Managing Leadership Change: The Transition From Industrial to Knowledge Worker

Subject: Management
Pages: 11
Words: 4748
Reading time:
16 min
Study level: Master

A dissertation submitted to Dublin City University in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Science in Management of Operations

I have read the paper and examined it critically in order to ascertain what further improvements can be made so as to make it more thorough and meaningful. Although the client requires suggestions to improve upon the discussion and conclusion, I find that there is lot more to be done in making the findings more exhaustive and conclusive. In determining the aims of the dissertation six issues have been outlined which will form the basis for coming to conclusions:

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  • The aim of the dissertation was to determine the following:
  • Will knowledge workers out-weigh Industrial workers in the future in Ireland?
  • Do knowledge workers have different needs from Industrial workers in regard to motivational, leadership, and organizational structure requirements?
  • Is there a particular motivation tool that is effective when motivating knowledge workers?
  • Is the learning organization structure the best structure for knowledge workers?
  • Is there a specific leadership style best suited to leading knowledge workers?

I find that most part of the paper deals with theoretical aspects which are relevant to the subject matter but there needs to be examination done on other issues which are more pertinent to the issues. Coverage in the literature review is fine in delving into the present situation along with the shortcomings in the perceptions of present-day management techniques. A strong case has been made by the writer is stressing the need to transform the worker towards a broader knowledge base so that he becomes more competent in meeting future challenges. It is fine to examine the issues from the point of view of motivation theories and Maslow’s hierarchy of needs; at the same time, it has to be considered whether it is more important for a worker to be motivated himself or he should be influenced into imbibing better skills so as to meet the business needs and expectations of the future. Theoretical reasoning is just not enough to arrive at a concrete conclusion in the matter. More is required to be done in the matter of leading workers so that they are trained and educated to an extent that they perform and fair well enough in meeting the needs of the business. The question here is not of meeting the needs of the worker but of equipping him with ample expertise and knowledge to meet the technological and professional requirements of the future.

In examining the motivation theories of Vroom, Covey, Drucker, Forstenlechner, and Lettice, the writer has spent much time narrating theoretical concepts which may not have much bearing on the issues at hand. It is good to understand how learning organizations develop in extracting more output from workers but they must endeavor to transform the workforce as a need for advancement and success of their businesses. The major thrust has to be in enhancing the knowledge and competency levels so that output is in sync with business expectations. Senge’s five disciplines are well taken since they are a means to examine the needs of the worker in enhancing knowledge and competence. The given models can be utilized in improving the quality of the workforce towards the acquirement of knowledge. The concepts of organizational learning are also well taken since the organization has to evolve ways to transform the knowledge base in keeping with contemporary and future expectations. There has to be a proactive strategy because ultimately the future holds its potential in the present and organizations must understand future needs to fulfill future targets. The writer has done very well in examining the work of Argyris and Schon (1996) who state that “Organisational success…is seen as depending on the organization’s ability to see things in a new way, gain new understandings, and produce new patterns of behavior – all on a continuing basis and in a way that engages the organization as a whole” (p.xix).

The writer has rightly observed from the works of Blackman and Henderson (2005) that a learning organization could be clearly distinguished from non-learning organizations as ” the balance of learning organizations would show a greater weight of institutional experience and shared assumption behauviors” than that of the non-learning (p.44). This aspect is essential in determining the focus areas for organizations in achieving corporate objectives. The need for Ireland industries to transform their systems so that they embrace a learning structure is well explained by Blackman and Henderson (2005). In saying that the available literature points at learning organizations to choose a company structure that is in sync with the need of the tightened economic circumstances is very much relevant as is evident by what Lennon and Wollin (2001) have said, “create a form of intellectual capital that is difficult for competitors to imitate” (p.410).

The role of leadership is pertinent for improving efficiency and output within the given circumstances but knowledge plays a different role. Knowledge cannot be achieved and used by receiving motivation from the leadership, but it has to be imbibed through a process that needs time and resources as also the willingness of workers. They need to be motivated by the leadership to imbibe new knowledge and techniques in keeping with the need of the future.

