Knowledge Worker – The Essential Skills

Today’s world is not short of knowledge. In fact this profession called knowledge worker coined by Martin Feregrino in 1959 is in its strongest momentum now. The explosion of knowledge since the dawn of 21st century proves Peter Drucker’s prophecy that managing knowledge worker is the biggest management challenge. “Success in the knowledge economy comes to those who know themselves—their strengths, their values, and how they best perform.” – by Peter Drucker who popularized knowledge worker in his scholarly article; Managing Oneself. Knowledge economy is big business. It cuts across almost all small and big businesses across all industries old and new. Entrepreneurial business for example is created out of knowledge economy. Most emerging economies are driven by entrepreneurship. It liberates the country and it democratizes the economy. You can see this in African continent and Latin America emerging economies. I love entrepreneurship!  Anyone who has knowledge wins in the marketplace.  But who is knowledge worker? What they do? How to be one?

Truest perception on Knowledge Worker

“Knowledge workers in today’s workforce are individuals who are valued for their ability to act and communicate with knowledge within a specific subject area. They will often advance the overall understanding of that subject through focused analysis, design and/or development. They use research skills to define problems and to identify alternatives. Fueled by their expertise and insight, they work to solve those problems, in an effort to influence company decisions, priorities and strategies.”

“Knowledge workers may be found across a variety of information technology roles, but also among professionals like teachers, librarians, lawyers, architects, physicians, nurses, engineers and scientists. As businesses increase their dependence on information technology, the number of fields in which knowledge workers must operate has expanded dramatically.”


In my opinion, a modern knowledge worker has to have at least basic degree and few years of work experiences to back up that knowledge. But look, in Malaysia there are more than 250, 000 graduates churned out from the universities and colleges every year. After 5-10 years, these graduates should already have some level of knowledge to be considered knowledge worker. By that time also the country has already produced nearly 2 million graduates!! They are the prime movers of the economy. The big bulk of them are Generation X and Y. Yes, by definition they can even print their degree honors on their business card but that;s not enough if they just follow orders eg. “do as I told you so” mindset. We don’t want that. We want prolific knowledge worker. Someone who is different in attitude, distinctive in character, constructive in thinking and most importantly skilful communicator.

Most knowledge worker is highly qualified by education standards but most of them also unable to express themselves in professional setting. They are not a skilful communicator at work place. They sometimes pleased people to stay keep their jobs. It robs their opportunities to shine by speaking up their mind. Some of them  are not problem solver and they find it difficult to relate themselves to people. Even though many studies proved that Generation X and Y are more expressive compared to previous generations, majority did the opposite at work place. Some are vocal but unable to collaborate with others. Too clever by half. They think they know all and they become PITA as expressed by their previous generations supervisors or bosses. 😉 Some commented the structural design of the organization as main cause. Of course organization has its own dynamic. Although a valid reason and justified but what can knowledge worker do by themselves to overturn the situation? What skills they need to acquire so they relate better with people and be prolific knowledge worker? What skills they need to learn so they can capitalize on their knowledge and serve the customers better? How to become the bridge for people, ideas and plans? How to become great problem solver? How to be a great specialist? How to capitalize knowledge? We need combination of various skills and we have a match up; Consulting Skills. (Check out this video to know what Consulting is NOT.)

Consulting skills made of three skills:

Technical skill — know-how and how-to knowledge in areas of expertise

Interpersonal skill — ability to connect with people

Consultative skill — ability to give advice, solve problem and manage situation

The technical skill is easily acquirable from formal education and later deepened by work experiences. However the other two skills don’t come quite naturally and depending on type of jobs you attached yourself to. For example an engineer is very unlikely to get expose to interpersonal and consulting skills in the first 5-7 years of working. Some may even take longer. However as they move up they need those 2 skills direly. Unlike a sales person they may acquire the interpersonal and consulting skills in the early years and slowly gained their technical competencies much later in work life. That’s where sometimes sales engineers, project engineers, scientists, researchers and other experts fall in the trap and become unskilful communicator. A skilful communicator usually gets ahead faster. Especially in today’s world where we meet people more than sitting doing desk work.

While it is perfectly ok not to acquire consulting skills in your right now (you can contest that), it can be stressful when you are unable make yourself heard. In other words, soon all your knowledge may become self fulfilling prophecy because you just don’t have the skill to express it. Now, does that sound disastrous? In today’s world knowledge is abundant (read Google!). However the ability to manage and communicate that knowledge skilfully is what would make hell of difference. In fact, many small consulting companies are built on their abilities to reach vast yet niche information and present in the way understandable by their clients.

In consulting skills, there are 5 main things you need to know and do. There are:

  1. Know and play your roles
  2. Listen well
  3. Solve problem
  4. Relate to people
  5. Present succinctly


Know and Play Your Roles

Generally there are 6 main roles of a consultant:

  1. Strategist — able to think strategically and provide direction
  2. Facilitator — able to coordinate things together and nudge towards goals
  3. Coach — able to impart knowledge and improve performance
  4. Influencer — able to effect decision, character, ideas and behaviour of someone or something
  5. Problem Solver — able to connect ideas, innovate and entrepreneurship to solve issues
  6. Administrator — able to organize people, ideas and plans well

The one liner above is self explanatory and key idea about what the roles are. As much as I want to add more into the description, I suggest you read from other sources for more detailed explanation or just Google up. The above is adapted from Peter Block’s Flawless Consulting.

Listen Well

Listening is hard, hearing is easy. Attentive or active listening is a lot harder. It takes practice. The purpose of listening is to be able to understand deeper meaning inside what was being said. Listening is not just taking and following orders but rather understanding the full context of the information. The tricks of good listening are to shut your third voice and ask questions.

