It is the leaders of an organization who identify and make sure every associate is engaged, and doing what energizes them in the pursuit of the organization’s WHY – the statement of purpose.

But how do they do that? How do leaders ensure that their associates understand the system aim and where they fit into it?

What Do Associates Need?

In an inefficient organization which doesn’t employ strategy deployment principles, employees are treated as workhorses, or Full-Time Equivalents (FTE’s), who have no input and whose only value is their ability to accomplish tasks.

In an organization using strategy deployment principles, however, associates are recognized for what they are: respected collaborators.

In order to thrive, associates need:

  1. To be heard
  2. To be safe
  3. To be paid fairly for the work they do
  4. To have opportunities for advancement
  5. To have a best friend at work
  6. To have a good relationship with their supervisor – Employees leave supervisors not companies
  7. To be respected for who they are and what they can contribute
  8. To be a part of a collaborative and supportive team, the sum of which is greater than the parts
  9. To be given the opportunity to win (no one comes to work to lose)
  10. To have hope – That things can and will improve

These findings are validated by a number of well-published authors. To name a few:

If these rules are followed, then associates’ concerns are addressed, and they know that they are a vital part of the success of the organization. Associates begin to work together, to engage, and to stabilize and then build the operation. Camaraderie and confidence within the team will develop and grow as you solve problems and achieve results together.

This principle of associate engagement: Engagement starts with Safety!

Authority Versus Responsibility

Taiichi Ohno, the Father of the Toyota Production system, taught that: “standards should not be forced down from above, but rather set by the production workers themselves”.

Just saying that makes some leaders cringe. Why? Because as leaders we often confuse authority with responsibility.

Classic management theory teaches that authority and responsibility are intertwined and should be delegated accordingly. The theory is that if you have a properly trained leader, and give him or her the authority and responsibility for a particular operational function they should be able to cause that operational function to come into control and meet performance expectations. As we have all experienced, that sometimes happens, and often does not. Why?

Before you say “emotional intelligence”, let’s consider some obvious facts:

  • Authority requires the leader to make the plan and explain any performance variances to the plan back to their boss. The assumption of authority is that a good plan once properly implemented, will produce the desired results.
  • Responsibility, however recognizes that planning and performance involve circular feedback to be successful. Well-managed responsibility finds the leader asking questions, such as:
    • What do you (the frontline worker) think the problem is?
    • What do you think the potential solutions (countermeasures) are?
    • What countermeasures do you think we should select?
    • Who must do what, when, and where to test the countermeasures?
  • Well-managed responsibility assumes that all plans are experiments and can only be evaluated through scientific methods, starting with PDCA.

Authority and responsibility are two different things and the smart leader knows this. He or she, develops collaborative win-win relationships with the frontline resources, over whom they have authority, to make sure that the accountability, and therefore the responsibility, are shared. This is the beginning of associate engagement, which increases proportionately to how well associates are being treated by a leader.

Leaders can adopt one of two viewpoints toward associates:

  1. Respected collaborators, or
  2. Full-time equivalents (FTE’s) to be told what to do.

The second approach can lead to hostility and degrading operational performance, whereas the first has been proven over and over to be a winning approach.

Conclusion

In complicated industries, this leader to frontline exchange is particularly important. Leaders who rotate frequently, with weak process knowledge but lots of authority, can be quite unaware of what is actually impacting performance positively or negatively. The deeper the process knowledge and collaborative rapport with the frontline associates, the better the results.

As Dr. Deming stated: “if the process is right, the results will be right”.

The Strategy Deployment Process recognizes that the detailed process knowledge, and therefore the best collaborative responsibility, exists with frontline associates, not executives.

The role of leaders as stewards of the strategic plan and overall organization performance is to cultivate a culture of safety and collaboration, in order to get every member of the organization being productive and fulfilled. As the chairman of Toyota, Fujio Cho, said: “Go see, ask why, show respect.”

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