Learn how several leading companies, such as Ford Motor Company and Miller Brewing, went beyond rhetoric to achieve high employee involvement and higher performance.
Various surveys show that at least one-third of U.S. organizations have employee involvement or participation programs. But from our experience at Work in America Institute with many U.S. organizations, we estimate that no more than 10 percent of employees work in a truly participative environment.
Genuinely participative organizations delegate directly to nonmanagement employees a significant amount of decision-making authority commonly reserved for managers. That authority involves decisions about how work is done in existing systems and decisions on changes to improve those systems. A truly participative organization is characterized by work systems that are structured to make employee involvement ongoing.
Because employee participation has proven its power to promote continuous improvement, it's not surprising that a lot of organizations want to hop on the bandwagon. It's also not surprising - given the difficulties of expanding employee participation - that many companies haven't progressed in that area beyond rhetoric and standalone or pilot programs that don't affect a significant number of workers. Such programs aren't supported by the kind of infrastructure that's needed.
Defining the infrastructure
A new report from Work in America Institute covers the first phase of a research project called Participation, Achievement, Reward: Creating the Infrastructure for Managing Continuous Improvement. The report addresses the gap between the rhetoric of employee participation and its actual status.
The project, known as PAR, is a response to concerns voiced by members of the Work in America Institute, which are leading companies in various industries. They're convinced that human resource management plays a critical role in high performance and competitive advantage. Despite their success, they have met tough challenges in trying to achieve the continuous improvement needed to sustain competitive advantage. So, the members asked the institute to help them conceptualize and implement a human resource infrastructure for continuous improvement.
Such an infrastructure consists of many HR practices and subsystems; each organization should determine its own mix. But all organizations have to create these basic conditions:
* Employees must participate significantly in problem solving and decision making - in their own jobs and in directing the business.
* An organization, groups, and individual employees must continually increase the skill levels, personal growth, and satisfaction derived from their roles in quality performance and business growth.
* Employees must receive reward and recognition in income and employment security for their contributions to organizational success.
The rewards - monetary and nonmonetary - reinforce employees' participation, creating a self-reinforcing cycle. (See the PAR Model on page 59.)
For each of the three phases of the PAR project (participation, achievement, and reward), the model has four different subsystems of HR practices. This article addresses participation, the focus of the first phase, and the four HR subsystems that make it a reality:
* team-based work
* labor-management partnerships
* the integration of technology and people
* communication and information sharing.
Organizations have long acknowledged the value of employees' knowledge and ideas, and they have tried to tap those resources through suggestion systems and other channels. But only recently has a significant number of organizations recognized that broad, systematic participation is the most effective way to tap workforce knowledge, especially as it contributes to continuous improvement. In the past, advocates of …