Participatory Management: Lessons From The Leaders
Participation is considered by some to be a device that has little to do with the hard facts of business and competition, a panacea that merely makes people feel good on the assumption that then they will work harder. In fact, when it works, a strategy for continuous improvement keeps a company competitive, its people creative and energetic, and its organization innovative, flexible and profitable. Successful strategies are driven by core values--honesty, trust, fairness, cooperation, respect for individual differences, and participation in problem solving and decision making.
In a Chevrolet plant in Fremont, Calif., self-managing teams plan, schedule and work the line. Workers stop the assembly line when they see mistakes; work stations are decorated with statistical analysis charts; and union leadership and management cooperate to get the job done better. There are more subtle signs of the participatory culture as well: The plant manager has no assigned space but parks his car in the back of the lot if he gets in late, just like everyone else; he doesn't wear a coat and tie but dresses in shirt sleeves, just like everyone else.
Most leaders never experienced a system like this as they came up through the ranks. And it is not easy to manage this way, but it is effective. At the Fremont plant, absenteeism dropped from 20 percent under the old management style to about 4 percent today. And new cars are now produced in slightly more than 20 hours, down from about 35 hours under the old management system. The plant is owned by New United Motor Manufacturing, Inc., a joint venture of Toyota and General Motors.
It's not easy to manage the transition to a new company culture. Executives who try to make the transition from a command management culture to a participatory one may discover a host of obstacles in their way:
* Lack of a clear and comprehensive strategy for organizational improvement;
* Middle management's fear of losing power and control;
* Everyone's unfamiliarity with consensus decision-making;
* Crises--a sharp decline in market share, the chaos of deregulation, fighting among unions--just the situations in which companies need the better trust and communication that would be a part of a changed system;
* Managers who wrongly think they are applying the …