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Making employee commitment a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Seldom do I find an article that demands to be read several times and that teachs me something new with each reading. One such gem is "How I Learned to Let My Workers Lead." (1)

The author, Ralph Stayer, is owner and president of a Midwest sausage factory. Yet the management techniques he discusses are entirely applicable to the clinical laboratory.

* Problems. Through an employee survey and other means, Stayer identified serious deficiencies in his company. Employees felt minimal commitment, exerted little responsibility, and avoided getting involved in the workings of the organization. Accidents and waste were increasing. The need for change was obvious.

Seeking a recipe for inducing people to care about their jobs, Stayer read managements books. None contained a magic formula for motivating his work force. He would have to find the answer himself.

Stayer analyzed his own management style. His belief that only he could do things right, he realized, had prevented employees from assuming responsibility. All problems fell on his own desk.

Stayer decided to turn the situation around. He would set up a new system and then motivate his employees to implement it. since he had never spelled out the goals of the company, Stayer formulated some. He wanted employees to take responsibility for their own work, for the quality of products and services offered, and for the company as a whole. He hoped to bypass the traditional organizational chart of lines and boxes in favor of a staff of individuals who would keep the common goal in sight, take turns as leaders, and adjust their focus in accordance with the workload.

Stayer had focused on business and finance. He had seen people as tools to make the business successful. Centralized control coupled with his aggressive behavior and authoritatian business practices had created a bad situation. To repair it, he instrued his management team to begin making their own decisions.

After replacing three managers in two years, he realized they couldn't make decisions he would like without more guidance. He had generated this weakness in the organization by expecting his managers to fail. Additional research led to a program based on the following principles:

* A manager doesn't directly control the performance of employees; they manage themselves. The manager's responsibility is to establish the right atmosphere.

* Quality control involves more than catching errors before the product is delivered. Routinely checking QC results does not guarantee high performance. Employees must be responsible for their actions.

* Decisions should be made by those who will implement them. The same individuals must accept the consequences of their choices. Managing QC therefore requires a team approach.

* As productivity increases, some employees will lag behind. When all workers are involved in setting performance standards and become coaching experts, line workers will assume most functions traditionally left to the personnel department.

* Across-the-board annual raises reward longevity, not performance. Rewarding employees who accept new duties encourages the staff to seek additional responsibility.

* Helphing individuals to fulfill their potential is a moral duty as well as good business. Happy people continue to learn and to strive as well as to show initiative and imagination--factors that make a business successful.

* Job advancement should require ability as a teacher, coach, facilitator, problem-solve, and responsibility-taker. Technical experience is not the only skill needed for growth and development.

* Due influence. Stayer's article provides rare insight into ways to improve business operations and gain the commitment of employees. People want to be great. If they aren't, it's because management won't let them. Furthermore, employees' performance is directly related to their expectations. By influencing what people expect, you will affect how well they perform.

(1) Stayer, R. How I learned to let my workers lead. Harvard Bus. Rev. 68(6): 66-83, November/December 1990.

The author is a management consultant and educator; director of Health Management Analysts, Woodland, Calif.; and laboratory operations adviser, Ernst & Young, Great Lakes Region, Cleveland.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Author:Barros, Annamarie
Publication:Medical Laboratory Observer
Article Type:column
Date:Jun 1, 1991
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