Recently a client asked, “How can we more effectively manage our technical and professional personnel?” The basis for the question dealt with morale issues that had developed within the technical employee group.
People are people, always remember that basic fact. Next, distinguish between leadership and management. Leadership is about people and involves setting the values, vision and direction for the organization. It is about people and processes while management is more about getting tasks accomplished. Management involves five basic functions, no matter what the business happens to be. The five functions are: planning, organizing staffing, directing and controlling the work being done by the organization. It takes both leadership and management to succeed.
Next, we need to realize that the term “technical and professional personnel” refers to what are typically called “knowledge workers” today. This term applies to people in many different situations including high tech, smokestack industry, banks, bio-tech, electronics, computers, education and many more industries.
The successful leader of knowledge workers must recognize certain key factors about these workers, and deal with each individual yet be equitable with all in the organization.
Knowledge Workers typically:
- View the job as an extension of themselves (the job is me)
- Are different because “they feel they are different” (special)
- Look for interesting and challenging work (inquisitive and independent)
- Generally feel contributions not fully understood by management (nobody listens to me)
- Take any criticism of work as personal (it’s personal)
- Careers are the result of many small successes over time (growth is important)
- Supervisors must deal in facts and ideas (emotion still counts)
When dealing with knowledge workers the most important trait for a leader is to be honest. Next, the leader must be willing to take time to treat people as individuals and recognize the value of each knowledge worker. In manufacturing I have seen situations in my consulting practice where the factory worker gets most of the attention and the engineers are just sort of “taken for granted” by the senior management. This leads to frustration and low morale.
To maintain and improve the morale of knowledge workers such as technical professionals the effective leader will:
1. Take time to listen to ideas
2. Not attack ideas too quickly, but rather let the small flame of an idea grow
3. Seek to assign meaningful and challenging work
4. Establish and communicate expectations and goals
5. Realize the strong need to be right, so deal in facts not personalities
6. Do not over supervise, rather treat the individual as the professional they should be
7. Allow flexibility in approaches, but stay focused on the goal
Attention to these seven factors along with honesty and integrity will help you improve the morale of the technical and knowledge workers in your organization.