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Peter F. Drucker symposia on managing today’s unexpected workforce
Peter F. Drucker
Richard R. West
Date Created and/or Issued
Publication Information
The Drucker Institute
Contributing Institution
Claremont Colleges Library
Drucker Archives
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For permission to use this item, contact The Drucker Institute,
Peter F. Drucker lecture exploring the management of today’s unexpected workforce. Richard West provides a brief introduction for Drucker, who begins by discussing the blue-collar manufacturing labor force as the prototype for changes in the workforce. Learning to manage different groups in the workforce--that is, developing very different personnel management concepts and policies for different groups--is the first responsibility. Second, the task is to learn to manage people to make them work productively when not directly in contact with or supervising them. Third, the challenge will be to manage people who work for an organization but are not directly employed by the organization. Domestic servants and farmers were the most available workers in the early twentieth century. In the current Western world, the rise and fall of the blue-collar worker is the most overlooked phenomenon, and sociologists have not paid adequate attention to such changes. The blue-collar worker is not disappearing, but is becoming marginal, and its place is being taken by several groups, specifically, knowledge workers and service workers. Knowledge workers cannot be supervised, because supervisors usually have no knowledge of the knowledge workers’ specialties. The most important thing about knowledge workers is that, while they are employees, they are also volunteers in that they are not tied to the job in any way. Importantly, the knowledge worker has horizons--they have mobility and the chance to have many options. In order to manage such workers, Drucker recommends that firms look to the non-profit sector for motivation to innovate. Because knowledge workers are volunteers, what they require is a clear sense of mission and score--what a firm is trying to do is vital to attracting and retaining volunteer workers. Today’s volunteers also demand training, performance goals, and performance appraisals--essentially, they demand discipline. Younger knowledge workers feel that a company is something that enables them to make a contribution--it is a two-way relationship, and the company is a vehicle. Alongside knowledge workers, there may also be service workers, doing very poorly organized work. Unlike their predecessors, there are few escape hatches for them, because, increasingly, blue-collar work will become unavailable to them and education will be a requirement for advancement. For these reasons, the increasing number of employees that work for organizations will not be employees of the organization, but employees of a contractor. The only way to solve the problem of the service worker is for him/her to be the employee of a specialized contractor, and the biggest challenge with both new groups will be productivity. What is known is that one cannot work effectively on the productivity of any kind of work if there are no opportunities of advancement from that work into, at minimum, middle ranks. This is because no one is going to pay attention to the work, and, additionally, no one in management has ever been in that specific work. The need for productivity will force organizations to contract out whatever is not a core activity, defined as one that is represented in top management. Looking forward, managing financial and human resources will be extremely important--having one clear, simple policy for everyone will be necessary. Without it, people will feel violated. Drucker then begins to take questions from the audience, the first concerning how the changing nature of work and workers will affect America in the international competitive field. Drucker responds that the trends in America are going on all over the world, and that the greatest difference between America and its competitors is that the U.S. is the only country in which continuing education is available. The U.S.’s most important competitive need, according to Drucker, is to have industrial engineering of a new kind. Another question pertains to how to organize people in an organization and create efficient layers of operation within an organization. Drucker responds that a clear mission in a firm is necessary to its operation, and that it’s necessary to let the people know what the score is in the sense that they are not always playing one role or performing one function. Additionally, placing people where their strengths are is essential. Continuing information, lastly, is fundamental--information must come from the bottom up, not the top down. Requesting information from one’s subordinates about the organization’s vulnerabilities, potentialities, and direction is an important part of managing in the new corporate environment. On the last question concerning staff-line movement, Drucker predicts, first, that staff will be used in the future much less than in the past. He then recommends that employees, early in their career, get both operating and staff exposure, in part to find out where they belong, as well as to gain enough operating experience to be seriously considered for a senior position.
Drucker, Peter F. (Peter Ferdinand), 1909-2005
New York University
New York University. Graduate School of Business Administration
West, Richard R., 1938-
Blue collar workers
Manufacturing industries
Management science
Management by objectives
Knowledge workers
Service (in industry)
Nonprofit organizations
Nonprofit organizations - United States - Management
Mission statements
Human resources
Continuing education
Industrial engineering
Employee selection
Domestic servants
Service workers
Career advancement
America in the world
Employee placement
Staff-line movement
Employee promotions
Original recording, April 25, 1990; Drucker Archives; Box 68
Drucker Archives -

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