August 2002 Table of Contents
Encourage Employee Participation
How tangible, visible actions help deploy quality initiatives
by Jamil Hassounah
Top management commitment is one of the critical success factors in the deployment of organizationwide quality initiatives. While recognizing the importance of such commitment is easy, it's not so easy to translate that recognition into tangible actions that ultimately move the organization in the same direction. Furthermore, it has been indicated that as significant as top management commitment is, middle management buy-in must also be obtained.1
Quality professionals face the challenge of coaching top managers to walk the talk while helping them secure the required participation from all other levels. They are expected to recommend simple but effective actions, so they need to consider several aspects of the organization, including organizational culture, readiness for the proposed initiative, competing priorities and employee morale.
ISO 9000 in a high-tech start-up
A few years ago, while managing an ISO 9000 registration
program for a high-tech start-up, I encountered a similar situation. After
initially communicating the initiative through the traditional means--kick-off
meetings held by the CEO, departmental meetings, companywide
e-mails, memoranda posted on bulletin boards and articles published in the company newsletter--we could not get the desired number of middle managers and professionals to attend our introductory ISO 9000 training module.
I understood why. The organization was experiencing an impressive rate of growth. Its total number of employees had increased tenfold in less than 12 months, several new products were being developed and brought to the market concurrently, and we were implementing an aggressive manufacturing ramp-up to meet customer demand. Even though top management had informed everyone about the importance of achieving ISO 9000 registration, the employees were too busy with other priorities.
We needed to find out what would motivate employees to consider the ISO 9000 training as a tool that could add value to their current priorities and objectives.
Top management in action
Considering the existing organizational culture, the company decided to deploy a solution that would combine some subtle hierarchical authority with other motivational factors. We assembled several targeted groups of employees into distinct training sessions that were in line with their backgrounds and professional experience. For each group, we assigned an executive manager to sponsor that specific session.
The executive managers, all of whom were VPs, sent invitation
e-mails directly from their own computers to the sponsored employees. The executives also sat through their areas' particular training sessions and gave the opening speeches while pointing out some fact of relevance relating the ISO 9000 framework to the specific functional area.
All the training sessions were scheduled during lunch in the company's main boardroom. Lunch was served at the beginning of each session.
These tactics produced outstanding results. All targeted middle managers and professionals attended their training sessions. The executive managers had the opportunity to translate their stated commitment into visible actions by sponsoring groups of employees, highlighting how the ISO 9000 process would bring value to their own areas and sitting in on a training session as one of the employees.
Take advantage of the opportunities offered by executive managers because they tend to want to help quality professionals pursue improvement program implementation. Identify simple actions that can help top management lead by example. Ask them to sponsor a group of employees, participate through personalized e-mails and attend a training session along with everyone else.
These actions are effective in deploying the image that top management cares and is willing to dedicate time to the success of the organization. Furthermore, top managers feel motivated by seeing their actions producing tangible results.
However, you must also consider what is keeping employees from participating. Our employees had several other important activities, and time had become a constraint. Scheduling the training sessions in a way that better fit employees' busy agendas, along with free lunch and a pleasant environment, helped motivate and attract our targeted population.
1. Peter Senge, "Rethinking Leadership in the Learning Organization," The Systems Thinker, February 1996, pp. 1-7.
JAMIL HASSOUNAH recently joined Anadigics in Warren, NJ, as the director of quality assurance. He earned a master's degree in quality from São Paulo State University in Campinas, Brazil, and a master's degree in business administration from York University in Toronto. Hassounah is an ASQ member and an ASQ certified quality engineer, reliability engineer and quality auditor.