It is true that there are many subjects about which we do not have complete knowledge and which need to be learnt in order to maximise output and productivity. In regard to the methodology the question arises whether there is need to get into the exhaustive process of conducting a detailed survey and then getting into the act of examining and interpreting the research findings. The question also arises whether it is proper to excessively rely on the survey findings which are based on the opinion of subjects who are primarily workers and need to be motivated to adopt appropriate learning processes. The need for learning does have a bearing on the requirements as observed by the subjects but it is more important to specifically place before the reader relevant data pertaining to establishments that have already adopted new learning systems for their people for which there is evidence to suggest increased productivity subsequent to adopting of the new learning systems. It is a widely accepted fact that in the changing world order and with the constant improvement in technology and management strategies, the need for further equipping workers with more knowledge, especially in relation to their respective work areas, becomes imperative. Hence there is not much purpose fulfilled in only relying on the responses of respondents in this regard.

I have examined the discussion and conclusion sections in the context of what has been covered in the paper and feel that in so far as what has been included in the paper the discussion appears to be quite exhaustive and there is not much scope in disturbing the presentation of the writer’s arguments. The conclusion too has been presented in similar vein and in as far as the two are concerned in the context of the material already presented in the paper, they are quite good. I felt that the issues in examining the question of the transition from industrial to knowledge worker could be much different as presented by the writer. The primary factors that come to my mind in this regard are:

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  • Why the need to imbibe more knowledge for workers.
  • Presentation and examination of data that indicates the need for enhancement of knowledge
  • Instead of only theoretical arguments that are not specifically targeting the issue in hand, there is need to present more specific information that directly implies the need to enhance knowledge.
  • The primary requirement is for organizations to realize the need for increasing the number of knowledge workers
  • A major issue pertains to the use of theories and data in making the organizations proactive in understanding future needs
  • Knowledge workers work in an environment that has to comply with conditions that relate to a knowledge network within the organization and between organizations. Hence the environment has to be created before any attempt can be made to enhance worker knowledge and capability
  • The organization has to also transform itself into a knowledge organization in adopting activities that form the basic groundwork for the knowledge worker. Such activities may comprise of personal information management, library classification and library information science
  • An examination and analysis needs to be made whether there is actually a need for knowledge workers since the shift has already occurred from jobs requiring manual work to jobs requiring knowledge. In essence the need for enhancement of knowledge is a continuous process that must be fulfilled by all organizations if they are to develop and grow in a competitive environment.
  • The economy of today is a knowledge economy and considerable responsibility rests on the worker in adopting an attitude of taking learning initiatives himself rather than solely relying on the organization to enhance his competence levels. The organization leadership can motivate him to do with organizational learning support
  • Information and knowledge is power in a market economy and there is no limit to the initiatives that can be taken in this regard by organizations and individual workers.

In the light of the above it is felt that of the information that is provided by the writer, the discussion and conclusion is well presented but the entire paper can be made more explicit and exhaustive in coming to more meaningful and specific conclusions. This would make the discussion and conclusion stronger in the context of the outlined issues.

The writer has asked for suggestion in regard to criticism of Maslow’s theory. I have searched for the same and find that the following link can provide sound information in this regard.



In this chapter, the author will examine the findings on the primary research undertaken in terms of the prevailing literature available and whether or not the primary findings support or do not support the other research into the subject matter.

Finally the chapter will end with a discussion of any discrepancies between the secondary and primary research undertaken.

Motivation requirements of knowledge workers

The available literature in regard to what motivates knowledge workers suggested that these workers will be highly educated and that the role of a knowledge worker will be of a more independent nature than that of an industrial worker. Also this category of employee will be motivated to gain more skills and continuously be seeking to expand their knowledge. Available literature also suggests that knowledge workers place a heavy emphasis on the quality of their relationship with their superiors and are passionate about achieving the organisations goals. Primary research appears to support these findings. 48.7% of those surveyed were educated to the level of a primary degree and a further 23.5% held a masters degree. Six respondents held a PhD whilst a significant proportion of those surveyed were currently in pursuit of a further educational award. Primary research would also indicate that knowledge workers viewed their role as an independent one (Question 7) – this is borne out by the high percentage of workers who preferred that their superiors adopt a ‘hands-off’ style of leadership and to set clear targets but not methods. Job empowerment rated very high amongst surveyed people with an over-whelming 96.0% stating that they felt that this was a good motivational tool.

