posted 25 Jul 2006 in Volume 9 Issue 10
Stop the clock
Has clock-watching – by employers as well as staff – become a barrier to KM?
By Jerry Ash
The MindTree environment is a KMers’ dream. Isn’t it? (See ‘Ideas Emerging’ in this issue, page 22). A knowledge management (KM) champion’s mind is surely supercharged by the wonder of MindTree’s incredible fruit – emergence. Yet, you must ask, how could such a practice be replicated in the
Notwithstanding the company’s extraordinary system of knowledge-sharing and empowerment, it is interesting that its communities initially had somewhat the same trouble as everyone else trying to recruit the right minds to the ‘task table’ when it meant extra work, often off the clock.
With more than 3,000 employees in offices located around the world and with the use of open-source social networks and systems, MindTree has been successful in finding enough volunteers who are passionate enough about various tasks to give that extra effort.
But the clock is a foe many times greater than that faced by MindTree.
Power of the clock
Is passion the easy answer? Not always. The adversarial relationship between labour, management and, increasingly, government regulators, embedded during the industrial age leaves us with a legacy of mistrust on both sides of the equation and with laws that were certainly right-minded during the era of sweat shops, but are wrong-minded in the era of knowledge work.
The clock remains the instrument of power of both labour and management – labour using it to limit working weeks, while management uses it to ensure that employees put in ‘a full day’s work.’ This scenario reinforces the industrial-era ‘them and us’ mindset that is unsuitable for a mordern, open and collaborative business and working environment.
How many exceptional but pragmatic minds pass up a special opportunity when they still think they are just putting in the required time or they are simply not passionate enough or team-spirited enough to volunteer their time without guaranteed extra pay? If the answer is “only one,” that may still be one too many if he or she turns out to have the unique, key knowledge that could make all the difference to the success or failure of an organisation in today’s highly competitive environment.
Why not stop the clock? Does the time clock make any sense in a knowledge-networked world?
In countries regarded as KM leaders, such as
Luke Naismith, a director of Knowledge Futures Consulting and corporate strategy manager for the Victorian Government Department of Justice in
Naismith agrees that the clock and knowledge management simply do not mix. “Knowledge work often doesn’t happen at work,” he says. “I can have a brainwave and think of a fabulous new design while in the shower or traveling to work before ‘clocking on’. Knowledge workers take their work home with them – it’s hard to leave the brain at the office door!”
Companies under restrictive labour laws have always used salary for people who are paid to think, such as executives, managers and many categories of professionals. To ensure that they do not fall foul of labour laws, companies in the
There are other ways, too. ‘Assistant’ managers are often given a management title just to get around the 40-hour limit set in stone in
In most companies, however, inflated management numbers still represent a minority of employees. And so, only a minority of employees are eligible to engage in knowledge work off the clock. That isn’t the case with MindTree or many other consulting companies where most of the labour force is composed of exempt professionals.
But for most organisations, the constantly ticking clock shuts out or limits the vast majority of employees from the full scope of mind work.
If we are truly partnering with all our employees, shouldn’t we stop compensating on the basis of time served and start compensating on the basis of work accomplished? Shouldn’t we try to educate labour and lobby national governments to get an exemption for knowledge workers? In the
A reporter usually knows more than he or she can possibly cram within the limits of just a few magazine pages. But here is a significant human-interest story that is still waiting to be told from my many pages of notes on ‘Emergence’ (page 22) at MindTree.
Although an Indian company, MindTree was developed and grew partially in the
To reinforce the fundamentals behind this continuing cultural change, there are no stuffy offices and no rigid hierarchies at MindTree. Regular ‘AllMinds Meet’ gatherings are held to bring people together to socialise, receive reports from senior management, ask questions and to provide a forum in which everyone can speak up. Other than the four most senior people, everyone works in a cube so that they are always easily seen and also easy to approach.
A long way from the caste system that is more often associated with
Jerry Ash is a KM coach, founder of the Association of Knowledgework, http://www.kwork.org, and special correspondent to Inside Knowledge. He is the author of the Ark Group’s latest major report, Next Generation Knowledge Management. To order, contact Adam Scrimshire at email@example.com. Jerry Ash can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.