Why do companies choose NOT to do more to engage their people in workplace improvement? How hard is it?
How hard is it? Nearly impossible. How do I know? I worked on the level of "their people" getting involved in workplace improvement.
1. Institutional constraints:
a. There are within various organisations different parameters (read "structure") that act like railroad tracks. If they cease to exist, the train won't get where it is going. They may be real or imagined, but they do exist. EXPERTS say this shouldn't exist and procede to help the organisation modify the "corporate cultural norms."* Example: The Post Office. Their employee involvement program back in the eighties was perceived as a "work faster" trick. After much effort was made to dispel that notion, an ei committee was set up. (End of the book answer here--It was a diversion. People become apprehensive, suspicious, etc. when they feel they are left out of the process. The USPS ei program was a palliative for discordance.) When a project as simple (simplistic) as changing payday from Friday to Thursday went through the process--brainstorming, fish-bones, etc. and went up the line, the reply was that this change was contrary to the F-1 (Finance Manual.) The ei programme was intended to modify things rules in the manual. Eventually, the day was changed. Give everyone a big gold star. (You can read more on this on my blog under the heading "How many parents want their children to get the appearance of an education?"
b. Constraints of the Group Norms This addresses the situation of employees in the workplace. Take a typical meeting. (Yes, they do exist.) where one of the people at the meeting says,
"Jack raised a good point on leadership. It reminds me of something MY SON'S coach said to the team after MY SON'S TEAM WON THE CHAMPIONSHIP at the AWARDS DINNER WHERE MY SON WAS AWARDED THE MVP...and so on."
There are people who don't know what a hidden agenda is. The fellow above was less concerned about a quote from the coach on the topic of leadership than he was about declaiming his son's excellence in sports.
I wrote about "group norms" in the corporate world and it segued into a fine discussion about cultural norms. Good points were made. But a bit off topic.
Engaging people in the process of workplace improvement is an invitation to advance personal agendas, hidden agendas, vent, and, in plain English, get even with co-workers or the institutions over real or imagined injustices.
Now it would be a bit off for me to say that companies do not do anything to actually seek real workplace improvement. Some companies are looking for risk containment--information that will allow them to limit legal liabilities. Other companies do it because heat from the higher up requires the appearance of working to solve problems. However, the biggest problem arises from examining your original question: "Why do COMPANIES choose not to..." A company is a corporate entity that exists only on paper. You removed the "people" from management, and you removed "a person" from people. I've seen too many memos signed "The Management" (Did someone say LIABILITY?) The real problem "on the floor", "in the cubilcles", "at the meetings", is this: Mr. Big did not go in to Fearless Leader's office to say, "Boris Badenov" is not successful at plotting big trouble for Moose and Squirrel. If he is not more successful, I am not going to fire him. I will let new fearless leader fire him."
Few people in the chain of command will admit that the person they hired, and have had working for them is incompetent. "I have a bungler working for me. He's been working for me for two years now but I am not competent enough a boss to fire my incompetent subordinate.
* Solution Limitations The experts have forgotten the Empirical Method of Scientific Discovery. Instead of performing the experiment, observing the result and arriving at a conclusion, they come up with an hypothesis, implement their theories then look to figure out why these solutions didn't work. Don't dare try to explain it. This challenges their ability or their credibility depending on the claims they've made (They don't want to look bad in from of their bosses, do they?) and they will become hostile, vindictive, discordant--Do you have a Phd? Did you never see the nasty, childish, contentious, ornery bickering, backstabbing, gossipy behaviour of our revered academics engaging in their one-upmanship. (Not that any of you ever did anything like that.)
Then there is 2 through 6:
2. Legal Constraints
3. Mutually Exclusive Goals
4. Ability of the employees to understand the problems and communicate them effectively.
5. Hidden agendas of the bosses.
6. Limited ability of the bosses to understand the employee--some bosses do not have a proper frame of reference. How many MBAs or Phds actually worked in the trenches?
But these are better left for another day. Work on #1.
Copyright (c) Slim Fairview 2010