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Fatal Flaws #2: Employee Participation

Currently, there are 3 areas where even the most sophisticated organizations are failing to perform. By failure I mean performance improvement opportunities are being ignored because of these 3 flaws.

  1. Behavioral Technology
  2. Employee Participation
  3. Management Interpersonal Skills

Employee Participation

About 40 years ago, some companies began implementing Quality Circles - the systematic involvement of frontline employees in organizational performance improvement. TQM, Lean Manufacturing, Six Sigma and other initiatives evolved to continue to explore systematic group problem identification, analysis, and problem resolution techniques. Each has been successful in improving organizational performance at many levels.

The highest performing companies have accepted the idea that employee experience is a reservoir of improvement opportunities that can be readily explored using participative initiatives. Employees have improvement ideas and solutions; empowering them to share those ideas and solutions through systematic problem solving and idea generation is a no-brainer.

Although formal systems for organizing employees to improve organizational performance abound, one informal method that is as effective has been largely ignored. In Fatal Flaws #3, I will review the value of supervisory-employee performance dialogs and explore the opportunity that can be uncovered through simply conversations between management and employees. Once again, billions of dollars worth of profit reside in frontline employee insights concerning barriers to performance, wasteful processes, ineffective job design, and inefficient engineering - insights that are dormant because they are not encouraged to share them.

Returning to our previous review of systematic employee involvement in organizational performance improvement, one important factor in improvement has been overlooked, and that is the practice of sharing the principles upon which improvement strategies are based. The foundation for performance improvement typically has been embedded in management techniques for motivating employees. Management's assumption was that current levels of performance were established by a workforce that "did what needed to get the job done." Discretionary effort could be elicited by management motivational "techniques" that would inspire employees to exceed the limitations of their basic nature.

Managers and supervisors have gone through legions of training seminars that purported to provide them with motivational prowess. Very little of this sophomoric content was ever applied and if it was it probably served to distance employee from their supervisors. The obvious manipulative nature of the tactics were easily visible.

When the principles of behavior management appeared in the late 70s, managers and supervisors learned that treating employees respectfully, listening and discussing work, identifying critical performance improvement behaviors, and providing employee with positive feedback and recognition were highly effective techniques that could be used to improve performance. Applying behavioral techniques began with workshops that educated supervisors and managers in behavioral principles; they learned fundamentals that allowed them to identify behaviors linked to performance success and understand how to help employees change behaviors and incorporate more effective behaviors into their jobs.

The management culture of motivational tactics, which had existed for decades, prevented a critical insight that would have pushed the application of behavioral technology to a higher level of success: That insight was the idea of pushing the knowledge of behavioral principles down through the organization - to everyone. Attempting to restrict knowledge of the causes of human behavior to management both created the perception of manipulation and prevented employees from working with management to help change behaviors that would improve the performance of everyone. It also prevented employees from exploring self-management techniques.

In behavior based safety, it is apparent that understanding how specific behaviors are influenced by the consequences to the performer helps management and employees understand why they do or don't do things that are in their best interest. Being aware that the reason you did not use your PPE when working at elevation was not because you "were not thinking safety" or not because "you did not perceive the importance of safety," but because it required extra effort, extra time, was inconvenient, and uncomfortable is a valuable personal insight. So the reason for the unsafe behavior is no longer attributed to some deep psychological deficiency in the employee; the reason is simple and understandable as a set of conditions that are often deterrents.

Full organizational employee participation means sharing the principles that allow management to understand and influence employee behavior with everyone. Why shouldn't all employees understand the principles of human behavior - both in order to understand themselves better, but also to understand the behavior of their supervisors, their spouses, their children and their coworkers.

Providing workshops in problem solving is a worthwhile method for empowering employees. The ultimate empowerment for employees is to understand the factors that influence their actions and the actions of others. That understanding allows employees to make informed decisions about their behavior, to recognize what is causing certain behaviors and to change their behavior when they are inclined to do so.

It also allow employees to participate with management in solving behavioral problems and identifying more productive behaviors - for everyone. The principles that explain why we do the things we do are not secret; that are not the property of any one privileged group.