Participative management: A dynamic process for organisational success

Wednesday, 21 December 2011 02:11 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Obsolete definition of management We have grown up believing the textbook definition of ‘management’ described as ‘getting things done’. Perhaps, this definition is vague or too general that over the years several companies world-wide is struggling to deliver results as planned. We have seen several annual strategic plans ending in fiascos.

It is a pity that we gave this definition to management based question papers in our younger days and yet passed the management examinations. My definition I see ‘management’ as a process to achieve goals by mobilising people, allocating resources and a collection of systems and processes that will synchronise to produce the expected result within a stipulated time period. This definition could be seen as embodied in the obsolete definition given above, but this is specific, measurable, track-able and better understood by people in organisations to commit to on-time delivery. The term ‘management’ denotes various processes and systems that are used in the various departments within an organisational setting. Participatory management Participatory/participative management contributes immensely in the development of companies in various ways. The common thread through various global organisational success stories is collective decision making in organisations. To make this happen, the subordinates should enjoy a certain degree of decision making power with their immediate superiors and senior managers. In the real field of practice, participatory management is an umbrella term that encompasses with multi-activities such as goal setting, solving of issues, active involvement is work decisions, representing on policy making bodies, inclusions in consultative cross-functional consultative committees and selecting co-workers for different segments of organisational needs. In certain instances, participatory management has been treated as a panacea for less growth and productivity. We should, however, keep in mind that this type of management style is not pertinent for every work unit in the organisation. Often, we forget this matter in the implementation phase. For it to work, sufficient time is necessary to participate, the issues the employees get involved in should be appropriate according to their interests. On the other hand, employees must possess these abilities: communicative skills, intelligence, technical knowledge and positive attitude to take part actively and the current environment of employees must be supported by the organisational culture. Organisational culture How Nalin Jayasuriya (seated third from right) conducted a training programme on participatory approach in customer service for managers and executives in Bangladesh last weekdo we create an organisational culture? Well, the culture of an organisation is the result of all employees ‘living the values’ of the organisation. Hence, it goes without saying that it is very important to formulate the corporate values for an organisation. I recall with great nostalgia and satisfaction the personal happiness I derived when I was engaged as a consultant in facilitating the development of the corporate values of Hemas Group in 1998, Serendib Leisure Management, EMSO Ltd., Bartleets Ltd., Namunukula Plantations, Frostair Ltd., Foundation for Co-existence (NGO) 2005, WV Holdings (Cardiff, Wales, U.K.), etc. Several organisations are proud of the corporate values displayed on the wall of the reception area. My concern is that in most of these instances, the walls of the organisation where values are displayed, have the values… not the people. So, a company, initiated and driven by the HR division, must run Values workshops in English, Sinhala and Tamil to cover all employees. The objective is to synchronise corporate behaviour – be it at head office or at a branch. Employee participation Various reasons are comprehended by the management to pursue participatory style of management for better results and to ensure employees’ participation in various mutual matters. Besides, the workers feel more committed to their work and in implementing decisions due to their involvement in the decision making process. This can facilitate to create an effective and favourable culture of participatory management at all levels in the organisation. Relations between management and workers occupy a prominent place. It is worth noting that favourable labour management provides a solid foundation for creating new attitudes and companies are required to keep pace with dynamics of modern corporate and industrial settings. Moreover, during the age of industrial progress, labour was looked upon as a commodity subjected to maximum use, periodical replacement and scrapping when damaged. Now, however, the thought is changing and it has been increasingly realised that a worker/employee is not a marketable item but a human being. The worker is a valuable asset for the organisation who drives the organisation’s wheel. So, more investment in employee development is essential to achieve growth in all respects. The late Dr. N.M. Perera, Dr. Colvin R de Silva and A.E Gunasinghe are but few of the several who championed the rights of the workers/employees. Industrial development effected vital changes in management philosophy during the last century. A striking development of labour-management relations has taken place in many European countries, particularly in the growth of a broader concept of corporate future relations and a more positive spirit of cooperation as a whole. Equal rights for organisational growth According to the principle of participation, both the management and workers have equal rights and responsibilities in deciding the future of the organisation. Development in the level of cooperation between management and labour will serve to: Ensure increased productivity. Obtain full recognition of the importance of the human being in the organisation. Give staff and workers a greater interest in the general operation. Develop existing relations with a view to maintaining peace and industrial harmony in the organisation. Convert the business into a learning organisation where the climate will become conducive to give birth to knowledge workers. Generally speaking, a trade union helps to keep a good balance between the expectations of the management and workers. A trade union is effective only if it is independent of any political party and knows the trade union law and rights. If they are mooted by politicians or if they are politically aligned, the union interventions could have disastrous impact on the profitability at best and, on the sustainability at worst. The knowledge arena of the trade union mixed with the strategic capability of the management will, together, form a formidable force for the competition to reckon with. Workers rejecting trade union formation During the early 1990s when I was Director HR at Mackwoods Winthrop Ltd. (Sterling Winthrop, a multinational that was absorbed in part by Smithkline Beecham and the other part by Sanofi of France in 1996), two politicians from two different political parties independently approached our pharmaceutical manufacturing and packing plant in order to start trade unions. Since the relationship between the workers and the management was strong, the workers rejected the attempts by these two politicians and thus, the initiative to start trade unions failed. This was owing to the initiatives of ‘living the values’ and the cross functional (non-executive) task teams that were established to discuss operational concerns, issues and report the minutes, with suggestions, to the HR division for review and implementation with the concurrence of the management committee. The low hanging practical suggestions were implemented almost immediately