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Participative management.

All Together Now

Participative management. You've heard the term often enough. But what does it mean?

It's really very simple. Participative management is, in short, "democracy at work". It's a management style which encourages, solicits and requires the joint participation of all levels of employees in running an organization.

Within participative management, complete confidence is shown in all employees. Employees at all levels interact on an adult-to-adult basis. In teams or groups, employees set the goals of the organization and they share responsibility in meeting them. All employees are fully involved in decisions related to their work. They help determine performance standards, financial reward systems, and training programs. Their values and expectations are the same.

Communication is free flowing - up, down and sideways. Employees feel free to talk to their supervisors about their jobs. And they are encouraged by both management style and the organization's systems to share their suggestions and opinions. In turn, managers are willing and equipped to deal with their concerns and problems.

Why adopt participative management? The answer is simple. Employees are naturally more committed to their work if they have played a part in determining the shape of their worklife - their behaviour, goals, and rewards.

Making it work

For participative management to succeed within your organization, four specific circumstances must exist.

There must first be commitment to both the process and the value of the concept from all organizational levels. Your employees must be prepared to enter into adult-to-adult relationships. Participative management must pervade all of your management tasks, not just some of them. And, finally, given that you do not currently practise participative management, you must be prepared to make both an investment in training to acquire the necessary skills, and a gradual shift toward it.

Not a panacea

Participative management may not work in all situations and circumstances. Where it works best is in organizations which are required to continuously change and adapt, and in ones where employees have a certain degree of latitude in their actions.

Nor does it work with every employee, since not every personality thrives in an adult-to-adult relationship. Some do not welcome the responsibility inherent in the process and perform best in a parent-child relationship. Thus, the challenge is tailoring participative management to your particular needs. And deciding up front whether performance management will work for you. Refer to Exhibit 1 for an illustration of both adult-to-adult and parent-child behaviour as contrasted with key management tasks.

Down to specifics

Performance management affects management processes from recruitment and corrective action through problem-solving and leadership.

As employees must interact on an adult-to-adult basis within participative management, hire only those people who want and are able to operate in this mode. Tailor your selection criteria and interviewing techniques to help identify in your applicants the characteristics required. Look for behaviour that demonstrates an adult approach to work, i.e., communication style, reaction under pressure, acceptance of responsibility for one's actions, etc.

What about candidates who don't meet the criteria? In these cases, weigh the other attributes they offer, technical know-how, experience, etc. Then determine whether they can be trained to become more responsible for their behaviour.

Given the democratic nature of participative management, the employees who will have a significant relationship with the new recruit should, for obvious reasons, be involved in the recruitment process.

People who understand and care about what they are doing can devise and improve their own methods for doing work. Thus, trainees and their managers/supervisors must all be involved together in the training process, which includes identifying needs, finding solutions, receiving the training, and evaluating its effectiveness. Training solutions may not be the same for all employees: everyone has a unique learning style. However, the guiding principle should be that -people learn best by experiencing the consequences of their own behaviour."

In a participative management organization, all individuals help set the goals of the organization, or work group. Motivation stems from the desire to achieve these goals. Employees are also motivated by the design of their jobs, and the degree of decision-making inherent in them.

The term "discipline" implies an adult-to-child relationship. Therefore, within a participative management context, i.e., an adult-to-adult relationship, discipline should be seen as corrective action. In corrective action, problems are identified by either the employee or the supervisor, or both. Together, they determine the cause of the problem and how to solve it. Both parties then do whatever is necessary to correct it. If perceptions of the problem differ, the employee and supervisor must put personalities aside and, by listening closely to one another, find a common ground.

Financial rewards should be arrived at through the participative process.

Employees should also have a say in determining their non-financial rewards, such as vacations and tuition assistance. Since not all employees will want the same benefits, consider a flexible benefit system with "credits" which employees can "spend" to purchase benefits that are relevant to them.

Performance management is also a case of democracy at work. The employee whose performance is being managed should take an active part in the process, reviewing for accuracy the job description and performance standards with the supervisor. Because the employee is alerted to performance standards, he/she can review performance data with the supervisor.

Deciding how to change performance should also be done jointly, from identifying the reason for the change to deciding how it should be achieved.

To the extent they are able, all employees must participate in and contribute to problem-solving. Since they share common goals, they have a vested interest in not only solving the problems that stand in their way but ensuring the solutions they come up with work.

Coaching and counselling is done in an adult-to-adult manner: its objective is to be helpful rather than punitive. It also acknowledges that employees must work together as adults, in order to achieve common goals.

Team building is an integral part of participative management. In this environment, team members play a part in determining how the team will operate, its goals and objectives, how decisions will be made, and the role each member will play. It is because all of these factors are mutually agreed upon, rather than prescribed, that distinguishes participative management from merely "team work".

A collaborative (rather than autocratic) style of management is necessary for participative management to work. The leader must be genuinely committed to the process and vie wit as a way to determine and accomplish the goals of the group.

It is worth noting that crisis and emergency situations do not lend themselves to participative management. If the building is ablaze, we don't need a group decision about which exit to use! However, a mutually acceptable style of participative management will make the autocratic handling of these rate situations much more palatable.

There are clearly a host of factors that must be firmly in place, if participative management is to take hold. Perhaps the most important of these is developing the adult-to-adult approach which the process demands.

It is also important to understand that participative management does not imply that everyone shares equally in all management processes. Shareholders will still ultimately hold senior management accountable for satisfactory results. In participative management, as in any democracy, everyone contributes according to their abilities.

Lloyd Field is President of Performance House Ltd., an international management consulting and training organization.

Lloyd specializes in management development, supervisory training and human resource systems. His consulting activities take him across Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Canadian Institute of Management
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Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:joint participation of all levels of employees in running an organization
Author:Field, Lloyd
Publication:Canadian Manager
Date:Mar 22, 1991
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