Managers need not fear employee involvement

"I thought it meant I would lose my job." "I thought it meant I would have less power and would lose my status and influence." I was afraid we would have anarchy and total chaos." If you are a supervisor who views employee involvement with some degree of threat, these comments may hit home.

Employee involvement is finding its way into many organizations, as companies look for ways to engage the hearts and minds of their employees. Unfortunately, many times these efforts fail. One of the primary reasons for failure lies with the middle level of the organization...the supervisors and managers, who feel that they have the most to lose and the least to gain.

Ironically, the middle level is often the group that is least involved in the decision-making about how to implement an employee involvement process. The top executives want to do it, the employees are enthusiastic about it, but the supervisors are left out. It's no wonder then, that some of them smile on the outside but fight it every step of the way by dragging their feet, bad-mouthing it and failing to follow through.

Part of the problem is that supervisors and managers haven't seen enough examples of what the other side looks like. They only know how to control, delegate, direct and evaluate. They haven't seen how their jobs would change, so they aren't willing to let go.

Fortunately, enough companies are far enough along now to have good news to share. Recently, I was working with a group of supervisors who now call themselves "facilitators." Here's what they said about their new role:

·        We still set expectations and parameters for individuals and groups.

·        Our role has changed from telling people what to do to helping them get the resources they need to get their jobs done.

·        We've become the advocates of our employees, instead of the overseers.

·        We've changed from problem-solvers who were expected to have all the answers, to problem helpers. The people identify the problems and ask us to help them solve the problems themselves.

·        We used to just focus on activities with our own employee groups, but now we find ourselves talking to other people in other departments across the company. We're almost like the ambassadors of our employees with other groups.

·        We are actually training our employees to do parts of our old jobs. We now are doing more sophisticated communication, facilitation and planning.

·        We must model the values and beliefs we've developed and want to build this organization on. Before we started this, we waited for our senior management to tell us the direction to go in and felt like the message deliverers from top management.

·        One of our primary jobs is to develop and grow the people we work with.

·        The people we work "for" have changed. They are our employees as well as our peers and our bosses.

·        We help top management balance our business needs. In the past, we didn't even know what our business needs were.

·        We stay focused on our key result areas. In the past, we weren't sure what was important and what wasn't; it seemed to change every day.

·        We encourage employees to try new ways to improve the process. When they fail or make mistakes, we use that as an opportunity to educate people and to fix the process, not blame the people...this is a whole new way of thinking for some of us.

·        We don't coddle people. In fact, our employees don't want us to. We deal with the non-performers but in a more direct and dignified way. Our new system doesn't have room for people who don't want to pull their own weight.

·        We used to be afraid of losing our jobs, once this new employee involvement system was "finished," but we're finding that it's never finished and we have more than enough to do.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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