Participative management is a new approach in the work force today. Job enrichment, quality circles, and self-managing work teams are just some of the approaches. Companies share a common goal of increasing employee involvement. They want to raise the quality, performance, and productivity of their workers.
The questions that follow will be answered in this paper. What is participative management? What are the advantages of participative management? How does it raise quality, productivity, and performance? How can it be successfully started, implemented, and sustained? What are the results of experiments done in the work force?
Participative management is a process by which a company attempts to increase the potential of its employees by involving them in decisions affecting their work lives. A distinguishing characteristic of the process is that its goals are not simply acquired, they focus on the improvement of productivity and efficiency, but they are also fulfilling and self-enhancing in themselves. The key goals of employee involvement programs is to enhance the quality of the employees’ working life, management must be responsive to the requests of the employees. The best way to ascertain those requests is to ask employees.
If workers can be motivated and given the opportunity to participate in the search for improved methods of job performance, and if this motivation and participation can be maintained over time, job performance should improve.
Productivity is higher in companies with an organized program of worker participation. Employee participation can and does raise productivity. The most appropriate form will vary from company to company but participation works only when both parties want it to work. The solution to America’s pathetic productivity growth isn’t necessarily more capital spending (Lewis & Renn, 1992). People tend to accomplish what they decide they want to accomplish. Ideas, changes, suggestions and recommendations that are generated by the people who implement them stand a much greater chance of being successfully implemented. In theory, people who have a hand in making a decision are better motivated to execute it. Participation can improve the quality of decision making.
Participative management appears to offer tremendous advantages. It can create organizations where people at all levels think for themselves and manage their own work, then far fewer employees will be needed and those who remain will have more rewarding and satisfying jobs. This in turn could help make the higher labor costs in the United States competitive because lower-level employees would be contributing more by using both their hands and their minds. It could lead to higher-quality products that are internationally competitive. If our companies were able to effectively utilize participative management, the advantages could be tremendous. We could be a more productive society in which work contributes to the quality of people’s lives. We could again be competitive in international markets, be admired for our management skills, and be a society whose workplaces are a source of pride and power. We might also come much closer to matching the reality of how people are treated: with respect; dignity; democratic rights; individual rights; and the right to share in the fruits of their labor (Lawler, 1990). These values have made our society for over two centuries but they have not provided much power for our work environment.
There are ten steps stated by Jerre Lewis and Leslie Renn to implementing a successful participative management program.
Step one: Support of top management and union leadership.
Top management must sanction and be supportive of any participative management and employee involvement program. It is very important that once top management has made the decision in favor of participative management, all supervisory personnel be properly trained on how to change their management style from the old traditional hard line approach to the participatory style. Union leadership must also be prepared for embarking on a participative management program. Many union leaders have feared that participative management and employee involvement programs would undermine the role of the local union and the collective bargaining agreements. Without the support of the union leadership, the program will fail.
Step two: Employees must be ready to accept a participative management program.
In order for employees to be receptive to such a program, a culture change must occur. Implementing a participative management program in an adversarial work climate will not work and be successful. Employees must be willing to change and desire to start working together as a team. This culture change does not happen overnight. Everyone in the organization must have the same equal opportunity to become involved in decision making relative to his or her own job.
Step three: Establish trust amongst all employees. Trust is the glue that binds employees together in an organization.
An employee involvement program will not be successful without trust. Management must initiate trust among its employees. In order for trust to occur, honesty and integrity must prevail. Management should not make any promises to its employees that it can not deliver on and back up. Trust is an extremely important element in any participative management program and must be established as such or the program will not be a success.
Step four: Any participative management program should be initiated on a voluntary basis.
Employees should not be forced to participate in decision making against their own will. Once an employee decides not to become involved in such a program, he or she should not be singled out as refusing to be a team player and viewed in a negative manner. It is very important that the attitudes of these employees continue to be respected.
Step five: A participative management program should not be implemented across the entire organization all at once.
It should start in small departmental groups where there is a consensus that the employees are willing to get together to discuss mutual problems and come up with some solutions. It is very important that once ideas come forward from the groups, management should be ready to follow up and implement these ideas whenever possible. It is advisable to start with the easier problems first and then go to the more difficult problems later.
Step six: Management should not initiate a participative management program to try to save an organization from destruction as a last chance effort.
An employee involvement program should not be used as an alternative when other more serious changes need to be made first in the organization. These programs have been used in organizations for the above reasons and have failed because of their intent and because they were implemented too late.
Step seven: Participative management programs must be results oriented.
If management is going to ask employees for their input and suggestions relative to their job, it is very important that they follow up and provide the necessary resources to make the program work. Goals and objectives must be set and employees must know what is expected of them. There must be adequate control measures in place at all times. It is also important that the program be continually evaluated for its effectiveness.
Step eight: Employees must be given the proper training in problem solving, planning, financial analysis, and communication techniques in order to participate effectively in an employee involvement program.
Management must be willing to open the books of the organization to employees and communicate financial information to them to assist them on their projects.
Step nine: Any participative management program involves risk taking on the part of management.
