An Introduction To Knowledge Workers Management Essay

For the main part of the 20th century, the industry was depended on the performance of manual workers in manufacturing. During this time the most important contribution of management was to increase the productivity of these workers to make the organization profitable and to sustain their continuity. (Drucker, 1999) But a shift has taken place. Nowadays, in the 21st century, the economy starts increasingly to depend on the performance and productivity of knowledge workers. Most businesspeople believed in the importance of knowledge workers and saw that knowledge workers are vital to organizational success which includes organizational sustainability and growth. For this reason “knowledge workers” become essential in nowadays economy (Helton, R 1988, Drucker, 1999).

But what does this relatively new term ‘knowledge workers’ means? In the literature there is no common or specific definition found. (Ramirez & Nembhard, 2004). But, there are three perspectives in which knowledge workers can be defined (Kelloway &Barling 2003). In the first place a knowledge worker can be seen as a professional who executes the job knowledge work with occupations. (Dove, 1998). This perspective of knowledge workers is in line with the original definition given by Peter Drucker, who has invented the phenomena “knowledge workers” and introduced this term in 1959. (Drucker, 1983).

The definition given by Peter F. Drucker stated that he saw knowledge workers as “high-level employees who apply theoretical and analytical knowledge, acquired through formal education, to develop new products or services” (Drucker, 1994). This definition is supported by Davenport (2002), who is looking to knowledge workers from the same perspective and supplemented the definition by saying that knowledge workers have a high degree of expertise and whose work primarily involves the creation, distribution, or application of knowledge. A second perspective to define a knowledge worker is the individual characteristics of the person, who is actually executing the job ‘knowledge work’ (Kelloway &Barling, 2003). The study of James (2003) for instance identified a knowledge worker as someone who is willing to see the big picture, make decisions, and take appropriate action. Other characteristic of a knowledge worker cited in the literature are the creativity and innovation of a person (Tampoe, 1993), which will be extended in creating and adding intangible value towards business assets (Harris & Vining, 1987). In addition, in the study of Frey (2006) knowledge workers requires autonomy in order to be creative and get intrinsic motivated (Amabile, 1996; Frey, 1997). According to their need of autonomy it is the role of the knowledge worker to learn, constantly updating – and developing new skills, and transfer this knowledge to others in the organization. By doing this, they will make them valuable to the organization ( James, 2002). At last a knowledge worker can be defined from the perspective of an individual activity. In reference to this perspective, the balance between ‘thinking’ and ‘doing’ activities regarding their job is examined (Kelloway & Barling, 2003). However the work of knowledge workers is defined as work with high levels of cognitive activities (Helton, 1988) and where they will work with information to make decisions and create idea’s (Fox, 1990). For this reason knowledge workers tend more to the side where activities are related to ‘thinking’

The definition of knowledge workers, which will be maintained in this article, is someone who has build expertise, is creative, has a certain extent of autonomy, and will add intangible value towards the organization.


Trust can be related to the individual, group and organizational levels within an organization (Dwivedi,1985). This article is focused on the primary function of trust which is interpersonal trust (group level), where there is an occasion and need for individuals to trust (Lewis & Weigert, 1985).

Interpersonal trust can be defined as, “the willingness of a party to be vulnerable to the actions of another party based on the expectation that the other will perform a particular action important to the trustor, irrespective of the ability to monitor or control that other party” (Mayer 1995). Within this form of trust it is about the principle that one party can trust another and thus if the ‘trustee’ party is trustworthy. This phenomena ‘trustworthiness’ can be determined by three aspects; ability, integrity and benevolence, which simultaneously also contributes to the foundation of the phenomena trust. Based on the literature and the conditions that repeatedly appear to explain trustworthiness, it is inescapable that these three aspects comprise trustworthiness (Mayer 1995).

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Ability is one of the three components that contribute to the trustworthiness of a person. It refers to people who are specialized and highly competent in a specific domain of their work. Because of their expertness they create trust towards others and can be trusted more in situations that are related to their expertise. ( Giffin 1967; Zand 1972). A second component is the extent of integrity. To judge if a person is integer can be derived from the consistency of his actions, his moral values, and the extent in which his words are compatible with his actions (Butler and Cantrell’s 1984; Yukl, Becker, and Morrison). The last component is benevolence, which enclose the extent of the actual willingness in which a person wants to help and be vulnerable for another (Mayer 1995). Dong-Gil Ko ( 2009) adds that benevolence trust is based on sentiments, honesty, and personal commitment. But to judge if a person is trustworthy all three elements mentioned by Mayer (1995) have to be present. If only one or two elements show up at a person it is an insufficient condition to judge is a person is trustworthiness (Mayer 1995).

