatively straightforward using measures of output per unit of resource like ‘calls per agent per hour’ or ‘units per week’ or ‘cost per unit’, these are increasingly inappropriate for Knowledge-based businesses and in fact have a potential to destroy corporate value.

Why do I say this? Well, imagine a group of researchers in a pharmaceutical organisation given the task of finding a drug to reduce cholesterol. You can imagine they’d look at all the related research, talk to their colleagues, carry out lab experiments and so on. If at the end of 2 years, they had not come up with a new drug using conventional measures they would have failed because with conventional measures we’re always looking for a measure of return in a short term e.g. Output per head. So, using a conventional approach to measuring knowledge worker productivity, would likely lead to the firing of the researchers.

But wait, in the course of their work these researchers have amassed more knowledge around the subject they were working on which may be of value to the organisation in the future. Just because their endeavours don’t deliver commercial success in the short term doesn’t mean the researchers were failures. Those same scientists may go on to generate a new drug in the future that IS commercially successful in a different field using the knowledge they gained in the pursuit of the new drug to counter cholesterol. Or alternatively, their initial focus may lead to a completely tangential drug.

As an example, in 1985, scientists at Pfizer decided to develop a medicine to treat heart failure and hypertension. They were looking for a medicine that would vasodilate arteries, lower blood pressure and reduce strain on the heart. They chose to target the medicine to act on an enzyme found in the wall of blood vessels. This work led to the drug Viagra. The goal of generating a drug to help with men’s sex lives was never the initial intent, but by chance, the research into a drug to treat heart failure generated a spectacularly successful commercial drug.

So, armed with our understanding of what Knowledge Work was our team set out to find out the answer to our second question: What is known from the world’s academic research about the measurement of Knowledge Worker Productivity?

Our emphatic conclusion from the review of the research into measuring knowledge worker productivity is that Knowledge Work is so varied and its outputs so intangible that it is not possible to come up with a single universal measure system. Using measures like output per head are inappropriate. We have to see Knowledge Workers as receptacles of corporate knowledge and so creating the conditions for knowledge to flow and flourish is the key to great Knowledge Work.

So, are we saying you can’t have a universal measurement of Knowledge Work productivity?

The answer is an emphatic ‘Yes’. But is that the end of the story? ‘No’.

What the research suggests is that proxy measures may be used to measure the degree to which the conditions that propagate great Knowledge Worker performance can be used.

In answering our second research question:  What is known in the world’s academic research about the factors associated with Knowledge Worker Productivity? From their review of over 800 papers our researchers identified 6 factors that are associated with Knowledge Worker performance. Most of the research related to the productivity of Knowledge Worker teams, but many of the findings can be translated to apply to organisations, divisions or units. Here’s the first and top factor: Social Cohesion.

Social Cohesion: A shared liking or team attraction that includes bonds of friendship, caring, closeness and enjoyment of each other’s company.

In other words…people get on with each other, are happy to share their ideas and knowledge with each other for the good of the team and the organisation. They are comfortable to challenge the ideas of others and be challenged themselves without feeling offended, insulted or disadvantaged. They feel safe in saying their piece regardless of the seniority or importance of others.

Social cohesion applies to a team, between teams and up and down the organisation in order that the whole of the Knowledge Worker community shares a strong sense of cohesion and comfort in speaking out. It is a factor that is required to maximise collaboration and should be implemented in the workplace design and workplace strategy.

Why is Social Cohesion Important?

Quite simply, in the Knowledge business, every person is a knowledge asset or receptacle bringing to the team and organisation the knowledge, experiences and relationships gathered throughout their lives. It is the fusion of their knowledge, experiences, and relationships with those of others in the organisation that creates the new knowledge that propels the organisation forward and eventually turns into commercial value. However, to make the organisation work, people need to be willing and comfortable to contribute their knowledge and ideas. Put another way, if an individual or team’s knowledge becomes ‘land-locked’ for any reason then that knowledge is denied to the organisation.

So, when we talk about social cohesion we don’t just mean within teams. Yes, of course, we want colleagues in the same team to be socially cohesive so that they can get on and deliver great work. But increasingly teams don’t work in isolation, team A may need knowledge or information from team B and C to deliver its output. Teams A and C can in themselves be beautifully socially cohesive but be at war with each other and therefore co-operation may be difficult. The way we set organisations up doesn’t help with this. In traditional organisations where ‘the only way is up’ competitive leaders of teams may often be competing with each other for superiority. They may have conflicting objectives which set teams and leaders in competition with each other.

Further, the social cohesion applies up the organisation too if people are to feel that they can share their ideas, challenge convention and seek input. So social cohesion is a big deal in the Knowledge business and if organisations don’t focus on this as a key organisational capability, they are not maximising the knowledge they have in their organisations.

