Friday, May 23, 2008

The Downside of Knowledge Work

One of the interesting things I learned at the Symposium is that organized labor resists some efforts at competency-based training because they believe that, in the process of doing so, jobs might be redesigned and once-complex work will be split into smaller, less-skilled (and lower-paying) pieces.

On the one hand, I never made that specific connection before, but the issue itself is the ugly downside of human performance technology that we never address. As was noted in a Harvard Business Review article by years ago, the trend of turning “knowledge work” into definable-repeatable processes had the effect of developing two tiers of work—a creative, problem-solving work because some people were freed from routine tasks and mind-numbing work, which few people want to acknowledge. We’ve seen it in the transition of technical writers from creators of manuals to manipulators of RoboHelp and the same process, sad to say, seems to be occurring in instructional design, where some instructional designers have been reduced to Flash programmers or people who fill in forms in template-based systems. There’s a time and place for all of this work, but it does depress creativity, opportunity and eventually salary. A chapter that Margaret Driscoll and I wrote for Michael Allen’s upcoming annual addresses this issue.

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