Now trust is defined, it is interesting to know why trust is important. Mayer (1995) for instance has pointed the phenomena risk in relation to interpersonal trust. When there is a high level of trust in one party it will increases the chance that someone will take risk with this party, because he will feel confident (Mayer 1995). In other words the level of trust, of one party, can be translated to the willingness to take risk with this party. This risk taking behavior between two parties, in turn, is expected to lead to positive outcomes of organizations. (Johnson-George & Swap, 1982; Mayer, 1995). Although trust in an organization is also seen as something this cannot be imitated or duplicated. Therefore trust can be seen as a major competitive advantage for an organization. (Jones and George,1998).

Trust is a contributor towards ‘knowledge worker productivity’

Because both phenomena ( trust and Knowledge worker ) are introduced, it is important to find out whether or not they are related and how they are related to each other in the context of productivity. Because “knowledge worker” is a relatively new term, their productivity is not yet defined. Here new techniques need to be developed to find out how the productivity of knowledge workers can be improved (Davis 1991). So there is no universal approach or standard tool found in the literature how to improve the productivity of knowledge workers. But Haas and Hansen (2007) mentioned three aspects that are vital in knowledge-intensive organizations that indicate, and therefore also influence, the productivity of knowledge worker. In the first place by using existing knowledge resources of the organization time can be saved in their work, which positively contribute to the productivity of a knowledge worker. Also stimulating knowledge by giving the employees the ability to exchange knowledge will improve their productivity. And at last it is important that when being productive that the quality will be maintained. Therefore the knowledge workers have to use the absorbed knowledge to maintain the quality. Other studies in the literature also see a link between knowledge sharing and the productivity of knowledge workers. Drucker (1991) for instance in general mentioned “the role of the workers’ knowledge of their job, which is seen as a starting point for improving productivity, quality, and performance”. He also described an example with the aim that if you want to become the best, you have to ask the best person in case. This refer to another meaning of Drucker, that ongoing learning will improve the knowledge workers’ productivity (Drucker, 1999). Another direct link between knowledge sharing and productivity is found by examining the term social interaction as learning community. The goal of such group is, among others, solving problems, capturing improvement opportunities, building trust, but also sharing information (Aken et al. 1994). The use of this social interaction will positively contribute to the individual and organizational performance (Kelloway & Barling 2003). But especially information sharing in such a group will increase the members’ ability (Aken et al. 1994). So, what can be concluded from the literature is that productivity can be defined as knowledge sharing. “Knowledge sharing has been tied to a variety of managerial desirable outcomes including productivity” (Hansen, 2002.)

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Within this knowledge sharing “Trust” is playing an important element that contributes to knowledge exchange. When there is trust in the relationship between two parties it will increase the overall knowledge exchange (Abrams et al, 2003). This can be explained by a quote out of the study of Abrams (2003). “Trust increases the likelihood that knowledge acquired from a colleague is sufficiently understood and absorbed that a person can put it to use”. This quote is supported in the studies of Carely (1991) and Levin (1999). Tsai and Goshal (1998) for instance argue that when there is trust people are more willing to give useful knowledge to the other party. From the sociological perspective trust is also seen as important within knowledge sharing (Lewis & Weigert, 1985; Lieberman, 1981).When looking from this perspective it shows that “trust allows social interactions to proceed on a simple and confident basis (Mayer, 1995) and can facilitate cohesion and collaboration between people (Farnham 1989)”. This is the beginning of knowledge sharing. So having trust within a relationship between two parties, in turn, leads to exchange of more knowledge exchange, whereas knowledge exchange can be defined as productivity.

‘Transformational leadership’ as reinforcing element

By the attendance of knowledge workers, a new way of working is introduced which has led to different needs, values and motivators of the employees (bron). “When a market become more and more knowledge-driven; direction is increasingly important and depends on the leader of these KW.” (bron). This indicates that the leader needs to deal with this change so that the leader can still keep control and handle the situation. Therefore the role of the leader is involved in the outcome / productivity of knowledge workers. For this reason the leader must ask himself how knowledge work and ‘knowledge workers’ must be managed? This underlines the importance to look at a specific leadership style that will strengthen the relationship of trust and knowledge worker productivity.

Transformational leadership, introduced by Burns (1978), is one of the major types of leadership behavior ( Bass, 1985). Studying transformational leadership started to become interesting in a turbulent, unstable, and competitive environment, where organizations need to think about making changes in the organization and their business (Simic, 1998).

