Encouraging Employee Involvement Helps Employees Thrive

Involve the Minds and Hearts of Your Employees if You Engage Their Help

Designer leading informal group meeting
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How to recruit, retain, reward, and motivate staff regularly tops your interest list. Doing these well is the most important strategic role of the manager or the Human Resources professional. In what other capacities can you contribute more to the success of your organization than in encouraging employee involvement and employee engagement? Employee involvement and employee engagement matter to your organization's success.

In "The New Pioneers: The Men and Women Who are Transforming the Workplace and the Marketplace," Thomas Petzinger, Jr., discussed the pieces of a powerful revolution currently reshaping the face of American business. HR professionals leading the charge on these is recommended for their personal relevance and professional support of their organizations.

Petzinger, the former longtime writer of the "Wall Street Journal" column, "The Front Lines," and the author of two additional books, drew his conclusions from corporate case studies of companies in more than forty cities in thirty states and worldwide. Some of his most important conclusions are highlighted in this article. The highlighted workplaces demonstrate environments in which motivated people choose to work.

Employee Involvement Lives in a Workplace Where People Thrive

"Being good in business calls on being good at being human," Petzinger concluded after studying the turnaround of Rowe Furniture Company. Rowe, which had been a very traditional manufacturing company, identified the need to utilize the brains and talent of its employees. Charlene Pedrolie, its manufacturing chief, truly believed that the people doing the work should design how the work is done.

With the assistance and consultation from a much-reduced management team and engineers, workers redesigned their work. They moved from an environment in which each person handled part of a work process to fully cross-trained manufacturing cells producing a whole product.

From standing at an assembly position all day long, they created work which allowed some freedom and movement. They eliminated the formerly "deadly dull" jobs. At the same time, the flow of information they received, which allowed them to know exactly how they were performing, increased dramatically.

The new sense of personal control, according to Petzinger, "bred a culture of innovation in every corner of the plant... It reveals the creative power of human interaction.

It suggests that efficiency is intrinsic; that people are naturally productive; that when inspired with vision, equipped with the right tools, and guided by information about their performance, people will build on each other's actions to a more efficient result than any single brain could design."

Tap Staff Potential Through Employee Involvement

In his company research, Petzinger found important and consistent themes relating to vision, employee involvement, control, measurement of work processes, simplicity, communication, fun and energizing environments, excellent work tools and training, and commitment. If you can create these in your organization, you'll retain your committed, motivated employees.

At HalfPrice books, Pat Anderson, the late founder, recognized the importance of having not just a big vision, but one that benefits society. People are energized by feeling as if they are part of something bigger than themselves. She also believed that day-to-day management was about tracking information not controlling people. She also encouraged a sense of play at work, realizing it was good for the business.

Teams for Employee Involvement in Continuous Improvement

At Monarch Marking Systems, Jerry Schlaegel and Steve Schneider had a deep respect for the minds of their workers. When confronted with a workplace in which people had been paid not to think, they instituted a "small set of simple rules" to break that mindset. They required people to participate in teams that were formed specifically to improve a particular performance numeric. Teams were allowed no more than thirty days to form the team, study a problem or opportunity, and implement a solution. Perhaps a bit heavy-handed to start, the success of over 100 teams has created a new culture within the organization.

Petzinger quotes Herb Kelleher, founder and Executive Chairman of the Board of Southwest Airlines, a company known for its profitability, its dedication to people, and a fun and energized work environment. "I've never had control and I never wanted it," says Kelleher..."If you create an environment where people truly participate, you don't need control. They know what needs to be done and they do it. I sought out the source and added more from Kelleher.

He continued, "We're not looking for blind obedience. We're looking for people who on their own initiative want to be doing what they're doing because they consider it to be a worthy objective. I have always believed that the best leader is the best server. And if you're a servant, by definition you're not controlling."

More Examples of Employee Involvement and Employee Engagement

  • Great Harvest Bread Company owners realize that franchise owners learn the most from each other. Others can learn from Pete and Laura Wakeman's philosophy of rewarding knowledge and innovation sharing. They pay half the cost of a franchise owner or employee’s travel to any other franchise in the country to pick up new ideas. This reimbursement is deducted from franchise fees, so the people that travel the most for ideas pay the least royalties.
  • Bill Armstrong founded Armstrong Ambulance which had grown to 300 employees serving 350 patients a day. Armstrong recruited and retained the most experienced and loyal paramedics by providing the best tools, the best vehicles, and the best training in his industry in the region. According to Petzinger, an employee, using different words, but conveying the same thought, "described the rewards of working at Armstrong as belonging, self-esteem, and self-actualization, all in one." Employees were proud to work for Anderson and to know that when they showed up at an emergency room, the staff respected their experience.
  • Dupont Manager, Richard Knowles, when leading a manufacturing plant in a more participatory manner, decided to stop setting goals for people because he always set them too low. He discovered that when people found meaning in their work, he could count on them donating their "discretionary energy."This is the energy, enthusiasm, and hard work available, beyond the minimum required to keep a job, when people work in conditions that allow them to find meaning at work. This is the energy organizations want to tap to fully utilize employee involvement and employee engagement for organizational and personal success.

While this article has focused on several of the people aspects of Petzinger’s findings, Petzinger talks about the actions of groundbreaking pioneers in other areas as well. He discusses their devotion to customer service, as in give the customer exactly what they want when they want it.

In "Everyone a Middleman," he emphasizes connections and dependencies that result in the alliances companies make as small businesses to serve larger customers. (Think outsourcing HR functions.) He points out that almost every business is a "family business," to one degree or another. He is excited that business concerns and social concerns are blending in this new economy.

For a uniquely satisfying, even uplifting experience, read "The New Pioneers: The Men and Women Who are Transforming the Workplace and the Marketplace." Petzinger cites company after company, building profitable businesses, that are people and customer-oriented dreams. You won't want to miss Petzinger's beautiful writing and visionary thinking. You may want to think about changing organizations.

These companies described are successful because their employees thrive. Got it?