Perceived Supervisory Support: How employees feel the supervisor helps them in times of need, praises them for a job well done, or recognises them for the extra effort.

In other words, people need to feel that the person they report to is positively supporting them in helping them in achieving their endeavours and not constantly ‘beating them up’ or blaming them for apparently substandard tasks. This means ‘supervisors’ proactively developing professional relationships with team members, providing coaching, resources, and support to help people do their best and encouraging judicious risk-taking. And when life is tough providing a sympathetic hearing. Perceived supervisory support also has a lot to do with the workplace culture, and leaders go about workplace management.

Why is Perceived Supervisory Support Important?

In Knowledge Organisations the role of ‘supervisor’ is an important one in which the holder has the power to set the atmosphere within the team to help each individual complete their tasks, contribute their knowledge and ideas and work in harmony with other team members and other teams. If a supervisor does not exhibit supervisory support for colleagues, this may create an atmosphere in which people hold back their best performance, don’t feel safe to express their ideas and retreat into doing the least needed to get the job done without care for its meaning.

This is quite a tough gig for supervisors. We’ve all known people who have been brilliant individual contributors who have been put in charge of a team who are not great at being ‘perceived’ to support their people and we’ve all known people who do it naturally. The key word here is ‘perceived’. Sometimes managers may think they are doing all they can to support their colleagues but are not perceived to be by those colleagues.

I suppose in a way it’s about more than ‘being there for’ team members. It’s about proactively being seen to support every individual and the team in achieving their individual and collective endeavours as opposed to issuing commands which people are required to carry out unquestioningly. And when things at work go wrong (as from time to time they surely will) it’s not about beating people up or blaming them or others, it’s about finding out what went wrong and why and then seeking to make sure it doesn’t happen again. If things are going wrong in a team members personal life, it’s about being understanding and seeing if there are things that can be done to help. Levels of supervisory support can change the entire perception of the organisaiton for each individual employee.

And by ‘Supervisor’ we don’t just mean your boss. We also mean your bosses boss and up the chain. We could even extend this to the leaders of teams you deal with. In other words, creating a very supportive culture in which we seek to help everyone do their best work every day. With this kind of culture, people will be emotionally committed to giving their best for supervisors, colleagues, and the organisation.

I’ll leave you with something to reflect on…. ask yourself how supportive the leaders and supervisors in your business really are and make a list of all the things that could be changed to deliver a more supportive managerial culture.

‘Information Sharing: Refers to how teams pool and access their knowledge and expertise – which positively affects decision making and team processes. This leads to the idea of a team ‘Transactive Memory System’ (TMS) which can be thought of as a collective memory in a collective mind – enabling a team to think and act together.’

In other words… it’s about creating a culture and infrastructure for sharing knowledge and treating the whole team and the wider community as a ‘knowledge memory’. This will make it so that team members can short-circuit the search for the best sources of knowledge and avoid re-inventing the wheel. It’s about allowing your knowledge economy to find out who has what knowledge and experience (regardless of however relevant or irrelevant it is in the moment). And it’s about capturing this knowledge in a system or a ‘knowledge register’ and re-enforcing sharing by rewarding good sharing behaviours in all employees regardless of seniority, power or personality.

Why is Information Sharing Important?

Knowledge is power, so they say, and in traditional organisations people can often hold back on sharing their knowledge with others within their team, in other teams and in other divisions for fear that their ‘knowledge generosity’ will lead to their own power being diminished. If this culture prevails the organisation will be starved of the knowledge these people could bring and constrain the ‘generosity’ of others.

As I said in one of the earlier articles, Knowledge Workers need to be viewed as Knowledge Receptacles. Each time you give them a new project they gain more knowledge which the organisation needs to retain and ultimately needs access to. So culturally, people need to feel free to share their knowledge and information without worrying about the implication it might have for their own futures. To support this, it’s very desirable to have the IT tools to help people know ‘who knows what’ and social networking tools so that people can ask questions of the network and receive contacts and answers. Clearly this only works in a culture of openness and knowledge sharing and one where people are not fearful of being judged by people who can influence their future.

The other concept here is that of the ‘Transactive Memory System’ in other words members of a team form a collective memory in which people know what people know and that there are binding events or pieces of knowledge that link everyone’s expertise together. This is particularly important where you have teams of experts in different fields.

For a company that utilises agile working or activity-based working, it is important to install the right tools, equipment, and technology to maximise information sharing. The workplace management of a more agile team is a bit different, and making sure information is readily accessible and delivered is key to maintaining productivity between knowledge workers.

‘Vision and goal clarity: The notion of vision refers to the extent to which team members have a common understanding of objectives and display high commitment to those team goals. For this reason, ‘vision’ on the team level is also referred to as goal clarity.’

