Empowering knowledge workers to focus on high-valued tasks

Empowering knowledge workers to focus on high-valued tasks

Empowering knowledge workers to focus on high-valued tasks

Empowering knowledge workers to focus on high-valued tasks. As a manager, how can you make your knowledge workers more productive? Jordan Cohen and Julian Birkinshaw explore the topic in HBR. By interviewing a group of employees in different companies and industries, they found that the majority of people could gain one day a week to do more important activities, if they could get rid of low-value tasks or delegate responsibilities. In other words, workers could potentially increase their productivity levels by 20% if they were able to focus on high value-added assignments.

Cohen and Birkinshaw raise the question of what can be achieved if management comes in and supports their knowledge workers to focus on the most important areas of responsibility. They recommend three approaches and refer to a few best practices that have empowered employees to spend more time on high value tasks.

1. Mandate a behavioral change to support knowledge workers

The idea behind this approach is to get your employees to change the way they act to increase productivity. The authors refer to fashion company Lanvin that implemented a no email policy on Wednesdays to encourage colleague to talk and interact with each other more. Software company Atomic Object made it obligatory for its employees to stand and not sit in meetings to encourage people to have shorter and more to the point discussions. Yahoo took away the right for remote working to foster an environment of cooperation and innovation. Again, the idea is to change behavior to support productivity.

2. Implement clever support systems for your employees

Managers should remove bureaucratic hurdles that slow down their employees work and should, on the contrary, deliver support systems to empower them to focus on lucrative business areas. Employers can either create new support systems or remove unnecessary hurdles. The authors refer to task-outsourcing enabling employees to assign work to external providers to allow them to focus on high value-added work. Pfizer implemented such a system to assist their employees to be more effective called PfizerWorks. Other companies have revised their difficult budgeting processes to make it easier for employees.

3. Be a role model and lead the way

The action requires that people take responsibility for their own effectiveness. It involves reshuffling areas of responsibility from the higher echelons to the employees below. Cohen and Birkinshaw refer to Ross Smith, Director of testing Microsoft Lync who delegated responsibility to his teams to decide on the reorganization of the division for testing the next generation product of the video conferencing and instant messaging service.

The benefit of empowering your knowledge workers is two-fold: 1) you will boost productivity by getting them to focus more on business critical tasks and 2) they will become highly motivated and engaged in the business, as they will no longer be concerned with mundane work, but will be able to work on projects and activities that matter, that keeps them interested and they find rewarding.


Cohen, Jordan & Birkinshaw, Julian (2013). Make Your Knowledge Workers More Productive. HBR. [online] Available from: http://blogs.hbr.org/2013/09/make-your-knowledge-workers-more-productive/ [accessed on: 5 November 2013]