FIVE | People and Knowledge

“Management is about human beings. Its task is to make people capable of joint performance, to make their strengths effective and their weaknesses irrelevant.”

People are the business. They are your front room, your connections to others and to the customer; they are your knowledge and your access to changing opportunities and resources. Peter said that, “What differentiates organizations is whether they can make common people perform uncommon things- and that depends primarily on whether people are being placed where their strengths can perform” or whether, as is all too common, they are being placed for the absence of weakness…

What made the traditional workforce productive was the system, whether it was Frederick Winslow Taylor’s “the best way,” Henry Ford’s assembly line, or W. Edward Deming’s “total quality management.” The system embodied the knowledge. The system was productive because it enabled individual workers to perform without much knowledge or skill. In a service-based organization, you need a system that supports the worker, but the worker needs to support the customer individually. In a knowledge-based organization, it is the individual worker’s productivity that makes the entire system successful. In a traditional workforce, the worker serves the system; in a knowledge-based or service-based workforce, the system must serve the worker.

When Peter talked about the system serving the worker, he was talking about setting workers up to win with high stakes – the heart of management’s most important impact on people. To set people up to win, he emphasized teams and missions, authority and independence, and playing to their strengths.

…Relatively few companies over time have done a consistently good job of managing knowledge workers, and this is a twenty-first-century challenge.