whilst the high hanging fruits took more time and that were clearly explained to the workers with good rationale and reason. Hence the trust component was built up between management and workers. How did we engage the workers in the decision making process? Well, the cross functional task teams comprising of non-executives were set to meet monthly at a formal meeting and submit minutes of the meeting to the Director HR. We laid down the parameters for areas of discussion, i.e., the task force could discuss on any matters regarding the safety and security of the workplace, how to enhance working environments, suggest better methods to doing things, time saving ideas, working conditions, etc. They could not discuss and suggest in the areas of promotions, transfers, remunerations, incentives and benefits. These areas were the prerogative of management. This worked well and created enthusiasm among the workers. In exerting the style of participation, managers differ in the degree. Besides, at the upper level of the organisation the degree of participation is found normally greater. On the other hand, managers, who make the most extensive use of participation consult normally with employees every now and then on various issues from time to time. Structure of participative management In the industrial concerns, the size of the committee for participative management differs from 06 to 12 members irrespective of the size of the organisation and the nature of the production process. An industry employing over a hundred workers may form a committee of 12 members. The effectiveness of the committee depends upon the size of the organisation, the number of departments. It has the possibility of grouping them into certain categories, channelisation of organisational and functional responsibilities to various committees and sub-committees. It is suggested that even the strength of 20 to 25 on the committee may be accepted to run the activities as they are assigned. The representatives on the committee might be elected or nominated. An elected member is always important as the workers are normally unorganised and there is no representative body of the workers that may raise the demands and feelings of the workers before the competent management. Process of organisation of participative management The committee should comprise of a chairman, deputy chairman and a necessary number of joint secretaries and members according to the organisational size. As a general practice, the constitution of the committees provide for the rotation of the offices of the chairman and deputy chairman as both should be elected by the committee from among its members and if the chairperson is selected from the representative company, the deputy chairman shall be from the employees’ representative and vice-versa. The term of office of both of them should be one year and if, for one term the chairman is selected from the company’s side, the deputy chairman should be from the employees’ side and for the next term it shall be vice-versa. This system works well where the employees and management are both knowledgeable and democratic in nature. Another type of participation is constituted by multiple management. Junior members participate in solving problems that go beyond the normal scope of their customary duties. A variation of this system takes the form of production committees, composed of employees and management representatives, which conduct study for overall improvement and organisational efficiency. Contd. on Page 18 Participative management: Contd. from Page 12 Probably, the type of supervision is the more useful form of participation that might be labelled as consultative management. In the day-to-day administrative functions, rather than deciding matters unilaterally and passing the decisions onto subordinates what might add more value is to bring the subordinates into the supervisory process for an increasing favourable work situation. Key functions of participative management Participation in management aims at developing increased productivity for the benefit of the organisation, the employees and the economy of the country. Besides, it gives employees a better understanding of their roles, significance in their industry and knowledge in the process of production. It also satisfies their urge for self expression. To this end in view, participative management is intended to achieve the following objectives; Association between employees and employers should be enhanced in the organisation and encourage relationship, better understanding and trust between the two. Cordial relationship should be engendered and help improve efficiency at all levels in the organisation. Living and working conditions should be improved for raising productivity and ensure natural justice for obtaining whole-hearted cooperation from workers by providing welfare facilities to them. Provide necessary education and training for raising professional skills. Workers should be educated for understanding their own responsibility. Psychological aspects of the workers should be given due importance for meeting their needs. Workers crave for recognition, respect and proper status in the organisation and create a situation that encourages workers to feel as a part of management and decision making activities. How the participation process benefits the organisation Employee participation has received much attention in companies. A programme of participation attempts to involve subordinates and senior management more directly in the operation of the business. Management gets the benefit of employees’ contribution and enthusiastic, whole-hearted effort in achieving the vision, increased quality of results and willing and voluntary compliance to the company’s rules, regulations and prescribed ethics. Besides this, in the process of introducing changes, participation can help to minimise employee resistance. In fact, some changes occur in direct response to employee participation. Ownership and control rights are exercised by shareholders but equity is a vanishingly small fraction of balance sheets. It is to these shareholders that the operational board of the company has to present the philosophy of participative management. The collective effort and enthusiasm of the employees engaged in a participatory process is greater that the value that the shareholders, possessing low equity holding in the company, could possibly bring to the business. Humility: A vital requirement for the process I have noted that many CEOs, heads of divisions and senior managers are driven by their position power and ego. They don’t want to be seen as wrong… in fact, they believe that they are never wrong. To say “I am sorry, I made a wrong decision and I think your suggestion will work” is one sentence that such managers will never voice. If you think you know it all and if you are depending only upon your position power and personal ego, participatory management will never work. This is a critical reason why it does not work in many organisations and several parliaments. The moment that leaders think they know it all that is then when they become ‘brain dead’. It is important therefore to exercise humility and understanding with the belief that all the people in your organisation, irrespective of the position or responsibility they may hold, are working towards one main goal, i.e., to make the organisation profitable and sustainable. (The writer is the Managing Director and CEO, McQuire Rens Group of Companies. He has held regional responsibilities of two multinational companies of which one was a Fortune 500 company. He carries out consultancy assignments and management training in Dubai, India, Maldives, Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. He is a much sought-after business consultant and corporate management trainer in Sri Lanka.)

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