In other words……for people to be emotionally engaged with the work they do they need to understand how it fits into their team’s vision and goals. Further, they need to know how their teams’ vision and goals fit with the enterprises’ vision and goals. They also need to feel an empathy with the vision of the team and the enterprise in order to be prepared to release all their intellect and time to the tasks they perform, being prepared to go the extra mile, to commit.

Why is Vision and Goal Clarity Important?

We all need something that gets us out of bed every morning and to do the right thing for the organisation. If we’re not clear about how what we do fits into what the team is doing, now and in the future, we’re not going to be able to get emotionally engaged and give our best. And if we don’t understand how our team’s work contributes to the success of the enterprise, it’s even more difficult to give our best. If the enterprise doesn’t articulate a vision or the vision isn’t ‘worthy’ it may be difficult for us to commit our intellect and energy to the cause.

When the success of the enterprise is based upon the combined ‘cognitive resources’ or brainpower of a team or community, it is vital that everyone has the big picture (the vision) for their organisation and the vision for their team and are clear about the strategic and tactical goals needed to achieve success. Whereas goals are tangible and measurable stepping stones to the achievement of a vision.  A vision is an articulation of the direction of travel.

A vision is a clear articulation of why an organisation exists, its purpose and how it will achieve its purpose given the external conditions (competitors, consumer needs. legislation etc.). A vision can be expressed in a variety of ways. It can be written down in document, expressed using pictures or video. But the best visions are brought to life by inspirational leaders who can succinctly and confidently articulate their ideas for the future of an organisation, endeavour or team.

The point here is that people can turn up at work and give you all their ideas, knowledge, ingenuity and energy or they can turn up at work to do the bare minimum. If people understand what their role in the team is and how that plays into the organisations vision and goals, they can really give their all.

Often in smaller organisations this is easier to do than in large organisations. In smaller organisations, it’s often easier for the purpose of the organisation to be understood by employees. It’s easier for leaders and communities to communicate the linkage between what the individual and the team does and the strategic aims of the business. But when organisations get big leaders at all levels have to work harder to make sure their people really do understand the visions and goals of the organisation and their team.

Are you and your team colleagues confident that you know the goals and vision of your organisation and how your team’s goals play into them? Are you also clear about how your own role fits into the whole? If you are not sure, does it affect your motivation?

External Communication: The ability of teams to span boundaries (team and organisational) to seek information and resources from others.’

In other words….. ‘get out more’. Too often people spend their time at work cocooned in the world of their organisation and that of their team.  With this factor, we are talking about people exposing themselves to the views and experiences of diverse groups of people outside their team and organisation in order to shape their ideas and bring back new ideas and insights to the organisation to fuel innovation and to maintain their vigour.

Why is External Communication Important?

If people gain all their understandings, insights and knowledge from within the organisation there is a danger of ‘group think’. In other words, people gain comfort in thinking that the work the organisation is doing is leading edge. People become very wedded to their own ideas and reject ideas that were ‘not invented here’. Without exposing your people to the outside world through events, reading, social networks or professional institutions there is a danger that their ‘knowledge assets’ become out of date, devoid of challenge and new thinking. Your people’s knowledge becomes obsolete and your organisation stagnates or is overtaken by the competition.

Too often in my experience large successful organisations and leaders become over-confident about their organisations capabilities believing that they are at the top of their game and can do anything they want. That can sometimes lead to complacency and even arrogance further down the organisation. Having open communication and exposure to the outside world with an additional process for bringing back and using new ideas, will prove to be a workplace managementOpens in a new tab. strategy that will make sure that the organisation stays vibrant.

Who should you seek to be exposed to? The simple answer is people and organisations who are least like you and your organisation. Innovative ideas will seldom come from organisations within your sector or discipline. Go out of your way to look outside your team, division, and organisation for groups and people who are not like you. Developing relationships within your sector may be useful for future career opportunities but you are unlikely to be challenged to think in different ways.

Trust: The firm belief in the reliability, truth or ability of others. It is created by the expectation that the actions of other persons will be to one’s benefit or at least not detrimental to him or her.’

In other words……. people need to feel that those around them will act in their interest, that the knowledge they contribute will be used responsibly and, in their interests, and that they can depend on the knowledge, advice, skills, and abilities of their colleagues. So, we are dealing with two distinctly different things: firstly competence and secondly the feeling that people will not act in ways that put their own interests before ours or the teams.

Why is Trust Important?

If you perceive that the knowledge or information shared by a colleague is not reliable (because of rumour, previous experience or your ‘gut feel’), you will not use their knowledge and therefore their value diminishes even though their knowledge, information or input might be sound. If you perceive that someone is going to use your information or knowledge for their own benefit over and above the team’s you will also stop giving your ideas, knowledge, and co-operation willingly.

