Mentoring Knowledge Workers

Frank Michael Kraft wrote an interesting piece about “Mentoring in Knowledge Work” today.   He builds a compelling case that mentoring will become a part of the workplace of knowledge workers, in a way that managers are a part of workplace today with more traditional routine work. He suggests that managers in the future may find the need to use a mentoring approach — or there may be at least an increased need for it.

When the ACM Mentor Camp was first announced, Frank immediately let me know it was a good idea, and offered to help to define more precisely the role of a mentor.  I was thinking mostly about the idea of a person who would mentor on how to use the ACM technology, but he makes a good point that a mentoring approach is applicable to more subjects than the technology,  extending to the professional skill of the knowledge worker as well.  After all, mentoring is knowledge work itself.  We should expect than that ACM mentors would use ACM themselves.  What is not obvious is that all ACM users might want to mentor as well.  Mentoring and knowledge work are intertwined.  Very interesting indeed!

3 thoughts on “Mentoring Knowledge Workers

  1. Very interesting observation! Being a “knowledge worker” I can safely say that this already happens in our organization. So for an outsider the concept may appear ground breaking, but for us its more of a norm than exception. However, I do not agree with the “knowledge worker” tag: it sort of implies that those who aren’t classified this way are dumb! The term itself is an oxymoron, everybody needs some sort of knowledge/skill/training to do what they are supposed to do.

    My twitter id: @ChanduSingh

  2. Interesting point about the term knowledge worker. I assume you meant to say that the term is a tautology (something circularly defined to always be true) as opposed to an oxymoron which means something self contradictory.

    Peter Drucker is credited with coining the term “knowledge worker” and used it consistently for almost half a century. He meant to distinguish someone who’s work depends strongly upon the specifics of the situation. It is not just they have knowledge, or have been trained to do something, but that the gaining of new knowledge is part of the job itself. I see your point that saying that someone is not a knowledge worker seems to imply that they have no knowledge.

    I prefer to talk about “knowledge work” because in my experience we all engage in some routine work and some knowledge work. A car factory assembly line worker is employed primarily for routine (predictable, definable) work, but occasionally spots something that could be improved about the way they work (as demonstrated in the Toyota Way). At the same time, Sherlock Holms, a classic knowledge worker example, occasionally must file routine paperwork. You see it is a quality of the job, of the work, and not necessarily a quality of the person. All workers have a mix, but some professions require a lot more knowledge work than others.

    Thomas Davenport cites several studies showing that knowledge worker (occupations) account for 25% up to 50% of all occupations. This confirms what you say about it already happening in organization, and by all accounts the percentage of jobs that primarily involve knowledge work is growing.

  3. Thanks for the clarification :), couldn’t agree more with the mentor-manager approach. Its high time organizations realized that they can’t manage knowledge intensive work by an assembly line approach.

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