Recently, I wrote an article for IndustryWeek titled “The Politics of Improvement: The Challenge of Getting Company Leaders’ Buy-In.” Several of the conclusions I reached at the end of that article also apply to the workers in a company. However, I would make two additional recommendations when it comes to building ownership with employees.
Build a High Level of Trust and Respect – This is something that can’t be faked and may take quite a bit of time to earn. (It can be lost quickly, however.) An example of a company that tries to fake respect would be putting up employee improvement suggestion boards and then never following up on the ideas or providing any sort of feedback to the employees. “Look, we respect our employees enough to ask for their inputs on how to better meet our customers’ needs,” says the company leaders while the employees know it is all a sham.
Another example would be putting up the red, yellow, green status lights and no one responding when the light changes to red. Or, telling employees to shut the line down when there is a quality problem and then reprimanding them when the line is actually stopped.
Gaining trust and respect has to be a company value that the leaders demonstrate in all aspects of their interactions with the employees if they want to win their support.
Build a Sense of Pride within the Organization – In the old World War II movie “Twelve O’clock High,” the main character -- played by Gregory Peck -- inherits the leader role of a squad of Air Force bombers who are performing well below all of the other squads. Peck’s character takes a hard-line approach to getting back to basics, including training and discipline.
In a pivotal scene, the squad doctor asks Peck to ease up on the men in order to increase morale. “The one thing that will solve it (the morale problem) is pride,” says Peck. “Pride in this group. The kind of pride that will make it the last thing a man wants is to be left on the ground. And that is my job…”