So you can probably see that Trust links to Social Cohesion insofar as if team members don’t trust each other social cohesion becomes difficult to achieve. Take this to a ‘team to team’ level, if one team doesn’t trust another, prejudice begins to creep in which may limit the amount of co-operation between teams. Similarly, if people at operational and supervisory levels don’t trust senior leaders this too will detract from the level of commitment people have towards the organisation.

Trust is hard won and easily lost. But what gives rise to mistrust? People saying one thing and doing another. This is often true at senior level where leaders make statements like ‘there will be no redundancies’ and then three months later there are. At an individual team level people not doing what they say they will do by a due date can lead to mistrust or people providing ‘duff’ information. I guess the worst scenario for a loss of trust is where an individual is seen to put his or her interests before those of the team.

So, trust is pretty vital in Knowledge-based business. But rarely do organisations, leaders or individuals manage the degree to which they are trusted which is pretty weird really when you consider the ramifications if there is a culture of mistrust.

So that’s the 6 factors. Taken together and used by inspirational leaders in all disciplines holistically, we think these 6 factors change everything about the way we organise, lead, design, and invest…and in the next article we’ll look at these all together and try to join the dots.

In the meantime, try drawing a ‘Boston box’ with competence on one axis and reliability on the other. Then think about where you would put your teammates against those two axes. Also, think about what you can do to increase the degree to which you are trusted by your colleagues.

The 6 factors of Knowledge Worker Productivity, as outlined have been derived through a scientifically robust review of over 800 research studies. The papers were published in English, the lingua franca of scientific research and the studies were undertaken in many leading academic institutions across the world. We believe that our work, therefore, represents the best science in relation to Knowledge Worker Productivity generated anywhere in the world.

Fundamentally what we’re saying is that where organisations or units depend on the creativity, ingenuity, and knowledge of their Knowledge Workers, the 6 factors are vital in releasing the energy, commitment and knowledge of individuals and organisations and focussing it on business goals.

In the end, each person on the payroll has a multitude of experiences and ‘knowledges’ that need to be visible and harnessed. A silly example I know, but I went to look to buy a new car last week. The salesman had previously worked in a health food shop. We got talking and he recommended 3 new ideas for herbal drugs that would increase the strength of your immune system. If you don’t know what knowledge and experience people have, you are missing a trick in being able to deploy it and at a corporate level, this could be immense.

Without vision and goal clarity and a worthy purpose, it’s difficult for people to give their all to the organisation intellectually and emotionally. Without trust and social cohesion, people will keep their ideas, knowledge and genius to themselves and their knowledge is landlocked to the organisation. Without a culture of sharing knowledge without being disadvantaged and tools to help it happen the knowledge in peoples’ heads becomes locked to the organisation and without people looking outside their world into diverse organisations complacency will almost certainly set in which may one day render the business uncompetitive.

As you can begin to see how these factors all link together to create the conditions for Knowledge Work to flourish.  How do you think your organisation stacks up against the 6 factors of knowledge worker productivity?

Let’s move away from the theory and think about what the 6 factors could mean for leaders and culture.

First of all, given the scientific derivation of these factors, we think all leaders and their teams at all levels should spend time understanding them in some depth in order that they can articulate them well and have a depth of understanding such that they are competent to teach others.

The use of coaching, private study, briefings, online videos, or workshops are powerful tools for learning. Armed with these understandings, leaders should systematically review their leadership style, practices, and processes so that the likelihood of achieving the best conditions is maximised.

This review might include:

1. Levels of trust up and down and across the organisation. How trusting are relationships up and down and across the organisation? Can people rely on what they are told? Have promises been broken in the past that are impacting on trust? Do people keep their promises? Do leaders (in particular) understand that their ‘trustability’ relies on keeping promises and providing information with integrity that can be relied upon?

2. Existing leadership capabilities, styles, and models for recruitment. How comfortable are leaders in being ‘socially cohesive’? What are their attitudes?

3. The behaviours and cohesiveness of the leadership community. Are they acting as role models to others on the 6 factors?

4. Recognition and performance management systems. Are they aligned to the 6 factors or do they create divisions? Are you rewarding the right behaviours? Are you making heroes of the people who live the 6 factors?

5. Organisational culture and processes. Are there things that support the 6 factors? Are there things that get in the way of them? Is employee engagement high enough to increase productivity.

6. How social IT tools are/could be used to aid knowledge sharing. Do you have tools like Jive, Yammer? Are people comfortable and confident to use them?

7. Organisational structures. Is your structure promoting ‘upward only’ progression? Is it creating unhelpful competitiveness between peers that work against social cohesion?

8. The degree to which structures and measurement. Do your structures create ‘you win, I loose’ competitive situations?

9. Performance Management. Do personal objectives link to team objectives and organisational vision? Do people have an opportunity to share their objectives and discuss personal objectives with people in the team and with people in other teams? How is employee performance being reviewed and rewarded?