But what is a transformational leader? To get a clear understanding of this type of leader four, so called, common “I’s” of which each one represents a dimension, must be taken into account (Barbuto, 2005; Judge & Piccolo, 2004; Simic, 1998). “Idealized influences” will be the first one to review. Regarding this dimension the leader is “building trust, confidence and providing a role model that followers seek to emulate” (Bono & Judge 2004). The second “I” stands for “Inspirational motivation”, which is related to motivating their followers to commit to the vision and be part of the overall organization culture and environment (Kelly, 2003, 2004; Simic, 1998). The common vision is a challenging vision in what the organization can become (Kouzes & Posner, 1995, 2002). As well as the vision, the shared values are also one of the intangible qualities, which is the focus of the transformational leader (Zagorsek & Dimovski & Skerlavaj, 2009). Furthermore there is an “I” for “Intellectual stimulation “. This involves the encouragement towards followers to be creative and innovative and learn how to approach old problems in new ways by providing new perspectives (Judge & Piccolo, 2004; Simic, 1998). This will be encourage by challenging opportunities that test their abilities and skills (Kouzes & Posner 1995,2002). And finally the last “I”, which stands for “Individualized consideration”. In reference to this dimension peoples are treated individually and differently, regarding their needs and abilities. The aim of this dimension is to let followers reach a higher level of achievement. Therefore the leader can be seen as a leader who is committed to the individual subordinate. Because of this individualized attention they play an important role in the growth and development of their subordinates (Bass 1985). “Because transformational leaders provide a vision, inspire workers and give individual consideration, their style fits well with the needs of knowledge workers” (Bryant, 2003).

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But how does the transformational leader reinforce the productivity of the knowledge worker, whereas productivity is defined as knowledge sharing? The literature study give the following conclusion:

The transformational leader is a type of leader who creates an atmosphere where knowledge creation, sharing and exploitation can be expanded (Conger & Kanungo 1998; Bass 1985) and accelerate knowledge acquisition and distribution (Zagorsek & Dimovski & Skerlavaj, 2009). By creating this environment it will also contribute to the innovation and organizational success (Nonaka & Takeuchi, 1995).

The importance of trust will arise when tasks become more complex and when an organization works with knowledge workers which requires a high level of interdependence, cooperation and information sharing (Creed & Miles, 1996). Within this environment “leaders are believed to play the primary role in establishing and developing trust in teams and organizations” ( Creed & Miles, 1996; Fairholm, 1994). Regarding to the literature, it is remarkable, that in all theories trust is cited as a ‘central feature’ of a transformational leadership in the relationship between follower and leader. (Bennis & Nanus, 1985). Therefore within the relationship between the leader and the follower is taken into account. Looking from the leader perspective, the transformational leader affects individuals by “building trust, confidence and providing a role model for followers”. (Bono & Judge 2004). This is positively related to the follower to trust a leader, because when the leader is actual seen as a role model it demonstrates a high level of trust in the leader by their followers (Jung & Avolio, 2000). From the perspective of the follower it can be said that characteristics as honesty, integrity and truthfulness are the most vulnerable aspects for followers to have in a leader (Kouzes & Posner, 1987). This indicates that there is a positive relation between these two phenomena.

Because the transformational leadership style is indicated to be positively related to both trust and knowledge productivity there is also a direct link found where transformational leadership is encouraging the relationship between trust and knowledge worker productivity. What in the literature can be found is that when followers have trust and respect in their leader they are motivated to perform better (Bennis & Nanus, 1985; Yulk, 1989a 1989b). This is supported with a quote of Dirk & Ferrin (2002), who were saying exactly what is concluded. “Employees’ trust in their leader has been related to a range of productivity-related processes and outcomes, such as the quality of communication and problem-solving”.

Based on the literature above two main hypotheses will be examined in this article.

Knowledge sharing is found to be equal to the productivity of knowledge workers. This exchange of information will be positively influenced by trust, which will create an environment where information will be appreciated and used. Therefore Hypothesis one is formulated.

Hypothesis 1; There is a positive cohesion between trust and knowledge worker productivity

Because the transformational leader is building trust within the organization towards their followers and create an environment of knowledge sharing, this type of leadership will strengthen the relation between trust en knowledge worker productivity. Therefore hypothesis two is formulated.

Hypothesis 2; Transformational leadership reinforces the relationship between trust and knowledge worker productivity.

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