Tuesday, July 07, 2009

That's Just Not Natural - 5 Ways to Squash Employee Involvement

Genuine employee involvement requires an understanding of what employees naturally appreciate when they participate in improvement activities. The following list describes five things employees definitely do not appreciate:  
  1. forced-march improvement activities
  2. a leader  employees perceive as having his or her own agenda with little concern for the needs of others 
  3. spending time solving problems that most people don’t care about
  4. “dog and pony show” style charts and visual management boards that mean little to real improvement
  5. someone from above or outside that apparently has all of the answers
Unfortunately, the most popular from the list above is the first point, the forced-march improvement activity.  This is perhaps most typified by a poorly prepared and poorly run kaizen event.
The second point from above is the easiest to spot.  It often happens when someone from corporate flies in to deliver a training event or run a project session.  Employees often complain of these events not being equal in value to the amount of time they take to complete.
The most frequent cause of point number three is tactical action planning that is driven from the top down instead of being driven from bottom-up. In these cases projects end up on the list that only the bosses seem to think are good ideas.  In itself, making one or more bosses happy isn't a bad thing, but when it happens at the expense of project that are better suited to solving urgent problems it really takes the wind out of the employees sails. 
Don’t get me started on point number four. A little bit of this may be understandable or even necessary but too much is simply unbearable. Too much damages motivations and turns the average employee into a cynic about company management.  When this happens it can take months or even years to repair.
You know number five is at work when employees start to openly complain about having to participate in improvement activities that are driven by corporate resources or by experts from outside the company.  The most common root cause of this kind of complaining by employees is a failure to encompass employee perspectives and concerns when designing the activity in the first place. 

Encompassing employee perspective and concerns in the design of an activity before launching the activity involves
  • getting to know the employee groups expected to attend
  • determining how the planned activity relates to the employee's concerns and interests
  • incorporating features into the activity which address employee concerns and interests
  • doing so in a way which creates synergy between the expectations and interests of employees at each level of the company - leadership, management, and organizational level employees
In fact, following the four points above is the answer to all "five things employees do not appreciate" mentioned in the first paragraph above.  A failure to encompass the various perspective's and concerns is guaranteed to slow things down and make them more difficult.  On the other hand, experience shows activities which do a good job of covering the various perspectives and concerns enjoy better participation, meet objectives in a shorter timeframe, and generate stronger results. 

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