Third voice is a voice in your head when you hear someone talking. You know the voice that is judgmental, critical and perceptual but hidden inside your brain. All of us have them. Some people just have it louder and because of that other conversation becomes secondary – they stop listening. To shut it off is to consciously tell yourself to focus. You must genuinely want to hear that conversation between you and your customer or partner. Alternatively you may practice concentration technique during your meditation.

For example when your client is telling you his problem, you should focus on the client and issues at hand. Instead many start to throw their judgment and react to those problem statements instantly without clarifying the matters carefully. They thought they are being objective and responsive. But you see, we deal with people and people have emotions. Usually to not sound complaining, people like to lace their true feelings so it looks like a problem of something else (usually related) but actually about something else – but buried deeply inside their heart. So you got to listen.

Then, after you listen for some time you have to ask questions to clarify. Use 5W1H (What, Where, Why, When, Who and How) questions method and you will soon realize you get to the heart of the matter. From here you will roughly have clearer picture about the situation and can respond better.

Solve Problem

Once you have understood the problem, you can now attempt to solve it. Some people called it solutioning stage. You see, at this stage it is possible to know what exactly happening and you may also have shaped own opinion about the issue. Right? You also should already have some ideas on the limitations and expectations of each of the stakeholders. It’s up to you how you want to package the solution and recommend to your client or partner. In this article I will outline the thinking behind solutioning so it can help you a little bit.

  1. What is your view of the overall project?
  2. What do you want from the client?
  3. What are you offering the client?
  4. What do you think the client might want?
  5. Are the key clients will be in the room?
  6. What problems do you anticipate?
  7. What’s Plan B or C?

There was a client who asked how to provide solution when the process itself took 7 steps? I prefer to dissect the mini steps so you don’t missed out anyone of them. Once you are familiar with these steps, with practice you are likely to be able to solve problems in less than 7 minutes! 🙂

Relate to People

This is hard to do, because you need to have contact with people. You need to build relationship by building trust. People don’t give out trust easily even among siblings. There was a line in Godfather movie goes like this, “Your father did business with him but your father never trusts him.” Firstly to build trust, you first got to give it to someone you wanted to build trust on. Then you are authentic. You have to be genuinely interested in people and try to be less judgmental. Yes, people have motives but still you will find someday that they are people that you can relate to if you care enough about them. You don’t have to friend everyone!

Therefore for you to practice consulting skills effectively, you have to throw away that false judgment on people and start connecting. Otherwise you will constantly have preconceived ideas about everybody including your customers. That’s bad for business. Worse, you start second guess every move you make.

Another way to relate to people is by sharing the same thing. In sociology it’s called shared symbols. People with more shared symbols get together easily and for long time. Recall your secondary school alumni, how many of you still feel connected to old boys association? How many of you feel disconnected with your workplace? Build shared symbols with your customers and people around you. You also create them for example by sharing hobbies and sports. That’s why golfing works to build trust because you are together under hot sun to enjoy the game. (That’s what golfers told me!)

Present Succinctly

When you have developed enough all the above, this final skill will come quite naturally. You know, in sales customers buy because of the sales person and buy more because of that sales person too. Products and services these days are hard to differentiate. Therefore your ability to present well matters greatly. When you present you need to focus on the message. I am sure you have seen some good advertisements where the message is simple and single. You got to do the same. Make sure all your key points are directed back to the message you want to project. If you want the message to be about “getting approval”, make sure your points are all related to that.

Presentation in technical, you have to give more attention to U-A-S. You (U), what type of presenter you are. Some people a little quieter presenter than the rest. Just be yourself. When you are your own self your confidence shot up. If you think you are an introvert, you need to act out during your presentation. On the other hand, if you think you are an extrovert, you need to tone down a bit.

Then you need to look at the Audience (A). You have to know who is coming or what your audience type is. While they may be several types in a big hall, they come there for only one reason and very much related to the title of your presentation. One thing to remember, you can’t please every audience but you must always please the majority of your audience. Don’t waste their time if you don’t have anything they want to hear. Always ask yourself the key take aways you want to remember after your presentation.

Finally you also should pay attention to Situation (S). This concerns the place you are going to hold your presentation, the mood and settings. If you have to come early for set up, please do so. Don’t rush your presentation day and don’t come too early because it makes you tired. No one likes to wait too long. It drains your energy. A simple advise, prepare your own tools. 🙂

So when put all these skills together there is one additional thing you need to remember. You need to ask yourself whether all your answers and plan for the above align with your business goals (that you have set earlier). You must be able to manage all these skills to carry you through. You begin with the end in mind. Got it? But how to know whether your goals are solid? Here are some tips:

  1. Is it consistent with your strategy or higher goals?– you need to check whether your business or project goals supporting your priority.
  2. Is the goal self reinforcing? — you need to have business goals that you can work on within your own resources and resources that have been allocated to you.
  3. Is the goal robust enough? — you need to ensure the goals are big enough for you to make significant change for the project or business.

By practicing these skills you are already practicing consulting skills. Of course more practice will make your skills sharper and leaner. When you first begin expect to get yourself reeling on the entire thing. But keep pushing yourself and don’t stop until you sane. Don’t give up because you have given up a lot over the years, so why not making a commitment to this from now onwards? You will soon realize even as an engineer, researcher, scientist, lecturer, manager, director or any other job you will be able to pull it through by being more consultative. You will feel more accepted in the market, your sales will go up, your customers are happier, your colleagues see you as a great executor, you get more things done and you will be a lot happier. You have just capitalized your knowledge and expertise! 🙂

p/s: Knowledge worker rocks! we move the economy and we will be the very people that drive innovation. 😉

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