Executive, managers, supervisors and team leaders recognize the value that comes from increased employee involvement. They often struggle with how to get that involvement. We’ll explore five leadership actions that will increase employee involvement and drive gains in productivity, quality and workplace morale.
The three main benefits of greater employee involvement:
1. Because they are closer to the work and closer to the customer, employees have a practical view of work processes and can provide valuable input to improve efficiency, reduce waste and improve quality.
2. Employees will be less resistant and more supportive of change when their input has been solicited and included in the solution.
3. Regular involvement builds stronger relationships and those relationships pay dividends in making the organization more adaptable and continuous improvement driven.
In order to get employees involved, the leader needs to be involved first. Here are five leadership actions that support greater employee involvement:
1. Regular Interaction
Supervisors, managers and support staff need to interact regularly with front line employees. When you look back to the often-cited Hawthorne studies, one of the conclusions was that employee productivity went up as a result of management attention and interest. The studies showed that when management made changes, even potentially negative changes, productivity went up simply because they consulted with employees about the changes before and after they were made.
The interactions need not to be personal in nature. Employees are interested in doing a great job so management interaction can be job focused and not necessarily small talk about the weekend and the employee’s personal life.
2. Five and Ten Rule
The hospitality industry trains its staff on when it is appropriate to greet guests. An employee who passes within five feet of a guest is expected to greet the guest warmly. An employee who passes within ten feet of a guest is expected to acknowledge the guest with a smile or nod.
One of our clients found out directly from employees when investigating why their culture scores were so low, that one of the top reasons employees perceive a lack of caring from management and support staff is because the management doesn’t interact with them while on the shop floor.
They simply implemented the five and ten rule and began interacting more frequently with employees on a regular basis. Culture scores improved along with productivity.
3. Ask for Input
Chances are inside your own organization you have examples of changes where employees were consulted and changes where their input was excluded. More often than not when employee input is solicited and included, the resistance to change has been reduced and implementation goes more smoothly. On the other hand ignoring or excluding employee input creates additional resistance and set backs in implementing change.
The reason most often cited by management is that there was no time to consult and ask for input. But alas the supposed time savings from reduced involvement is more than made up with longer time needed to implement the change, needless expense in having to relaunch initiatives and deferred benefits from the change.
Take the time to ask for input with good open ended questions. Remember that many employees will need time to think and come up with answers so it is best to let them know what is being considered and then follow up to get their input.
4. Use What You Learn
Where ever possible, build in employee input into the solution and let them know how their input has been included. Even if employees come up with the same ideas as management – give the employees credit. If you can’t use the employee input say so along with the rationale.
5. Close the Loop
Even managers and supervisors who ask for input, questions and suggestions frequently fall down when it comes to closing the loop. Employees are often left hanging when they don’t hear anything about their idea, question or concern. The best leaders will ensure that employees hear back on the status of their issues. This can be a time consuming chore for managers and support departments. In some cases, employees can be co-opted into the investigation process by being exposed to the criteria that management uses to prioritize the ideas and questions.
In one of our clients, employees were regularly asked by a co-worker designated to be the safety champion if they had any safety concerns or issues. The safety champion dutifully reported the input of employees and that input was discussed at the Joint Health and Safety meeting. But the safety champions were not told the status of the ideas and the employees felt there was little to be gained by providing any input in the future. To correct the situation safety champions received a status update that they could share with the employees. This kept the ideas flowing.
It is okay to say no with an explanation. It is better to give an answer than to keep issues open. So if you need to decline an idea, say why. That way at least the employee knows the idea or question was considered.
Increasing employee involvement will drive better business results in a challenging competitive environment. Using the heads, hearts and hands of your employees will improve productivity, quality and workplace morale.