10. Relationships between teams and divisional. Do you see/hear Organisational ‘prejudice’? Is there ‘history’ between teams that get in the way of them working with other teams? Are there organisational stereotypes and attitudes that discourage cohesion? You need to improve productivity by improving workplace relationships.

11. The processes associated with developing/sharing/discussing corporate strategy, vision and linkage with team goals and personal objectives.

12. Workplace strategy, training of leaders, social induction of new recruits into teams. Workplace productivity depends on getting the foundations right.

13. Is there a proactive process for people to spend time with other teams and external groups?

Bringing the 6 factors to life

How do you bring the 6 factors to life? Easy to talk about but not so easy to do given existing initiatives e.g. Investors in people, ISO 9000, Sunday times to 100 etc. First, I’d say the 6 factors of knowledge worker productivity is based on sound evidence and consequently should have a high priority in you organisations thinking.

Second, the 6 factors will prevail for some time as a scientifically based baseline for organisational development.’ve got to start somewhere!

One way to attack this daunting task is to form a 6 Factors Steering Group of senior leaders.  Two or more take responsibility for reviewing each specific factor and subsequently come forward with proposals to improve performance on their factor. In parallel form, an infrastructure group made up of CRE, FM, HR and IT representatives. Each of these subgroups then takes responsibility for proposing actions to the Steering Group and ultimately implementing agreed actions.

To give the Steering Group some data to work with, you can use an online survey to find out how people feel about each of the 6 factors in relation to their own team and the other teams they have dealings with. This reveals strengths to be celebrated and weaknesses to be worked on. The strength of this approach is that you can unemotionally reveal organisational stresses and strains and work on them.

Pretty quickly you’ve raised awareness of the 6 Factors of Knowledge Worker Productivity and put in place an action plan to improve on all factors. Now you need an investment pot and a way to monitor actions and keep the energy alive month in month out, keeping the 6 factors in the spotlight amid changes on personnel, organisation structures, and business challenges.

Increasingly, workplace technology is freeing us to make new choices about where, when and how we perform tasks. It allows us to work wherever we and our organisations choose to, both as individuals and as teams and communities… in slow time and in real time across cultures, geographies and time zones. Whilst workplace technology can’t replace the fully immersive experience of face to face communication between individuals and groups it can go a long way in supporting teams working away from each other, for example, those who utilise flexible working.

We’ll talk about the technology later, but first I’d like to start this discussion a different place…with the people! If we’re going to get maximum value from investments in IT, particularly in relation to the 6 Factors of workplace productivity, we can only do it when everyone (and I mean everyone) in an organisation feels confident and highly competent to use the evolving set of workplace tools that are increasingly available. I make this point at the outset because from our vantage point on organisations it is very clear that IT functions don’t spend anything like the amount of time they should in making sure users become confident in using the IT tools they provide. In fact, I’d go further and say it’s not in their DNA and that has to change!

With younger generation workers this MAY be justified to some degree because of their natural competence and comfort with IT, however what about senior leaders who perhaps have never really got on with technology, do they need executive IT coaching? Further, rarely do IT departments spend the time needed with leaders to help them to see how new tools and technologies could help them solve business problems, streamline operations and enhance team performance. In my view, its IT’s role is to bring new tools to the table, make sure all leaders and users understand what they can do and then manage the technical, skill and sometimes behavioural changes that help the organisation get the maximum bang from its buck from its IT investments.

How can workplace technology be deployed to support the 6 Factors of Knowledge Worker Productivity?

Social Cohesion & Supervisory Support

Let’s take Social Cohesion first. Physical mobility is a key plank. By proactively encouraging people to sit alongside different colleagues every day in the team, community or from other departments/divisions we get more people to know each other as people. Consequently, physical mobility (however it is afforded) is an important base function. This sort of mobility can also be useful in re-enforcing Supervisory Support by giving leaders the freedom to sit with different members of their teams or communities providing coaching or simply allowing leaders to gain an insight into the challenges team members are facing and being able (where appropriate) to empathise or intervene.

Physical mobility in the office can be provided through a number of different mechanisms. The most obvious is by providing users with tablets or laptops and network connectivity (wireless or wired) so that they can lift themselves up and work in other parts of the office. Mobile phones or ‘IP’ roaming telephony can be used to enable voice calls can be received and made from any desk is a baseline for physical mobility. Some IT departments are reluctant to give workers laptops because they are generally more expensive than desktops, are challenging to administer and support and provide a potential information security risk if lost. Often IT departments preferring a ‘virtualised’ desktop solution where applications are ‘virtualised’ (hosted on the organisation servers in data centres) and workers use thin (or increasingly) ‘thick’ client devices (dumbish terminals) that allow workers to sit anywhere and quickly log on and access all their applications, data, and their own personalised desktop. This virtualised arrangement is also accessible from laptops and (with the right security tools) home desktops giving people complete freedom to roam and work with the people they want to be with.

