The Crisis of Meaning in the Knowledge Workforce

11 thoughts on “The Crisis of Meaning in the Knowledge Workforce”

  1. Super, insightful post. Thanks for sharing this! 🙂

    FWIW, Familiar’s purpose (my own software house business, ~15 years ago now) was expressly: “To bring people together to share in discovering what personal fulfilment means.” Nothing in there about writing / delivering software. Nor about being the best, making boatloads of money, having happy customers, etc. (All that came, though. cf Obliquity).

    I am resolved to revisit this ethos with my new (proto) startup.

    – Bob @FlowchainSensei

    1. Hi Bob, you are most welcome! Thanks a lot for the great follow-up commentary as well! 🙂 That’s just such an amazingly inspiring corporate mantra! I wish the business world would embrace such kind of mentality, once again, and give the world another chance at doing what it does best: get the most and the best out of each and everyone of us!

      This is very much along the lines of a wonderful conversation a bunch of us are having at Google Plus, where we are talking about corporate culture and a Culture of Ethics, which I think would fit in rather nicely along with your comments above, Bob!

      We need more of that mentality in today’s business work! Good luck with that new endeavour! I am sure you would be fine, though! 🙂

  2. I know you don’t buy into the generational argument but unfortunately it exists within many organizations. As you know I’ve been putting together case studies on emergent collaboration for various companies and I keep hearing that as a recurring problem. The American Hospital Association and Oce are two companies that immediately come to mind who experience these problems.

    1. Hi Jacob! Thanks much for dropping by! Seriously, it doesn’t! It’s different working styles at work that are at play over here. I have been working with baby boomers for years who are incredibly social while using social networking tools and Gen-Yers who are terrified of just being online even! And for which the mobile phone and email are their main method of collaboration and knowledge sharing.

      This hasn’t got anything to do with ages or different generations, but with applying different models of thinking and decision making. I would be within those organisations you mentioned above there would be plenty of cases where the heaviest users of social networking tools are folks about to retire, who would want to leave a legacy behind, transfer some of their knowledge to younger employees, and so forth.

      It’s not a generations issue, really; it’s about knowledge workers wanting to work smarter, not necessarily harder, and in this case, much more openly, publicly and transparently, amongst several other social traits

  3. Thanks for the post. Your observations are valid but I fail to see how I as a manager or leader can do anything that substantially changes this. Yes, of course, I can operate locally to inspire the teams and individuals who I touch but if we are all working within the same, classic, organizational structure then ultimately what is changed? We are still serving the artifact this will always trump.

    1. Hi JP! Thanks much for dropping by and for the feedback comments! I think you are bringing up the core issue at play in this discussion: how further up within the organisation can you go to help inspire the creation of that hybrid management / leadership networked environment that combines traditional hierarchies with networks and communities.

      Quite an interesting and tough challenge, for sure. However, in today’s current working environment, where more and more businesses depend on the knowledge work of their workforce, how soon before the latter feels ostracised for the work they are doing and neglected / ignored by those above, without remedy?

      Can a knowledge organisation survive in today’s corporate environment by having their knowledge trapped in micro-managed silos where strict corporate rules are imposed to work on exceptions after exceptions? To be honest, I don’t think it will survive much longer, and today’s current global events are another proof of that.

      So, what we can do, as managers or non-managers, to help accelerate such hybrid model? Well, bring up the topic with the decision makers, top management and top executives to help them visualise themselves as part of the change agents group that’s help shape up the new work model, one where trust, openness and transparency, as well as agility would rule how folks interact. It’s what I have been calling as well differentiating between managers and leaders.

      We are going to need both, but in a more porous organisation where knowledge work flows, more than being trapped altogether.

      This blog post by Kathy Sierra on “Manager 2.0” is ever so relevant in today’s corporate environment and a good starting point as well.

      Thanks again for the feedback!

  4. Absolutely spot on with the observations of “crisis of meaning” and the disconnect between what people care about in the workplace and what businesses care about.

    This crisis has been around since the downsizing of the late ’90s when so many workers (good ones and bad) were unceremoniously and brutally dumped by businesses around the globe.

    This trend has repeated several times since then – a behaviour that would indicate a lack of respect by business towards the people that run it.

    Lack of respect is always reciprocated. I figure the crisis won’t be resolved until respect is restored on both sides.

    1. Hi Kathryn! Oh, how wonderful! Many many thanks for dropping by and for sharing these insightful comments! Goodness! On Respect, you are spot on! And in so many ways! It’s something that a bunch of us have been advocating for all along: how we need to bring back into the corporate environment not just respect along, but also (social) trust; and working both ways, too, like you are suggesting! Never before have we been having such a tremendous opportunity to bring both of those characteristics back into the business world with the emergence of social networking tools.

      It’s a constant nurturing of personal business relationships that needs to start happening again, not at a knowledge workforce level, but also on a business level. It’s what will bring back both respect and trust and help us resolve our own identity crisis at work.

      So needed!! Thanks much, once again, for sharing these great comments and adding further up into the conversation! 🙂

  5. Agree. This is not a generation gap.

    Sharing and collaborating has been an ongoing struggle since the dawn of man. We could site where wars were started and wars were lost because of poor knowledge management.

    Within the US, and most parts of the world, our education systems recognize and reward the individual. Students compete against each other for the highest grades, and hoard knowledge.

    Within the workplace, no matter what age, people engage in Social Channels. But can a knowledge worker really stay engaged solely on the Social Channel 100% of his/her time? We all know that the is is “no.” Thus, we can assume they spend time in other content repositories (ie: KB, Sharepoint, his computer, email, Shared Servers, , CRM, shoot-from-the-hip, etc …).

    With this in mind, I believe the real culprit is the extensive “content” options that exist. No matter what age, it is human nature to take the path of least resistance.

    Leadership MUST define the Knowledge Pathway for the worker, and identy the “expected” content repositories to use, plus provide a bit of freedom for other channels such as Social Media. Essentially, Leadership MUST get everyone rowing in the same direction.

    1. Hi John! Thanks a lot for dropping by and for adding further up into the conversation with some excellent observations. Indeed, sharing and collaborating in whatever the environment have always been quite a challenge and I am wondering if that of it is all due to that mentality you have mentioned above about working against each other, competing with one another, hoarding our most powerful “weapon” our knowledge, just because all along we have been told that “Knowledge is power”, so if we release that knowledge, we are releasing our power.

      I am hoping that our leaders realise the harm that kind of mentality is having within the corporate environment and would be expecting that we switch from that individual competitiveness into recognising and valuing group (team, network, community) performance above the individual one. Something tells me that sharing and collaborating would be a completely different thing then!

      I agree with you as well that some times we do have too many places to go to share our knowledge and that surely keeps adding into the confusion. Having knowledge workers decide where they are going to go to share that knowledge is not good enough. There needs to be executive leadership on establishing what would be consider key essential resources and lead by example. And social tools is probably one of the critical ones for those activities of knowledge sharing and collaborating, specially, nowadays that the workforce is more virtual and distributed than ever before.

      I, too, hope we all keep rowing in the same direction! That one where the river of knowledge flows nicely 🙂

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