Employee involvement means management must share decision making but not responsibility. Managers must manage the business and deep control of the organization. Management is the risk taker. Risk taking is absolutely essential in any employee involvement program.
Step ten: Employees can become involved in many different stages of the decision making process meaning that they are not necessarily always required to make only final decisions.
What is important is that the employees are clear about what is expected of them in their involvement in the participative management program. Employees must develop a sense of ownership in the business.
A manager would want to implement a participative management program for many reasons. One reason may be due to the lack of profitability of the business. Management may have decided to finally turn to its employees and involve them in decision making to help the company turn around profitability. Management may have decided that their present style of managing did not work and they needed to change and involve their employees to get the business proceeding in the proper direction. Another reason for managers to turn to participative management may be as a last chance effort to save the business from failure and bankruptcy. The business will not survive unless a management change is implemented. Involving the employees in decision-making to save the business may be the manager’s goal. A manager may turn to participative management to create better relationships between the union and management and between the employees and management.
Implementation of a participative management program takes anywhere from two to ten years depending on the work climate of the organization (Lewis & Renn, 1992). In a hostile environment the first step in an employee involvement program is to have off-site meetings. Management members and union officials sit down with each other, have an opportunity to communicate together, and realize that they are not really enemies but that they are all employees of the same organization. Getting to know each other on a more personal basis is definitely important as an icebreaker. The important thing here is that both sides begin to share their thoughts on the state of the business. Establishing trust and initiating the necessary culture change in preparation for a participative management program takes time, usually years. It is certainly not advisable to start a program of this nature when employees do not trust each other. It will not work. The employees must be ready to accept such a program even after top management and the union officials are supportive of such a program. As management and the employees begin communicating and establishing trust among themselves, and adequate training is being provided on the participative style, management then needs to start asking employees for their opinions relative to their own jobs. As the process of employee involvement evolves, usually the next step is to start employee participation groups which usually center around a particular departmental group. Initially, employees will normally get together once a week for an hour to get to know one another, discuss common problems, and attempt to arrive at some conclusions through group decision-making. In the early stages of group formation, employees start establishing trust with each other and look to the supervisor of the department as a coach and facilitator (Lewis & Renn, 1992). It is very important that the group decisions involve all members of the group, and that the group appoints a group leader. Employees join the group strictly on a voluntary basis. The group members should have received training in group dynamics, problem solving and decision-making.
There are six gradual phases to working a participative management program into the organization. The first is to implement the off-site meetings. Next is to establish trust and get use to the culture change. Third is to create employee participation groups. Then have the participation groups evolve into shared management groups where employees start sharing departmental management responsibilities with the supervisor. The fifth phase is the evolution of self-managed groups where employees manage the department and the supervisor functions as a coach and facilitator to the group. The last phase is to maintain the participative management program (Lewis & Renn, 1992).
The key to sustaining a successful participative management program is in the relations between unions and management. It lies in the philosophy of, and the commitment to, cooperation. A cooperative labor/management stance will lead to improved quality and increased productivity; an adversarial stance will lead only to discord (Lewis & Renn, 1992). If participation in workplace problem solving dispersed across a sufficiently large portion of the workforce, then organizational effectiveness should also improve. High levels of trust, commitment, and participation can be maintained over time and across large numbers of workers, however, only if they are reinforced by higher level business and collective bargaining strategies.
There have been many successful implementations of the participative management program. One company that tried was General Motors. They have an old plant in Fremont, California that began producing cars again. The plant was completely renovated and the only things left was the shell of the old main building and some of the old employees. Just about everything else was new such as corporate sponsorship, operating philosophy, and the manufacturing system. The new United Motor Manufacturing Inc. is a joint venture of General Motors and Toyota. It was set up as a means through which General Motors could learn the Japanese Manufacturing system, and the Japanese could learn how to operate in an American context. An open environment was established at Nummi in which joint problem solving by labor and management, seeking options for mutual gain while developing good faith and trust, prevailed. The quality of life at work in turn resulted in better performance and higher productivity on the job (Lewis & Renn, 1992). Motorola is another success. Their participative management program is operating for more than ninety-five percent of their manufacturing employees and has been dramatically successful (Lawler, 1986). Honeywell, Proctor & Gamble, and dozens of other companies have built new-design plants that minimize the distance between workers and managers. The plants involve employees in many decisions and are structured on the basis of work teams. In some plants employees make pay, hiring, scheduling, and quality decisions. Honeywell, Xerox, Motorola, Ford, General Motors (GM), and Westinghouse have all publicly committed themselves to using a more participative approach to organizing and managing people. Their change programs are even more significant than the increased use of such practices as quality circles, gainsharing, and self-managing teams because they are trying to change the entire organization, not just a few plants or a few practices (Lawler, 1986).
The work place of the future will require greater emphasis on such key human resource factors as participative management, training programs, and teamwork. Employee involvement and participative initiatives are likely to expand considerably over the next several years in United States businesses. If they are to remain competitive in the marketplace and survive with the intense overseas challenges awaiting them, worker involvement and these initiatives must be present.
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