December 20, 2018

Work about work

This graph comes from a 2012 article by McKinsey, on improving productivity for ‘interaction workers’ through the use of ‘social technologies’ for example, collaboration tools such as Slack etc:

The diagram shows that about 60% of what these people do is what McKinsey calls ‘work about work’.

But I also wondered what an ‘interaction worker’ is. Here’s a useful definition I found:

“These include managers, salespeople, teachers, and customer service reps, as well as skilled professionals whose jobs require them to spend a lot of their time interacting with other people. These interactions are with other employees, customers, and suppliers, and involve using their knowledge, judgment, experience, and instincts to make complex decisions.“

The implication of the McKinsey article is that by making these interactions easier and quicker, the ‘work about work’ is reduced, and enormous productivity gains are possible.

I’m sure that’s true, but I think there’s are a couple of deeper questions worth asking:

Which of these interactions are truly productive – in the sense of adding value for the customer?

Which could we strip out altogether?

For me, the obvious answer here is management.

People who routinely ‘use their knowledge, judgment, experience, and instincts to make complex decisions’ can usually manage themselves.

So the really productive question is how to enable that?