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Quality 101: Employee Involvement and Empowerment

  
  
  

Employee involvement is a vital aspect of total quality management solutions, and also in the success of any business. The need to both grow and succeed in an increasingly competitive marketplace has seen the implementation of various quality initiatives in different companies and organizations.

Problem-solving and process improvements are crucial to the company's quality initiatives, and demonstrate proactive actions are being taken to prevent problems. Total Quality Management (TQM) is a continuous process that strives to increase customer satisfaction, lower costs, and minimize defects and variations in every process of the business. TQM involves a number of concepts like "Just-In-Time", quality circles, employee involvement, continuous process improvement, empowerment, and world-class quality. The basic philosophy of TQM is to involve every employee in the organization along with its suppliers and distributors to improve product quality and thus enhance customer satisfaction.

EMPLOYEE INVOLVEMENTemployee involvement in quality management

One of the important concepts of TQM is employee involvement. This is contrast to conventional quality assurance management practices, where management takes all decisions and workers just follow them to accomplish their jobs. This top-down management style is slow, inflexible, and has little room for competition, especially where survival in today’s time-starved, customer driven market requires rapid response times from quality control in manufacturing or other businesses for the ever-changing needs of the customer.

Employee involvement is very important in any TQM initiative, as it is a system wherein employees are encouraged to use their expertise and knowledge to suggest methods for improvements in their work areas. These suggestions could relate to improvements in the job, the product, the work atmosphere or the company as a whole. Many companies have ventured into a participation-style of management by involving employees in the problem solving and decision making processes.

Some of the most successful companies are those that have achieved a close relationship between workers and the managers. The policies in these companies fostered teamwork, participation, continuous learning and flexibility.

(Source: Employee Involvement - A Vital Aspect of Total Quality Management Part 1)

delegate authority in quality managementEMPLOYEE EMPOWERMENT

In addition to employee involvement, employee empowerment is another management concept – the basic theme of which is to give employees the means for making important decisions, and making those decisions the "right" ones. When done right, the results are heightened productivity and a better quality of work life.

While the actual practice of employee empowerment varies across organizations, empowerment is based on the fundamental concepts of job enlargement and job enrichment. Job enlargement involves changing the scope of the job to include a greater portion of the horizontal process. Job enrichment involves increasing the depth of the job to include responsibilities that have traditionally been carried out at higher levels of the organization. 

(Source: ASQ, Overview of Employee Involvement)

Benefits Employee Involvement & Empowerment

While both employee involvement and employee empowerment are each distinct practices and are usually mutually exclusive to one another, the benefits of each can be similar. The main benefits of employee involvement and empowerment are enhanced morale, more productivity, healthier coworker relationships and creative thinking.

1) Improved Morale. Involving employees in decisions and policy changes that directly affect their jobs while also empowering employees to be more autonomous, greatly improves company morale at large. When employees are treated as an asset and their input is given consideration, confidence increases among every team member, and the organization sees significant gains in different facets such as productivity and loyalty. Improved morale can also increase employee longevity with the company, as the longer an employee is associated with the company, the more experienced they become. This makes them mentors to new employees and therefore indispensable to managerial staff.

2) Increased Productivity. Both employee empowerment in quality managementquality management practices also translate into increased productivity. Employees with an investment in the best interest of the organization increase their role in the company, and foster a stronger work ethic. When employees are given independence and expected to be more self-sufficient, they eventually become more efficient as they learn to navigate their responsibilities with minimal interference and/or relying less on managerial staff for direction. This allows managerial staff more time to tend to their own responsibilities other than giving assignments to subordinates and decreases micromanagement, which minimizes productivity.

3) Team Cohesion. Employee empowerment fosters better relationships between employees and with their managers, as employees that are given more independence tend to form better working relationships. Each sees the other as mutually benefiting from their working relationship. In addition, more self-governance in the workplace lessens dependence on managers and supervisors and redirects that reliance laterally to coworkers.

4) Innovation. Employee empowerment cultivates innovation, as employees that have a stake in company growth and sustainability will offer more ideas and problem-solving solutions when obstacles arise. As the employee meets particular challenges or finds improvements in policies, procedures or products, it will foster growth and more critical and imaginative thinking. Employees can offer different perspectives than a managers, and be able to offer a creative solution not otherwise considered by staff.

(Source: Benefits of Practicing Employee Involvment-Empowerment by Owen E. Richason IV, Demand Media)

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Comments

Successful leaders are those who lead well. George Washington didn't row the boats across the Deleware, but he inspired those who did. Why can't every large company generate over a million improvement ideas every year like Toyota? They can, with the proper leadership.
Posted @ Wednesday, November 02, 2011 6:34 AM by Stephen Borte
Excellent comment, Stephen: we often forget that the best leaders don't necessarily come up with the best ideas, but surrounded themselves with intelligent people that they pushed to help them succeed - the difference here is success of the organization vs. success of the individual.
Posted @ Thursday, November 03, 2011 8:12 AM by Ashley Osgood
Ashley, I'm reminded of a quote from the movie, "Patton". Gen. George Patton had the nickname of 'Blood and Guts' but some of his men grumbled "our blood, his guts". It's good for a leader to push and challenge, but a leader has to remember who they're pushing and the reasons, i.e., good for the business, or for personal glory?
Posted @ Wednesday, November 09, 2011 3:58 PM by Kim Riehman
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