Occasionally (and thankfully less frequent now) IT departments deploy ‘roving profiles’ which allow users to log on to PC’s each time drawing down their own specific desktop profile from a central server which sits on the PC. This arrangement is cumbersome and slow….Mobility outside the office can be provided by laptops which can use 3G, 4G or coming soon 5G or public wireless networks or home broadband services to connect to central systems. So, these are the basics.

Of course, in today’s world, teams are not always physically together in the office and so new ‘social’ tools should be used to enable people to feel and work together when they are not together. Workplace technology tools like ‘Skype for business’ (previously ‘Lync’) or Microsoft Teams, known generally of ‘unified communications’ (UC) provide a number of capabilities that support Social Cohesion. The first is ‘Instant messaging’. Users have a series of small picture ‘Icons’ of each person they have dealings with permanently visible. This provides a persistent reminder that their team members are with them, this is critical in order to maxmise social cohesion when distance working. You can drop in a quick message or inquiry with a team member. From a supervisory support standpoint this allows the leader to be visible and available for a quick input.

You can quickly and easily convene a meeting among team members to discuss an issue or challenge or share an update. This could be a pure voice call or audio conference. But greater cohesion and understanding is generated through the use of video and data sharing applications (where all parties can see each other’s screen (e.g. spreadsheets, presentations or even websites and the whites of each other’s eyes!)). You can even record these online discussions for colleagues who were unavailable to catch up. This easy to set up group communication gives a sense of virtual closeness and helps with a feeling of social cohesion.


Then there’s ‘Trust’. It seems that in order to maintain our trust in colleagues, we humans do need some cue’s that help us confirm that we can continue to trust them. Trust in virtual communities is associated with a sense that people are where they should be, doing what they should be doing and that they, and the information about them, can be relied upon. Workplace technology can also allow for the visibility of each other’s calendars, even more so, UC technologies allow people’s status to be known to each other (free, offline, in a meeting etc.) providing an open-ness and basis for trust in the business culture. This may be a particularly important ‘crutch’ initially for leaders moving to a virtual management model, who need regular re-assurance that the team is doing what they are supposed to be doing.

One of the things that destroy trust quickly with teams that don’t work together in the same physical space is the sense that people are not where they should be or doing what you think they should be doing. If this pattern persists, trust can be lost quite quickly, and workplace productivity will be hindered.

Information Sharing

Information Sharing is another important capability that is supported by workplace technology. Tools like Sharepoint enable sharing of team information, including files, updates, social and business bulletins. We talked about the idea of Transactive Memory Systems earlier.…meaning that everyone knows what everyone knows. This is possible to achieve when the team is small, and everyone knows each other well, but how do you know what other people know or what their interests are when they are not altogether in the same location? Personal web pages can be used to detail a person’s experience, interests, and knowledge. Each individual takes responsibility for keeping their page up to date almost as part of their ‘shop window’.

These pages can be browsed and searched by colleagues from across the organisation and where there is value in having a constant visibility of other colleagues’ developments, they can be ‘followed’, meaning that you are automatically updated about their latest work and updates. Workplace technology products like Yammer and Jive also allow team members to seek help or inputs from others in their work community too by posting questions or queries that the whole community can see and respond to.

There are also one or two interesting apps such as Spark Collaboration which help you make new connections in the office, proactively introducing people to each other and facilitating them in meeting for lunch or for coffee. Making friends outside of the day to day transactions of work is an important dimension of knowledge sharing.

We shouldn’t also lose sight of meeting room technology either to aid easy knowledge sharing when the team is physically and virtually together. Network connectivity should be provided either wirelessly or at the desktop through a wired connection. Easy to access power supplies at a desktop. The use of smart boards and ‘easy to connect to’ plazma screens, decent sound systems, and camera’s all help to provide a seamless and fault-free experience that makes knowledge sharing easy and therefore more likely in the workplace.

Vision and Goal Clarity

Vision and Goal Clarity can be supported by tools like Sharepoint. Visions are often best delivered as video footage with leaders talking honestly and openly about their aspirations for the future. These need to be accessible and persistent so that people are continually reminded of them.

Team and personal goals can also be made visible virtually using team pages in Sharepoint where each team makes clear its goals, the goals, and tasks of its team and articulate how they relate to the vision for the enterprise.

External Communication

External Communication (communication and connectedness) with people outside the team is again supportable with IT tools like Yammer, Jive and Sharepoint and exposure to external communities and stimuli can be gained in using tools like Linkedin, Twitter, Pinterest and Youtube.

Workplace technology and technology competence is a really important part of creating the infrastructure for support of the 6 factors of Knowledge Worker Productivity, particularly in an increasingly ‘virtual’ world in which people are working as part of teams and communities across different geographies, cultures and time zones.

