Focus on Process for Knowledge Economy Workers

Recently, I read this article from the Stanford Social Innovation Review on employee engagement in the ‘knowledge economy.” It’s a nice short post that offers several key insights into strategies to engage knowledge workers–employees of businesses that “sell ideas,” or people who “think for a living” (I have seen both definitions used).  I want to suggest that basically all non-profits operate within this sphere of knowledge work because we are “selling” our mission to donors and to our communities, as well as providing services and support to our constituents. In the arts, we are not only selling a ticket to the theater or a viewing of a sculpture, we are also selling the intangible quality of the arts experience, the creative mission of the organization, and the creative brand.

Here is a nice encapsulation from Belmont’s post that links an organization’s ability to delivery services at the highest quality with employee morale:

Build self-esteem by ensuring a match between the organization’s promise and its ability to deliver. An organization’s promise—its commitment to deliver on its word—is a critical part of its outward-facing brand. But don’t forget that it’s the employees who actually have to deliver on the promise. When developing your brand promise, be certain that it is one that your company has the capability and capacity to deliver. Breaking the promise damages team morale and degrades individual self-esteem. But if you deliver consistently, your team will swell with pride.

What we do needs to match with what we say we do, simple as that. Belmont suggests that a business that does not fulfill its mission, will decrease employee motivation and increase turnover, whereas a company that executes its mission well has the opposite effect, bringing pride to the workers who participate in that goal. Yes! Yes! I think what I love about this is the idea that procedure matters as much as product. The journey informs the end result, which in turn informs employee satisfaction.

Anyway, point being that I have recently become really fascinated by this idea of bridging the gap between the mission or promise of an organization (outward facing) and the practices of the organization in terms of its organization, administration and HR practices (inward facing). If we create a product, be it a knowledge product, a service or a creative offering, in an efficient, supportive, creative, fun way, it impacts both the quality of the product and the happiness of the workers who make it.

As artists, we often want to privilege ourselves out of conversations like these, because the creative process is different, messy, unique, non-Capitalistic, magical, chaotic, or unpredictable. Yes, this is true, sure, fine. But it doesn’t mean that we can or should be satisfied with management practices that are similarly so. We often talked in graduate school about giving the artists we worked with the space to create and the space to fail, so that the creative product would ultimately be improved. I believe that engendering employee loyalty and productivity through excellent management practices, positive feedback, humane work environments, and yes, competitive compensation packages, can help improve the creative product in the long run.

So, great article. Definitely read it. SSIR is consistently excellent. I wish I could afford to go to their conference, or even have access to it. Something to put on the list.

Link: Knowledge Economy 2.0 by Nancy Belmont

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