Smart moves: Juggling acts

Philip Schofield on the nine skills knowledge workers need
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KNOWLEDGE workers do not need to be more intelligent, better educated or have greater ability than others to excel. What they do need to be a top performer, according to a US research study, is to be able to apply nine specific work skills. Research in Britain by Development Dimension International (DDI) shows these same skills are equally important here.

With post-industrial revolution well underway, a growing number of people are employed as knowledge workers. These are professional level employees who have had formal training and specialised technical skills, who are problem-solvers, and who are doing work which is neither routine nor repetitious, but requires creativity and original thought.

For 20 years US researchers Drs Robert Kelley and Janet Caplan studied knowledge workers with the aim of developing a programme at Bell Laboratories to turn average workers into "star performers". They found that the determinant factor is the way in which they apply nine critical work skills in addition to their technical competence and knowledge. These are:

r Initiative: making the most of current assignments and promoting new ideas and following them through.

r Networking: cultivating people who are sources of useful knowledge and sharing information and expertise with them.

r Self-management: prioritising work, using time effectively, and planning a career path.

r Perspective: understanding how one's work responsibilities relate to the goals of the organisation and being aware of others' viewpoints, such as customers, colleagues and competitors.

r Teamworking: identifying with the team, and working with colleagues to shared goals.

r Leadership: formulating, stating and building a consensus on team goals and working to accomplish them.

r Followership: assisting and supporting the leader to achieve organisational goals; thinking and acting independently rather than relying on the leader's direction.

r Organisational diplomacy: navigating through competing corporate interests involving individuals and groups to promote co-operation, addressing conflicts.

r Oral presentation: preparing and presenting ideas in a clear and organised manner using effective delivery techniques.

Last year DDI in the UK, jointly with the research arm in the US, conducted a survey in 15 British organisations, including British Aerospace, British Nuclear Fuels, NEC, Rank Xerox and the Rover Group. Among its aims were to find out if these nine skills are as important to UK knowledge workers as they are in the US; the extent to which they believe they have opportunities in their work to improve these skills; whether or not they are interested in development programmes, and their preferred methods of learning.

The survey questioned one senior human resources executive in each company - and 268 knowledge workers. Mot of those in the latter group held the job titles of engineer (57 per cent) or legal and other specialists (26 per cent) with smaller groups of software developers, chemists, accountants and other specialists.

The workers were asked: "How important are each of the nine work skills in successfully performing your job?" Although the average scores for all of them were similar, networking and technical competence were rated marginally highest with leadership and organisational diplomacy just behind. They were then asked how often their job and work environment provided opportunities for them to improve in each skill. Two-thirds of the human resource specialists felt their knowledge workers had a strong need for development programmes. Just over a third believed these skills can be taught or improved through a development programme.

With the growth in knowledge working, it is important that companies invest in programmes to develop these key skills. The survey, although on a small sample, weighted heavily to engineering, suggests that more needs to be done.