77% of knowledge workers surveys expressed an opinion that they were motivated by the quality of their relationship with their manager and their enthusiasm to achieve organisational goals. On a similar subject of being motivated by relationships with their manager, a very large proportion of those surveyed (87.9%), felt they would be better motivated by a manager that views the desire that their highest priority needs being met, as important. These findings from the survey can be linked to findings in the literature review which suggested that the ‘process theories’ of motivation can determine how an employee performs at work. These theories examine how personal factors specific to the employee can influence the workers behaviour or performance at work. One particular aspect of process theory was surveyed which is Vroom’s theory that knowledge workers may consider the expected outcome before they decide whether or not to put effort into a particular task. A majority of respondents felt that this was the case (49.5%) and 21.2% of people surveyed felt that this was not the case. It is important to note that a considerable amount of people did not express an opinion when asked this question – 29.3%.

A review of the available literature suggested that knowledge workers would value their work / life balance and this was supported by a response of 96% of those who took the survey. The same literature review suggested that knowledge workers may have more bargaining power than that of an industrial worker. 21% of people surveyed did not agree with this statement and 11% expressed no opinion. 68% of respondents agreed.

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In regard to the overall question of motivation in this dissertation which is to discover if knowledge workers should be motivated differently than industrial workers, 69.7% of people who completed the survey felt that this was the case.

Ideal organisational structure for knowledge workers

There are definite connections with organisational structure and motivation of employees and this connection was evident in some of the responses gathered in the survey under the motivation section. An overwhelming 94.9% of those surveyed felt that the sharing of knowledge between fellow knowledge workers was a critical factor in the organisation’s success. 93% of those surveyed said they felt knowledge workers had a strong desire to gain more skills and knowledge as it afforded them more employment opportunities including promotion.

In regard to the eleven different types of learning put forward by Pedlar in the literature review, there was broad support for the following areas to be included in an organisational structure:

  • Self-development opportunities
  • Learning climate
  • Information systems
  • Participative policy making

Although there was general agreement that the following aspects of learning should exist in an ideal organisational structure for knowledge workers, there were a proportion of respondents who did rate these as ‘not important’.

  • Company-to-company learning
  • Boundary workers as intelligence agents
  • Flexible role and matrix structures
  • Reward flexibility
  • Internal exchange
  • Formative accounting
  • Adopting a learning approach to strategy

The presence of these views of ‘not important’ should be discussed as they would appear to contradict other views expressed in the survey findings and the information gathered during the literature review. It is significant to note that a proportion who responded to the seven

questions listed above stated that they did not understand the question being asked – this would suggest that these questions were not explained clearly to the respondents and may account for the contradictions in the findings. It should also be noted that a high proportion of people (25.3%) felt that their company was not a learning organisation or was only in the process of becoming one – this may also explain why some of the concepts of a learning organisation were not fully understood.

With regard to the basic principles that support a learning organisation (Senge’s five disciplines), there would appear to be large agreement amongst the survey respondents that these were very important from a knowledge worker’s point of view – only 1% of people surveyed viewed these disciplines as not being relevant. These views would correspond with Senge’s views that these learning disciplines are vital to building an organization’s learning capabilities.

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Leadership requirements of knowledge workers

It is author’s opinion that the section of the survey which dealt with leadership of knowledge workers was one of the more successful sections of the survey and the section which gathered the most insightful information from the respondents. This may be due to the less-structured approach taken where people were allowed to express their opinions in a blank section on the survey. Before these answers are discussed, some other results from the primary research must be dealt with – in excess of 80% of those surveyed felt that a different leadership style was required with knowledge workers as opposed to industrial workers and that there were definite differences between the two groups of workers in regard to leadership. The same percentage of respondents felt that the choice of leadership style was important and a slightly lesser percentage (75.5%) felt that a level of trust and a willingness to develop knowledge workers were important leadership skills. These views would appear to support the information gathered in the literature review.

The next part of the discussion will concentrate on the open-ended question of the leadership section which asked those completing the survey to describe an ideal leadership approach when managing knowledge workers. In contrary to best advice not to include this type of question in surveys, there was a very good response rate of 83 of the 100 people who completed the survey expressing a view.

Job empowerment and the need to set clear targets were mentioned in excess of 15 times each by the respondents.

A flexible and open leadership approach and a ‘hands-off’ style received more than 10 mentions each in the survey.

Respect for employees, a need to develop the employee, two-way communication, leading by example and building a level of trust were also regarded as important elements of leadership required by knowledge workers.

