Fear of flying: the employee involvement adventure.

Author:Roth, James
Position:Best Practices/TQM

You've read all the theories. Your CEO wants you to try it. Your staff might like it. But is employee involvement the right approach for you?

AS ONE OF three audit managers in a 23-person audit department, I was a participant in, but not the instigator of, a Total Quality Management (TQM) initiative which emphasized employee involvement (EI). During this process, I often felt like a victim of change -- responsibilities stripped away and given to committees -- structures I'd sweated blood to create thrown out thoughtlessly. My own experiences may provide some insights into how this new approach to management works -- its trials, tribulations, stumbling blocks -- and its ultimate triumphs.

* But First, a Test.

If you're an audit director, you have "customers" to whom you give your personal time and energy. In the space below, write your three most important customers, in order of importance.


  1. ----- 2. ----- 3. -----

Does your list include senior management, line management (the recipients of your audit reports), and your audit staff, in that order? Most audit directors view senior management as their primary customer. Line management comes next; and the audit staff comes third -- or, more often -- is not even on the list.

What does this mean? It means when senior management suddenly asks for a report tomorrow, the performance review you've scheduled for this afternoon gets postponed. This has got to change!


When push comes to shove, the needs of your audit staff must come first, and you find some way to satisfy senior management. Does this mean you have to sacrifice your career for your auditors' happiness? Not at all. When they know they are your first priority, they will reciprocate. The improved quality of their work will make you look better than any of the things you can do personally to impress senior management. So what are the results? After one year of EI, our audit department had:

* Zero turnover, despite a pending merger and downsizing of the department. Our auditors would rather risk being laid off than go somewhere with a less positive work environment.

* Twenty-one percent reduction in hours per audit. I attribute this to the increased experience level of our staff and to an improved work ethic -- more emphasis on getting the job done without sacrificing quality.

* Improved image in the organization. On post-audit surveys, our customers say the quality and value of audit services has improved significantly. These changes are the result of better attitudes and work ethics on the part of our auditors, secondarily from a comprehensive marketing program which emerged from our EI process.

And what are the costs? Getting started with EI means long hours for the audit director -- especially one who is new to the department or does not yet have a close relationship with each auditor. EI cannot succeed without a deep sense of trust and belonging. You can't get this with a one-on-one meeting in your office. It takes meeting after meeting, managing by walking around, encouraging people to stop in, and never seeming too busy to listen. If you have to do your "work" on evenings and weekends for a while, that's the price you pay to satisfy your most important customers.

Getting started with EI also means anxiety for everyone. If the change is more than cosmetic, it...

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