As the West Michigan economy continues to transition from one dependent on physical laborers to a digital economy, the demand for so-called knowledge workers will continue to grow. This segment is already a third of all employees and is expected to be 40 percent of the workforce by 2020. Regardless of what industry your organization competes, the demand for people who possess the knowledge to understand the latest digital applications will become critical. The employees in these various roles, particularly the 25-35 year old range, are the best-educated and most tech-savvy group in today’s workforce.
In order for small companies to be successful competing for knowledge workers, senior executives should consider adjusting how their organization is structured and better understand the societal differences this employee segment brings to the workplace. At the top of that list of differences is understanding that today’s knowledge workers want more than a job. They don’t buy the traditional boss-worker relationship and insist on being treated as an equal from day-one. They’re not content to be rewarded with a title instead of a raise, and turn up their noses at jobs and workplaces that don’t create opportunities for employees to learn and grow. They are attracted by interesting work and stay as long as they remain engaged.
Small business executives should consider understanding these differences in order to adjust the way they conduct their companies. But this can be easier said than done. What adjustments can be made? How do you begin?
Begin with the realization that knowledge workers are seeking out organizations that will allow them the opportunity to use their talents to the fullest potential – a fact that should make most small business executives very happy. Then realize that they also expect to be compensated for the knowledge that they bring to the table and the financial returns that accrue to the business.
Many cutting-edge organizations are putting into place a creative compensation system that provides financial rewards to employees based on clearly defined and increasing levels of knowledge and productivity. These new compensation systems reward knowledge workers for continuously enhancing their skills while they meet the financial objectives of the organization. Rather than exclusively using a manager-appraisal system to compensate and recognize good work, knowledge workers and small business executives can determine when they’ve reached the level of skills and productivity that warrant increased compensation and recognition.
In an entrepreneurial self-sufficient manner, this system allows knowledge workers to move themselves up the organization’s ladder while also creating value for their employer. It creates a win-win as the market value of both the small business and the employee continue to rise. This system attracts self-motivated individuals who are rewarded with enhanced knowledge, fair compensation and recognition beyond the cosmetic “title” given in the more traditional system. At the pinnacle of the knowledge worker’s ascension might be an equity position in the organization, a logical reward expected by today’s knowledge workers who view themselves as equals from their first day on the job.
In conclusion, by offering the knowledge worker interesting work, good money, recognition and opportunities to learn and grow; your small business gets a highly charged and capable workforce that delivers outstanding results. The way work is done and society functions will continue to change. The sooner small business executives embrace this new world of work, the better their odds of staying ahead and competing successfully for years to come.