One of the key areas around employee engagement and driving performance is the concept of allowing for employee involvement. I find it interesting that this issue often is a stumbling block for leaders at all levels in an organization. Often new leaders come into that role believing that they must "know it all" and thus allowing for employee involvement in those things that are part of their "jurisdiction" can be a threat. For leaders at a more senior level employee involvement can be too time consuming (I am too busy, just do what I say) or just plain messy. I have had a VP tell me once that he did not want high levels of employee involvement because it blurred the lines between all the various silos in the company. In other words it looked potentially messy.
All research points to the fact that each of us join organizations not just to earn a paycheck but to contribute, to be part of a team and be successful. How then do you as a leader allow for involvement with your group? Research done at the Ivy School of Business points to several factors that leaders can utilize and for our discussion we are going to look at two.
The first practice they point to is what they call "power." They define power to mean " that employees have the power to make decisions that are important to their performance and to the quality of their working lives." (Edward Lawler, IBJ) How frustrated have you been in those times when mandates came down to you that seemed at their core to make your ability to perform well harder? Or how many times have you seen decisions that seemed minor like taking the pop machine out of the lunch room or slight changes in scheduling become flash points because the staff impacted had no input or prior warning?
Power, as Lawler defines it goes a long way. One of my favorite research readings involved a study of two groups and performance in a noisy environment. Each group were given task in a control room with loud industrial noises pumped in. The first group had no ability to impact those noises and the second group had a button that they could push to turn off those noises. As you can guess the first group performed at a lower level than the second. What is interesting is that the second group performed at higher levels but rarely or never actually pushed the button! As members explained later in the debriefing it was just sufficient to know that if they wanted to they could control that particular part of their work.
The second practice is identified as knowledge. They define knowledge as "a commitment to training and development." High engagement companies recognize that if they are going to have employees making decisions they need to equip them with the skills to be able to do this well. This training can be informal front line coaching or more formal organizational approaches that really are about culture and change. In either case the goal is to structure involvement in order to maximize labor potential in creating production or cost savings.
This is an effective approach and is utilized in Kaizen methodology in terms of producing big results come from many small changes accumulated over time. Where do those small changes come from? The involvement of employees in the process and work that impacts them. Give them power over those things that impact their performance and train them how to approach these issues and make good decisions. Watch then what happens to their engagement and performance!