Knowledge Worker Autonomy And Its Impact On The Employee Experience


As organizations continue efforts to perpetually reduce costs, knowledge worker productivity becomes a key focus. Specifically, this means giving knowledge workers the ability to work on their own without assistance from other knowledge workers. Done well, this is autonomy. Done poorly, it can be difficult to know what to do, how to do it, and to know if it is done right. Whether you are new to a position, taking on a new project or initiative, or backfilling for a team worker on leave, you need the information to get the job done.

The Daily Grind In Search Of Answers

Knowledge workers face the daily grind of searching for information across multiple platforms, interrupting coworkers, or reaching out to subject matter experts in an effort to find what they need to get the job done.

As managers, it is difficult to prioritize knowledge worker productivity. When information is stored in so many different systems, it is difficult to connect the dots between what knowledge workers do and how that work generates value production for the business. If a manager can’t definitely prove where knowledge workers are spending their time to the business, these operational processes, while needed, are seen as a big cost and will constantly be under the budget microscope to eliminate waste and reduce costs.

But Wait, There’s More — The Negative Employee Experience

It’s your first day on the job, and you’ve completed your initial new-employee training — now what? Employees’ first experience in the work environment other than the hiring process are the tools available to do their jobs. The laptop or desktop they use and the applications and systems made available to them define their initial opinions of the new company. If those systems are out of date, antiquated, and slow to respond, that experience is frustrating from the very first day.

Even worse, they are added to email distribution lists, where emails pile up in queues, waiting for the knowledge workers to pluck items from the growing mass that are easy to do or within their skill sets. Ultimately, these manual processes lead to lower productivity, misassignment of work to the best knowledge workers, and reduced employee morale.

But Wait, There’s More — The Negative Customer Experience

Knowledge workers who struggle through manual processes, application switching across a mirage of systems and applications, and perpetual searching for answers do not serve customers well. When surveyed, customers complain “When I get [insert name of subject matter expert] on the phone, I get an answer quickly, but when I work with one of the new people, it takes forever.” When working with knowledge workers who have the knowledge, the experience is fantastic, often heroic. The subject matter expert can get the job done despite all the challenges they face.

But for the new employee, frustration mounts as they see the long road ahead. New-hire training is complete, but there is a huge gap between company knowledge and the knowledge that is necessary to do their jobs. Everyone knows that it is a problem, and yet no one has the time to address the issue. And the cycle goes on and on …

Service Thinking, Practices, And Platforms Drive Results

Whether it is IT operations or business operations, organizations need to rethink how they support knowledge workers. You certainly wouldn’t give a surgeon a hammer and nails, but organizations are perpetually asking knowledge workers to do their jobs without the right tools aligned to perform their jobs optimally. Efforts in some organizations have tried to solve the issue, but without a complete picture of the end-to-end employee experience, the technologies made available to the knowledge worker fall short of expectations and do not give the organization the productivity gains that are expected.

One strategy to improve the dynamics is to invest in platforms that can broadly meet the needs of knowledge workers. Enterprise service management platforms unify most knowledge worker activities into a single system while also providing advanced functionality such as a portal, the creation and sharing of knowledge, and advanced analytics. Another strategy is to focus on the underserved areas within the business where introducing a platform will help to automate manual processes and make work more visible.

But to do this right, the organization must purposefully assess and design an employee experience that minimizes application switching and the endless search for knowledge that workers face every day. Autonomy is important to the employee experience. Technology is an enabler and only one key element in designing a purposeful and meaningful employee experience that can deliver measurable results.

To learn more about enterprise service management (ESM) and its role in improving the productivity of knowledge workers, read my latest report, ESM: The Software Platform For Knowledge Workers.

Let’s Connect

Have questions? That’s fantastic! Let’s connect and continue the conversation. Please reach out to me through social media or request a guidance session. Follow my blogs and research at Forrester.com.



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