Knowledge work 2020: thinking ahead
about knowledge work
Purpose – This is the knowledge age and, to put it in Peter Drucker’s language, knowledge workers and
their knowledge are a vital component of this economy. Yet, so little is really known about these workers.
New research is needed to better understand the issues surrounding the recruitment, productivity,
deployment, and retention of these workers. This research aims to address this issue.
Design/methodology/approach – The research was conducted through a 35-part questionnaire
administered in mid-2008 to 125 business and government executives/professionals located in North
America, Europe, and South America.
Findings – The research delineates two major work groups by age: 25 years old; and 26-40 years
old. The top two preference ﬁndings for 25-year olds include: recruitment – ﬂexi-work and cultural
diversity; retention – education/training and communities and networks; valued skills –
team/collaboration and specialized technical; and technologies – collaboration tools and e-mail,
search, portals. The top two preference ﬁndings for 26-40-year olds include: recruitment – ﬂexi-work
and job security; retention – communities and networks and documentation; valued skills – project
management and strategic thinking; and technologies – collaboration tools and e-mail, search,
portals. Finally, measuring performance improvement metrics for these workers were: improved
quality of output, task execution speed, and high-impact innovation (as opposed to cost reduction
and work elimination); innovation (25 years); and superior decision-making/risk assessment
capabilities (26-40 years)
Originality/value – This ﬁeld research provides a management framework for helping organizational
leadership to make strategic decisions on how to build a more competitive and attractive workplace over
the next ten years.
Keywords Knowledge management, Employees, Workplace
Paper type Research paper
The ability of ﬁrms to grow and compete over the next decade will increasingly depend on
access to and utilization of relevant knowledge critical to its operations, and the performance
and skills of its knowledge workers. This is evidenced by several large international research
studies on global economic issues (Rigby and Bilodeau, 2007; Mandel, 2007; Kohut, 2007;
Palmer, 2006) that have identiﬁed knowledge worker performance and knowledge
management among top executive challenges over the next decade. The importance of
knowledge work and the challenge of improving the productivity of the knowledge worker
has been identiﬁed and discussed as an important goal for a long time running, with Peter
Drucker (Drucker, 1992, 1994, 1995, 1999) being one of the earlier and more notable
authority on the topic.
For many of today’s organizations, the critical importance of the knowledge worker’s role in
an organization’s performance for the past decade has been addressed and carried forward
under the umbrella of knowledge management (KM). Many different deﬁnitions of KM have
evolved over time and Stankosky’s deﬁnition of ‘‘leveraging relevant knowledge assets to
DOI 10.1108/10748121011072645 VOL. 18 NO. 3 2010, pp. 193-203, Q Emerald Group Publishing Limited, ISSN 1074-8121
ON THE HORIZON
Dan Holtshouse is Senior
Research Fellow at The
Institute of Knowledge and
Innovation, The School of
Engineering and Applied
Science, The George
Washington, DC, USA.