6 Factors of Knowledge Workers Productivity – Case Study: London & Partners

Performance management and productivity measurement are key to business success. As they say, what gets measured gets managed, right?! The first question leaders keep asking is ‘How can we find out how we stack up against the 6 factors of knowledge worker productivity?’

Well, the good news is that we have the workplace technology to answer this question. Through the course of our research, we gathered together a fully validated question set with which to enable teams to score themselves on the 6 factors that will determine the workplace productivity of your oraganisation. We’ve gone even further now to evolve these to allow each team member to also score the teams they work with on the 6 factors, allowing for a higher depiction of employee performance. Putting the intra-team and inter-team views together we can build up a pretty good picture of how an organisation works against the 6 factors which is proving to be valuable on a number of levels, giving our workplace consultant a depth of knowledge to work with.

Advanced Workplace Associates (AWA) wanted to put our tools to the test, so we approached the Executive team at London & Partners, London’s official promotional company (promoting the best City in the World!). We know London & Partners are a progressive and open-minded organisation having worked with them to create an agile workplace and agile working practicesOpens in a new tab. at their office at More London.  The business was interested to see how they measured on the factors of workplace productivity and to use the experience to generate a different language to address relationships within the company.

Gathering workplace data

Before we started gathering workplace data, Opens in a new tab.we spent time with leaders and their teams within the organisation, briefing them on the 6 factors of knowledge worker productivity and the research that led to them. AWA then launched an on-line questionnaire to measure each team on the 6 Factors and the relationships between different teams. We wanted to know how strong “within a team” relationships were and how good ‘between team’ relationships were too. Knowing this information would allow us to determine the first factor of knowledge worker productivity, social cohesionOpens in a new tab..

The questionnaire used statements drawn from the original research and asked respondents to agree or disagree with each statement on a 5 point scale. We asked each member of staff to score their own team and the other teams in the organisation. They also indicated the groups they worked with on a regular basis and those they didn’t. In analysing the data at a headline level, we looked to see what percentage of respondents had agreed with each statement.


We were delighted to get a 90% response rate from the 140 London & Partners people, giving an excellent evidence base from which to draw conclusions. As well as providing responses about their own team, people responded about 12 of the 14 other teams, on average. Naturally not every relationship is critical to business outcomes, but the research suggests that even if you don’t work regularly with other teams, it’s still important to know about them, know what they do, what they know and have positive views about them in order for knowledge to flow.

The graphs shown below are not those of London & Partners, as we wanted to preserve confidentiality. They are, however examples of the findings that can be obtained from this data analysis.

% age of respondents agreeing with statements (agree / strongly agree). Solid colour = own team view: striped colour = view of other teams

Unlike Figure 1 which is an example, London & Partners results showed that the TrustOpens in a new tab. statements were the most highly endorsed when staff considered their own teams – a significant achievement for a 4-year-old organisation which was formed by combining 3 separate organisations with their own cultures, relationships and ways of working. When looking between teams, the highest endorsement overall was for information sharingOpens in a new tab. – exactly what you would want in a knowledge work business of talented people working in centres of excellence.

The areas less well endorsed when looking between teams were external communicationOpens in a new tab. (the degree to which teams share their knowledge and expertise) and social cohesion (the degree to which people get on with and socialise with each other). Generally, teams get on well with each other (particularly where they are working closely) and are happy to share with those in other teams. They don’t necessarily want to socialise with each other and seemingly don’t always seek the expertise of other teams to the degree that might be expected.

Team X views of other Teams and vice versa Results for all 6 Factors together

What the data also reveals is that even in a business of this size, it’s impossible to know and work closely with everyone – and indeed that isn’t appropriate to the roles people carry out. Most organisations focus their teams on meeting their own objectives – not necessarily helping others to achieve theirs (particularly if in doing so, they risk missing their own!). But what does that do to overall organisational performance?

For example, Figure 2 shows very low levels of endorsement (in both directions) between Team X and Team Z. If these teams don’t need to work closely together, that may not be a cause for concern…but if they do, then there is certainly work to be done to improve productivity – through understanding the underlying factors that contributed to that result and exploring the nature of the relationship. The 6 Factors results don’t necessarily tell people things they didn’t know already about their relationships, but they do provide a language and a more level playing field to discuss what’s going on. From this base point, we were able to learn how to increase productivity within the organisation.

Sharing the results

Armed with these results, we presented them at an All Staff Conference and used them to generate an immediate brainstorm of ideas that people could put into action relating to social cohesion (there are many ways to generate it other than socialising after work) and ways to continue building and maintaining trust within the business (levels of trust between teams were less strong than within teams, as would be expected). Trust, however, takes a long time to build and is easily broken, so a good score now is no guarantee that it will be maintained unless people work to ensure it is protected.

