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Until recently, the emphasis for workers has been on production (output); however, with the transition to a knowledge-based economy, the focus has shifted to performance that produces results (outcomes), and the quality of those results.

Leaders need to clarify expectations about knowledge workers’ availability and understand that a new basis for productivity measurement is necessary.

There is common agreement, from Peter Drucker to McKinsey & Company and to my evidence in my own work that the shift from industrial and agricultural work to knowledge work poses a challenge for productivity measurement, and therefore for improvement.

Part of that challenge is leaving behind notions about what constitutes productivity — such as constant availability, face time at the office and even a certain pride in working at a relentless pace—that we now know are detrimental and unsustainable.

The meaning of productivity will vary among organizations and industries. However, the most important factor that contributes to productivity measurement for knowledge workers is related to more qualitative factors of employees’ attitudes about work on any given day, and their overall engagement.

Knowledge workers’ productivity is dependent upon factors that aren’t often considered, such as their well-being and state of mind, their work environment, and their opportunities for downtime. Productivity measurement has traditionally relied on quantitative metrics, but for instance, if a marketing manager creates more programs, or a salesperson writes more proposals, but neither is successful in generating more business, their “productivity” hasn’t increased. And how can you reduce the work of a policy writer, or a creative designer, to simple numbers?

Focusing specific intention on knowledge worker productivity is especially important because today’s workplace is more complex, with more demands on your employees’ attention. Knowledge workers are at more risk than ever of being always busy but never productive. Employees must understand exactly how their work serves the larger goal, so that they can effectively prioritize the important over the seemingly urgent.

The important work that moves individual and corporate goals forward requires intellectual resources in the form of creativity, inspiration, and insight, and that’s rarely the kind of work that lives in email or that can be done in two-minute increments, and is therefore harder to measure.

High-quality knowledge work requires workers’ full attention, for longer periods of time than the typical two- or five-minute bursts between task-switching. And this type of work is more challenging for productivity measurement.

Great results don’t “just happen.” In this new world of work without walls, you can’t leave productivity to chance. Attention—or the lack thereof—to productivity issues can determine whether your organizational culture supports high-quality knowledge work, or sabotages it.

Work Without Walls takes an in-depth look at productivity measurement and the factors that affect the corporate culture around productivity. Check it out on Amazon today or download chapter 1 for free at


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