The un-prompted response from the survey respondents would all appear to point towards the servant-leadership model put forward by Greenleaf as the author believes that this leadership style is compatible to all the survey findings. In a description by Laub of the Greenleaf model, words such as ‘promotes the valuing and development of people’ and the ‘sharing of power and status for the common good of each individual, the total organisation and those served by the organisation’ are used to verbalise the leadership model. This would appear to be in tune with what knowledge workers want. Covey, an advocator of the servant leadership model was quoted as stating in the literature review as stating that workers who are treated as objects create a work atmosphere of low-trust and alienation.

Another well-known advocator of the Greenleaf theory, Spears, stated that he felt that this leadership model would be attractive to knowledge workers as it allows workers to get involved in decision making whilst always seeking to enhance the growth of people.

Opportunities for further research

The author acknowledges that despite the fact that a pilot survey was conducted, some of the questions in the survey could have been worded better or carried more explanation – this may have resulted in some of the questions not being understood fully and the respondent expressing no opinion. Question that may have fallen into this category were the questions surrounding the bargaining power and Vroom’s expectancy theory. Also, in hindsight, the author should have asked more direct questions about the process theories of motivation and in particular, Vroom’s theory of expectancy. These are areas of opportunity for further research.

It is evident that not all questions asked in this section were understood by those completing the survey despite 79% of the respondents stating that they were already aware of the concept of a learning organisation before they completed the survey. The author could have taken greater care to explain each question better or at least to offer the respondent an opportunity to explain why they felt that some of the concepts being discussed were ‘not important’. This is an area for improvement in any future research.

Summary of analysis between primary and secondary research

The author feels that both sets of data supported each other and that clear conclusions can be made as a result


Dissertation objectives

This dissertation set out to determine the following:

  • Will knowledge workers out-weigh Industrial workers in the future in Ireland?
  • Do knowledge workers have different needs from Industrial workers in regard to motivational, leadership and organisational structure requirements?
  • Is there a particular motivation tool that is effective when motivating knowledge workers?
  • Is the learning organisation structure the best structure for knowledge workers?
  • Is there a specific leadership style best suited to leading knowledge workers?

Have these objectives been addressed

It is the author’s opinion that these objectives have largely been dealt with and conclusions can be drawn from both the primary and secondary data available on the subject matter.

Main findings

It would appear from Government forecasts and from opinions expressed in the survey that Ireland is heading towards an economy that will largely be supported by ‘higher-end’ jobs. This shift away from manufacturing industries is happening rapidly and the move towards high-value manufacturing and services such as financial, research and development and design services will mean a shift from the traditional manufacturing or industrial workers to more qualified professional or knowledge worker. Changes will have to occur in how organisations attract and retain these high quality professional or knowledge workers. Both the primary and secondary research supported the view that knowledge workers are different than the traditional worker in regard to their motivational, leadership and organisational structure needs.

Knowledge workers are motivated by job empowerment and flexibility within their role to use their knowledge to achieve organisational goals. These workers also place a lot of emphasis on the quality of their relationship with those whom they report to and are motivated by achieving organisational goals. Having the scope and ability to constantly ‘up-skill’ and gain more knowledge within their job would also appear to be a huge motivating force behind knowledge workers.

The literature review suggested that the learning organisation structure would be an ideal model to house knowledge workers and it afforded them all the opportunities to learn continuously and to utilise their reasoning and decision-making skills. The primary research also supported this view.

Leadership style is a key factor to yielding the best results from knowledge workers – both the primary and secondary data gathered emphasised this fact. The primary research listed several attributes that knowledge workers feel should be present in the leadership style and the primary research indicates that the vast majority of these are present in Greenleaf’s model of servant leadership.

In conclusion, the author of this dissertation is advocating that organisations in Ireland should take steps to move towards the learning organisational structure in order to fully harness the full potential of their knowledge workers. Also, it must be realised that knowledge workers are differently motivated than traditional workers and that it would appear that Greenleaf leadership model is the optimum leadership style to achieve the best results from this type of worker.

Future research

I believe that a more detailed and wider reaching survey would yield more definite results – the author was restricted in this regard. Also, it would be interesting to carry out an additional study into this subject matter in a period of three to five years when the transition from traditional worker to knowledge has taken place to determine whether these findings were accurate.


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