Some of the ideas generated were interesting (although some are deceptively simple) and included:

– Don’t be afraid to talk to people

– Introduce myself to someone I don’t know

– Partners want to socialise with us too – that’s also a chance to socialise with each other

– Why not reduce emailing and just walk and meet?

– Deliver on promises – Do what you say you were going to do

– More celebrating success across teams

– Don’t try to hide from tough conversations

– Don’t discourage small failures – it’s human nature and important to learn from mistakes

These ideas are a small extract from those generated and they’re not rocket science. However, they come from the individuals within the business – and as change management consultantsOpens in a new tab., we know that people are more likely to commit to ideas they’ve come up with themselves. In our pressured, results-driven world, the humanity has somehow been beaten out of us – so the 6 factors focus helps us to recognise that we are all people, trying to do our best – often with competing objectives.

The Executive Team also saw that the 6 factors have a broader reach than simply within London & Partners. As a partnership business, they could see its relevance in examining and evaluating relationships between their business and those they work with closely – with a view to addressing and improving, for example, their information sharing or social cohesion with their partners.

What’s next for London and Partners and their workplace productivity?

AWA has been working with the individual directorates to help them make sense of their own results and how to use these to consider things they might want to do / approach differently. They can see what their team said as a whole, what their team said about other teams, and what other teams said about them – hence giving two-way feedback for each of the factors. This provides a basis upon which teams can discuss their results and seek to understand more about what has driven those levels of endorsement from the other teams around the workplace.

The results have led to some interesting discussions about the nature of social cohesion and how it is generated – socialising is but one way to develop strong relationships with other teams, and although it is a valid measure, it illustrates that there is potential for quite low levels of endorsement when only one or two specific statements are used – and using more would reduce the impact of any one statement within a factor. At its heart, social cohesion is about whether we know each other well enough to feel comfortable knowledge sharing ideas and information around the workplaceOpens in a new tab.. Groups have also discussed ways in which they can share their knowledge and expertise with others (generally people are happy to share…but aren’t necessarily called upon to do so by others).

Figures below are examples of the analysis we provided to each team to illustrate the level of detail they’ve been able to work at.

Team X – views of their own team

Some of the activities being explored by teams are actually things they used to do but fell out of the habit (i.e. holding “lunch and learn” sessions where a team shares what it does in an engaging, entertaining way over lunch). Other things are in place but are perhaps a bit passive – for example “everyone is welcome to come to our team meetings” is replaced by active invitations to attend a team meeting if the team feels there is a benefit in inviting specific people to attend their meeting.

Responses about Team X from all other teams

Another aspect is recognition for a job well done – a key element of perceived supervisory supportOpens in a new tab.. It is clear that some managers and directors feel that to keep thanking people is “over the top” and doesn’t feel genuine after a while… whereas it is clear that when expressed genuinely, people really do value recognition and appreciation.

In working with the Directors and teams on the results, it has become clear that even the best organisations don’t always do all the right things. No surprise there, right?

But having a light shone on the intra-team relationships (seeing what others think about you, when you think you’re doing a really good job for them) will highlight challenges around communication, cooperation, conflict or lack of clarity in priorities, and the degree to which teams actually feel in competition with each other. Whether these are intended, or unintended consequences of the way things are organised is a matter for discussion.

There is also something rather significant about managing expectations – which in busy, time-pressured organisations may feel like a real overhead. However, if you don’t manage expectations, take time to explain, to thank people, to appreciate them, to agree on joint objectives – then the risk is that however good the relationships are, they can suffer over time.

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 managementOpens in a new tab. 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?

Kinetic Organisation

AWA were invited by RegusOpens in a new tab., 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 ‘agileOpens in a new tab.’ 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 hereOpens in a new tab..

After conducting a workplace review involving a series of focus groups with senior leaders and an online survey, we concluded. 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 cohesionOpens in a new tab. and knowledge sharingOpens in a new tab.? 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 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 focused 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 the 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 cohesionOpens in a new tab. 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). 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 trustOpens in a new tab. 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.

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:

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

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

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

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

5. 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.

6. 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.

– How can we organise our operations to get the best out of our knowledge workers?

– What would it mean for leaders, leadership and team behavioursOpens in a new tab.?

– 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?

– 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.


Steve Todd

Steve Todd, founder of Open Sourced Workplace and is a recognized thought leader in workplace strategy and the future of work. With a passion for work from anywhere, Steve has successfully implemented transformative strategies that enhance productivity and employee satisfaction. Through Open Sourced Workplace, he fosters collaboration among HR, facilities management, technology, and real estate professionals, providing valuable insights and resources. As a speaker and contributor to various publications, Steve remains dedicated to staying at the forefront of workplace innovation, helping organizations thrive in today's dynamic work environment.

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