Living for performance or the knowledge workers generation
Today’s working generation lives in unprecedented times in terms of societal functionality and human interaction. Contradictions among decisions, opinions and beliefs have become, more or less, too trivial to even take notice of their irregularities. Present times are indeed, challenging, from whatever point of view one might approach them. It remains our duty, however, to transform “challenging” from a term with restrictive connotation into a word that implies hidden opportunities.
We enjoy increased lifespans but, to a certain extent, this only means that we will live long enough to witness the dissolution of some societal aspects that we are familiarized with. Most of us, for example, will outlive the organizations we work for, as Peter Drucker points out in his book, “Management challenges for the 21st century.” However, living longer than an organization may be one of the least concerning problems our future has in store for us. No one can tell for sure how many aspects of society, as we know it today, will become obsolete, how many of our hard acquired skills will no longer be required or which one of our close relationships, whether personal or professional, will turn out to be fruitless.
Thus, the questions arise: how to plan our lives in such a manner that, even 30 years from now, we will still feel that we bring a valuable contribution to society and, moreover, we do not feel excluded from the new currents that will, eventually, change what was once familiar to us into something alien? The answer is simple in form, but complex in practice. Knowledge, in all its forms, is the bridge between us and the world we live in. Constantly walk on this bridge and most gaps between you and society will narrow. Ignore it and your bridge will collapse, leaving you stranded.
Peter Drucker encompassed knowledge and today’s working generations in order to create a new concept, that of the “knowledge generation”. The unprecedented widespread and unrestricted access to knowledge created, within the past decades, a generation completely different from the ones preceding it. Knowledge is central to this all, even though it might not seem so obvious at first. Knowledge is the reason why, today, we take so little for granted, it is why we fight for what we want. Because it governs such an extended part of our lives it led to the creation of specific fields of study such as management and, more specifically, performance management.
Nevertheless, in order to tackle the problem of how to achieve performance across our lifespans, knowledge must be filtered through specific performance management tools. It needs to be organized and classified and only then it will become a truly useful tool for us.
It is Drucker again who offers a structured knowledge management strategy in a manner simple enough to be followed by anybody. It all begins from several questions which we all must answer truthfully:
- What are my strengths?
- How do I perform?
- Where do I belong?
- What is my contribution?
The first question can be answered with its negative. Because it is rather difficult for us to make a substantial and objective assessment of ourselves, it is easier to write down features that are not our strengths. The feedback analysis is a useful tool in this case. It differentiates alone, if performed correctly over an extended timeframe, strengths from weaknesses. Begin with writing down the desired outcome of a task you have to complete and then compare it with the real outcome. This tactic will reveal its results only when used on a regular basis, over a longer period of time. When enough data has been gathered, you can make an assessment by drawing some lines: how many times did the expected result overlay the real one, what action did you perform to achieve that result, which of your abilities did you employ to perform those actions? Thus, you will be enabled to enforce your strong abilities and also improve your weaker features, those which have led to flawed results.
Once you have a clear perspective on your strengths and weaknesses, it is time to tackle the next problem. How do you perform? It is Drucker, again, who points out that personal performance is in close connection to each individual’s personality. This is an important aspect, as people often chose to guide themselves after the actions of another, either a role model or a superior. However, the people we imitate are often not the most appropriate ones to follow, in regards to our personality differences.
This issue can seriously affect our performance both at work and in our personal life. Moreover, it gives way to frustrations and emotional unbalance. Once you know that your performance is not negatively influenced in this aspect, you improve it yourself by always making sure that your short-term goals do not contradict your long-term expectations and that you carry out your tasks in a manner that is appropriate to your personality. However, mention must be made that, since most of us rely on team-work in our professional environment, it is vital that your intentions are communicated to colleagues that are affected by your work.
Personal performance is also in connection to the feeling of belonging. If all of the above-mentioned conditions fail to fulfil your level of desired performance, then another question must be raised. Do you really belong to that place? To answer this more easily, you can again state the obvious negative. Everyone knows where they don’t belong and, being in such a place can transform even an outstanding performer into a mediocre one.
Finally, there is one more step to take in order to assess how your long-term performance will evolve. Think about your performance in relation to your contribution and the tasks that you have undertaken. The issues at this point revolves around the level of difficulty the tasks you perform have. If they seem too easy, then you cannot assume that you are over-performing, but rather that you are limiting for the sake of comfort or lack of motivation. If tasks always seem out of reach and too difficult, then again, your contribution is flawed. The solution is to seek tasks that pose a challenge but which, at the same, remain within your range of abilities. The line between ambition and foolishness is a rather thin one.
As it was mentioned in the beginning of the article, these monitoring and assessment actions are all to be used over an extended timeframe in order to be efficient. But what does extended mean? Well, as Drucker says, extended means our entire lifespan. For example, in the case of a factory worker, his professional activity ends before his actual retirement, due to strenuous activities. However, in the case of a knowledge worker, his personal performance management activities must begin long before he enters his second half of life. The end date, however, is non-existent.
The benefits of completing these regular “maintenance” activities have an impact not only on our performance in tasks, but also on our intellectual performance. In spite of the fact that there is no exhaustive solution to maintaining your cognitive capacity to its full potential even at a respectable age, there is, nonetheless, an agreed upon argument: the brain needs to be exercised just as much as our physical bodies. The Alzheimer Association provides, in its “Healthy Brain Initiative” a road map to maintaining and improving mental capacity over time. Cognitive health relates to performing with ease activities such as: language, thought, memory, judgment, attention, perception, remembered skills and, finally, the ability to live a purposeful life.
In spite of that fact that it may seem to be an extremely strenuous activity to assess performance over such an extended timeframe it, nevertheless, remains the only viable way to stay afloat even 30 years from now.
- Drucker, P. (2001) Management for the 21st century
- The Alzheimer Association (2007) The healthy brain Initiative. A national public health road map to maintaining cognitive health