In the world of business, there is a basic formula used on a day-to-day basis to move the organization forward. Upper management and managers of the various functional units typically put together a set of policies that directly impact the employees, who, in turn, perform the daily work duties of the company.
This formula, however simple, is rarely performed with precision or effectiveness. The procedures and action steps to do work effectively are usually not written down. In many instances, work is done very informally without much attention paid to process. The end result of this is a disconnected company. Each individual carries on according to his or her own method, producing several different ways to perform the same function. With the repetition of this self-dictated process, a habit pattern is developed that becomes a "comfort zone.” The problem with this method is that no one takes the time to determine the best way to perform any given function. Instead, people continue on separate paths even though their approach may be ineffective. A chain reaction is then set in place when the desired results are not achieved. Managers get upset and typically use punitive measures with an individual who thought he was simply doing his work. The fallout from this is lower morale and lack of productivity. At the end of the domino effect are the employees, who lose the commitment necessary to raise their level of performance.
Instead of the "every man for himself” approach, we all need to focus on continuous improvement. This includes not only the work produced but also the morale of the employees. If we focus on moving forward in a positive way for everyone, progress will follow. So, let’s take some time to define the key criteria we’re talking about.
Productivity—effective utilization of resources to achieve quality results within a specified time frame. Resources include people, tools, equipment, material, money, information, training, procedures, support, etc. Set a reasonable target date to complete the project, taking into account the complexity of the task at hand and the skills of the employee.
Process—A series of written activities or steps that need to be followed in order to achieve desired results.
Procedure—A "how to” course of action to get something done accurately.
Standard—A measurement that represents desired performance.
Commitment—A promise to carry out all assigned job responsibilities in an effective and efficient manner.
Without the proper attention to these key criteria, a sense of confusion filters down to the lower levels of the organization about what is expected of them. Employees are unsure of the correct process, so they simply do the best they know how. This usually occurs because of a lack of connection from the top down. Management is detached from the needs of the supervisors and employees who have to do the work. The traditional management style of telling people what to do and how to do it is archaic. Without employee buy-in and involvement in the process, the results are lack of productivity and inefficiency. The need for change is clear, and the extent to which productivity improves has much to do with management’s willingness to abandon the traditional approach of managing from the top down.
The alternative is to build a team organization in which management and employees are committed to the mission, vision and values of the organization. In the team format, people understand how their own efforts fit into the objectives of their area of responsibility and the goals of the company.
Workers and managers establish cooperative, congruent goals and action plans for achieving them so that they can be successful together. They explore and delve into problems by exchanging information, discussing opposing views openly, and creating solutions to eliminate them.
Teamwork becomes the company’s approach to getting things done. The company as a whole envisions, unites, empowers, explores and reflects. Teams believe that they share a common vision with other sectors and individuals. They have cooperative goals, complement each other, discuss problems, recommend solutions and strengthen their work relationships.
By creating a team organization, the following should occur:
• An excitement about doing meaningful work.
• An opportunity for people to speak their mind without repercussions.
• A mutual respect and appreciation of each other as people and contributors.
• The ability to confront complex internal problems and blockages in a cooperative and positive manner.
• An exploration of problems by exchanging information and discussing opposing views openly and candidly with the intent to do what is best for everybody.
Building teamwork requires establishing some new traditions and making sure that all team players understand them while making a commitment to follow them. These "new traditions” will be summed up next month.
Norb Slowikowski is president of Slowikowski & Associates, Inc., Darien, Ill.