Saturday, February 10, 2007

Creating a Better Place to Work

In our evolving global economy, we tend to look to capital and technology for competitive advantage. Effective organizations are also critical to global success. The realization has led us to various approaches for redesigning our operations. However, in the processes of "restructuring" and "downsizing" - tactics that provide our companies with leaner structures and flatterer hierarchies - we often tend to overlook the fact that our people are the most important source of competitive advantage.
In many instances, the way we have made our operations more cost-effective has been to lay off workers-based on the simple notion that people equal costs. Unfortunately, we fail to realize that the success of cost cutting comes at the price of serious motivational problems for the remaining employees. The workforce is burdened with new responsibilities, and at the same time, must cope with the uncertainty of further job cuts. Employee loyalty disappears. In a recent survey conducted by The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) of companies that went through downsizing shows that employee morale declined in 86 percent of those companies. This leads to a long term vulnerability for many of the restructured corporations.
In their mission statements, many corporations affirm that "people are our most important asset." Admittedly there are numerous examples of sincere efforts to promote participatory management and people involvement, encourage teamwork, and otherwise draw on the assets latent in human energy and talent. And more and more companies share ownership with their employees in the hope of setting higher levels of productivity. However, we often do not comprehend that the task of turning employee involvement into competitive advantage requires profound changes in the role and philosophy of management, corporate values, organizational hierarchy, and labor relations. If these changes are not in place and, consequently, decisions are still handed down from the top, employee motivation suffers and productivity remains at low levels.
We need a different approach to unlock people's productivity. this may be an opportune time to revisit the principles of motivation, to see what really energizes people and lets them take ownership of their jobs. Since the 1950s and 1960s, when Abraham Maslow, Frederick Herzberg, and David McClelland developed their theories of motivation, we have made significant advances in our understanding of what energizes people in the workplace. For example, we now focus on the difference between "extrinsic" and "intrinsic" approaches and we understand how people "self," their way of being, influences their motivational orientation.
Having said so, let's try to develop a profile or a perspective for a good employer, i.e. a good place to work for; how such a place would look like? And what are the core values that attract people to work for such a company and make them want to stay on board? I can think of the following characteristics:
  1. Employees are in control. workers not only have he power to run day-to-day operations, but also the opportunity to participate in designing manufacturing processes for greater efficiency. Once the labor content of a product is determined, company leaders and workers cooperatively figure out the best ways to cut product costs. Of course this evolves employees participation in the planning process related to each function in the organization.
  2. A simple, clear bonus system. Any organization can compare the actual cost of labor with the estimated cost. If the actual cost is less than the estimate, the difference between the two could be paid as a bonus to the employees who contributed in fulfilling such saving. Likewise, the bonus is significantly reduced if a poor-quality product reaches the customer. This helps prevent high-volume production at the expense of quality.
  3. Team problem solving. The value of the workplace can be enhanced where employees take responsibility for more than their own job. Employees in each area would operate as a cohesive group to maximize output and solve problems if they trust their management and were empowered by them to become accountable.
  4. Leaders emerge as needed. Natural leaders do emerge naturally in the workplace, only of we create an environment that help employees reach their potentials. When problems arise, we can see leaders around us trying to help solve them. Those are employees who have the ability to influence others, and with the right investment in developing their skills they make great leaders.
  5. Management takes on a new role. Self-autonomy is the name of the game here. mature employees should be enabled and empowered to 'manage' their own jobs. They assume responsibility and become accountable about the results. Management role becomes more focused on 'what gets done', but 'how it is done' could certainly be decided by the job holders as long as they work within the organizational context and observe its ethical conduct and abide by the quality standards in what they do.

To conclude, I found that the most important assets that contribute to both high morale and high productivity could be summarized as:

  • True autonomy where employees run their shop.
  • Management confidence that employees can grow and develop as needed by the organization.
  • A cooperative, caring environment and a willingness to stand by each other through good times and bad.

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