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Profound cultural changes

A recent GartnerGroup study pointed out that attempting to strictly retain all employees in the knowledge economy age may be futile. Worldwide people are spending less time with any one employer. In the U.S. the median tenure for all workers is 3.6 years; in Silicon Valley it is significantly less. Mobility is on the rise as professionals and technologists shop for experiences to bolster their portfolios and stimulate learning.

"The factor driving this movement is less the flattening of organizations than the perceived high reward for people with good ideas launching the ideas themselves," said GartnerGroup vice president and research area director Kathy Harris in an email response.

Harris said, however, that dotcoms are under great pressure to produce. "First, their funding partners typically expect some return on their investment within a defined time frame. Second, being first to market with a new idea is one of the critical success factors in the Web economy. These two factors individually and collectively exert great pressure on these companies to produce."

Harris takes a broader view of the knowledge worker saying that by 2002, knowledge-based work will characterize the majority of jobs in the majority of industries as more companies convert themselves into e-business models. "K-work is ad hoc, demand-driven and creative. Fewer jobs will be well structured or well defined. K-workers will not be given a predetermined set of tasks, but will be far more responsive, collaborative and action- and decision-oriented. Management practices have to adjust to this new environment," she said.

GartnerGroup analysts predict that by 2005, 75 percent of global enterprises will require major overhauls in response to the shift to knowledge as the center of wealth production.

"Old models of hierarchical organizations, command and control structures, and follow-the-management-chain approaches must be replaced by horizontal processes, matrixed management, collaborative work styles, shared decision-making and more employee autonomy and participation in decisions," said Harris. She cited examples of recent announcements by Ford Motor, Delta Airlines, and other companies to provide PCs with Internet access for all their workers as movements towards the transformation. "We believe the efforts to Internet-enable employees represent initial steps in fueling profound cultural change. This will impact not only the manner in which such enterprises act as suppliers and customers in the world of e-business but also the character of their workforce and their workplaces," she said.

The bottom line is enterprises that move quickly to seek out knowledge workers that are versatile, can collaborate and have cross-enterprise understanding, and put in place adequate reward practices stand to gain in the New Economy. Those that hold out and treat the late 1990s as an anomaly, do so at their own peril.

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