By: Jay Mittelman
|Like lemmings marching to the sea, some employers go rushing headlong into the newest wrinkle of a suggestion program, employee involvement program or employee empowerment program.
Whether it’s a traditional kind of suggestion program, a remake of a Quality Circle program, a continuous improvement program, or some other, newer organized effort to get employees to participate in improving products and services, these organized efforts in a workplace often have several of these 16 common flaws:
1. Suffering from management hyperactivity or a lack of attention span. Management launches the newest employee involvement/employee empowerment program, then quickly loses interest in it, only to launch another program a year later, and a year later, and a year later. The result among employees is lack of interest, reluctant participation and exhaustion.
2. Confusing means and ends. Program activities are confused with program results. Managers and supervisors act as if successful efforts are measured by the number of people they’ve trained or the number of teams they’ve “empowered.” In short, they lose sight of the goal and get wrapped up in the hustle and bustle of the activities.
3. Having the attitude that success is in the future. The best programs — whether they involve continuous improvement or a traditional suggestion program — find ways to get employees quickly involved in achieving real, tangible results. Unless employees see some immediate results from their investment of time and effort, they will probably lose interest and only “go through the motions.”
4. Letting managers and supervisors off the hook. Every organization has an invisible line on which it is written, “It’s the very best we can do.” The line acts like an electronic dog fence that lets a dog bark ferociously as long as it remains within the established perimeters.
The problem is that many managers and supervisors are reluctant to demand that their people cross this line to achieve even better results right now.
5. Using the wrong rewards. Management gives employees the wrong kinds of awards for their ideas and their participation. The awards fail to motivate the employees and are not appreciated by the employees. The two most often used awards — money (usually as a bonus) and trinkets (such things as coffee cups and T-shirts imprinted with the company name) — do little to cause employees to feel appreciated and recognized.
The very best award is a personal thank you from a supervisor or manager. The next most effective reward, which is appreciated by most employees, is public recognition. For example, the supervisor gives the employee a Certificate of Appreciation at a team meeting, and everyone present applauds the employee being recognized.
6. Failing to respond to an employee’s input. The supervisor’s or manager’s failure to respond to an employee’s idea or an employee’s efforts to contribute will kill employee participation faster than any other act or failure to act by management.
7. Not listening. This is the most-often heard complaint from employees after management asks employees for their input: “Why try? They never listen.” The best way to prove to employees that supervisors and managers are listening is for the supervisors and managers to quickly respond to an employee’s input.
8. Failing to follow through. Management tells the employee the idea is worthy of consideration and even worthy of implementation. But then management fails to follow through and initiate the steps needed to get the idea put into place.
9. Always displaying a negative response to employee input. Supervisors and managers exhibit a negative attitude to any and all employee input, including outright putdowns when employees do express their own ideas.
10. Not keeping the focus. Supervisors and managers fail to keep employees focused on continuously participating and achieving the purposes and goals of the involvement/empowerment program.
11. Failing to drive out fear. When new challenges are presented to employees or when a new “program” is initiated in a workplace, the initial reaction in many employees is fear. Fear of making the first move. Fear of trying something new and failing. Fear of being the brunt of ridicule from co-workers. The manager’s and supervisor’s role is to find ways to reassure employees that they have nothing to fear.
12. Substituting slogans for action. This occurs when management plasters banners and posters throughout the workplace, believing that slogans and “motivational” posters will cause employees to achieve desired results.
13. Being short-sighted. Don’t expecting a one-time effort to have long-term impact and long-term results.
14. Getting caught in a bureaucracy. Employee initiatives and employee ideas get bogged down in the organization’s top-heavy bureaucracy. In this scenario, the program’s resources are invested heavily in managing the program, evaluating the ideas, and responding to employees. Consequently, not enough is invested in training employees, encouraging employees, rewarding employees, and empowering employees to act on and implement their ideas.
15. Using a suggestion box alone. Let’s say management relies solely on a suggestion box to gather ideas from employees. What’s wrong with that? The initial novelty of the box may quickly lose its appeal and employees may begin to ignore it. Almost as quickly, management may ignore it and fail to collect anything deposited in it for weeks at a time. Eventually, the boxes collect mostly dust, rude comments scribbled on scraps of paper, and garbage.
16. Failing to help everyone deal with change. Management often does not prepare managers, supervisors and employees for the changes that are necessary to make the involvement/empowerment program work.