Knowledge Management:

Managing Knowledge Workers

Case Study:  Silicon Valley

Attracting People to Opportunities, Challenges, and Growth


By Vadim Kotelnikov. Main source of information: Relentless Growth, Christopher Meyer

"All employees ought to be viewed as consultants." ~ Ed McCracken, CEO, Silicon Graphics

Getting the Best Response from Knowledge Workers

  1. Professional Status and Identity

    • Peers and networking using public praise, positions as a "chief scientist" or corporate fellow, and even peer review as extremely powerful motivators; using peer networks actively for solving problems.

    • Keep current, keep happy facilitating the latest information and knowledge exchange, even with competitors, as an essential component of sustained success.

    • Showcase professional contributions publishing or presenting at industry conferences; "what really drives highly educated knowledge workers is pride in accomplishment."

    • The ultimate skin: gain sharing stock options, unlimited percentage of profits.

  2. Providing Challenging Work

    • The challenge factor going where no one has gone before.

    • Provide the best tools when hampered with substandard tools, knowledge workers resent working longer and harder than they know they need to.

    • Keep innovation process simple and flexible, with clear roles "when Valley workers perceive that the time and energy consumed managing the innovation process is equal to or greater than the time they have for the work itself, productivity plummets and frustration soars"; thus, stay away from elaborate documents - a one-page map will do; keep meeting task-focused and short, with only the critical people present.

    • Match task and resource requirements putting more initiatives in play than you have the capacity to execute quickly demotivates knowledge workers; knowledge workers are turned on by stretch objectives, but not overwhelming ones.

  3. Minimizing Management Overhead

    • Decentralize, empower, and coordinate define what work is required, identify the key interdependencies, and parse the innovation subtask to small, interlocking independent teams with defined leaders.

    • Constantly refresh the context knowledge workers need confirmation that their project is still valued and they want to see what's coming next; to avoid people loosing the context within which their initiative resides, make sure there's always a clear context for the current project and a visible, exciting next project looming ahead.

Silicon Valley Incorporated a Virtual Company

Silicon Valley is often characterized as a community where people really don't work for individual firms everyone works for a virtual company: Silicon Valley Incorporated. "Skills are both so abundant and in such demand that most people could quickly contribute at several Valley firms." A unique Valley norm is that when you are facing a really tough problem, you may contact anyone who may help, regardless of where they work, even if they work for competitors.

"The inducements that companies have historically used to secure loyalty have lost their clout; compensation and benefit party is essential to get people through the from door, but it won't be sufficient to retain them."

The Collective Power of Passion

Silicon Valley leaders recognized the value of passion and continually try to evoke, rather than mute, people passions. Once evoked, the passion is tough to control. It can result in a series of twenty-hours workdays, fun and pranks. The passion to go well beyond the extra mile is what drives people to create insanely great products and services.

The spirit and passion of Silicon Valley is best seen at the extremes of the workdays. "Flex time" means that there's not time when people aren't willing to probe and test new opportunities.

Flat and Participative Management Structures

Organizational and management structures in Silicon Valley firms are flat and participative. In a meeting rooms at most Silicon Valley companies, the mix of people, expertise, and ages is striking. More importantly, the degree of candor is tremendous. You don't expect to find such level of frankness in hierarchical companies.

In more direct cultures, such as Intel or Sun Microsystems, you can witness easily an intense argument between a senior executive and an entry-level engineer. Status and seniority aren't based on age or position; they're based on what you know and can deliver.

Idea Evaluation: "The Five Minute Rule"

Several firms in Silicon Valley have installed a "five minute rule." The rule permits anyone to suggest an idea.  Then for the first five minutes after the idea is expressed only positive comments can be made.  By the time the idea is talked about for five minutes it has usually spun into an impromptu brainstorm session that cultivates truly great ideas and some form of the discussion is often implemented... More