Guide to Smart Workplace practices

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Employee involvement and empowerment

Managers can be far removed from what is happening in production or service delivery interface and this makes it difficult to identify where improvements can be made. Employees who have regular contact in these areas of the organisation become the experts who know what works, what doesn’t work, what problems exist and where improvements can be made and this knowledge can lead to a competitive advantageEncouraging employees to share this information, to make efficiency suggestions and to be involved in decisions that affect them is therefore extremely important. Benefits flowing from this include:

  • Direct: Implementing employees’ suggestions results directly in efficiency improvements, i.e. in safety, quality, production processes or productivity
  • Indirect: Employees who feel that they have a say in how things are done often feel more valued, committed to the company and motivated. Such employees are more productive and stay with a company longer, reducing recruitment costs

There is a many and varied list of management practices for generating high involvement and high performance among employees - for example:

Two-way communication is a key element of High Performance Work Systems and is consistently rated by employees as one of the most important management practices. Two-way communication incorporates both ‘top-down’ communication and ‘bottom-up’ communication.

  • Top-down communication refers to how managers pass information about the business to employees. This might, for example, include financial performance data or describing the reasons for the decisions you make. Transparency helps to build trust in workplaces which is a foundation for successful and sustainable workplace innovation and change.
  • Bottom-up communication ensures employee involvement in how things are done in the workplace. It gives employees the opportunity to offer suggestions to management about how improvements can be made in production and work processes. This can generate real improvements in productivity and performance as well as making employees feel like management is listening to them and that they are contributing to the success of the business. This creates what is often referred to as a ‘psychological contract’ in which employees feel valued by management and management values employees’ contributions.

Collecting and analysing information about the performance of employees and their teams is very important. Performance measures do not just focus on the number of components an employee assembles and produces or the number of customers served, rather they often focus on quality-related aspects such as levels of waste, the number of defective products produced, satisfied customers and the number of different skills an employee learns (multi-skilling). By collecting this information, good practices can be identified and problems can be easily identified and addressed.

Companies require employees to have both ‘technical skills’ and ‘soft skills’. Technical skills refer to the technical knowledge and abilities an employee requires to do the job and are quite easy to identify. On the other hand, soft skills refer more to personal attributes, for example, how well they ‘fit in’ with work colleagues, their ability to communicate effectively, and their use of initiative. Soft skills are more difficult to identify but are very important to High Performing Workplaces that often implement schemes such as team working or continuous improvement, encourage employees to become more involved in the company and make suggestions as to how efficiency can be improved. Such practices require the right people with the right skills to be successful. The two best ways to ensure you have the right skills set are:

  • Recruit the right people in the first place who have the skills you require or show that they have the potential to develop them.
  • Provide comprehensive training programs to develop the skills you require in your workforce.

A formal recruitment process accompanied by rigorous selection methods can help to identify the right person for the job. Furthermore, as well as meeting skills requirements in the production process, training is often identified by employees as one of the most important things a company can do to motivate the workforce and to illustrate that they are valued by the company.

Team working refers to work practices that seek to improve performance and work satisfaction through collaborative arrangements in the workplace. Team members set shared objectives and work together in co-operation to achieve them. Team working is not isolated to day-to-day tasks, it can also be used to encourage communication and share ideas off-line, for example by operating team based continuous improvement meetings or sharing good practice between teams. Team working is believed to generate a range of benefits including:

  • Teams are often a more efficient way to organise production.
  • Workers develop a sense of loyalty and commitment to a team. Not wanting to let team members down, workers behave in a way that is beneficial to the team.
  • Less supervision is required as members act in the interest of the team. Employees feel they have authority and take ownership of that part of production.
  • Team targets (for example quality targets) can be set.
  • Competition between teams can raise productivity.
  • Working in a team rather than on your own can be more satisfying for employees.
  • Team working encourages the spread of ideas within a team. Communication between teams in different parts of the organisation can lead to a cross fertilisation of ideas and the sharing of good practice.
  • A team is more likely to be able to find a solution when a problem arises.
  • Team members that work together often become multi-skilled and so are more flexible.
  • Regular team meetings aid in two-way communication. They can be used by senior management to communicate information to employees. They can also be used to encourage employees to make suggestions about how improvements could be made in safety, quality, production processes or productivity (Kaizen).

Many claim that job security forms the cornerstone of any High Performance Work System and without it employees are unlikely to respond positively to other management practices designed to improve productivity, efficiency or commitment. Why would employees work hard or feel loyal to a company if they can’t see a future there for themselves? Employees that feel secure in their jobs and can clearly identify the potential to develop are often more satisfied, view the ongoing success of the company as one of their own goals and so are more likely to contribute to improvements in the operations of the company.

So it is important to make employees feel both secure in their jobs and give them opportunities to develop.

Leadership

Leaders do more than just provide vision and make decisions about the direction the business is going in. Leaders, at all levels of an organisation, act as role models to establish a high performing workplace culture that values the contributions of all to performance improvement and set expected behaviour.

Generally speaking, everyone possesses a range of ‘soft skills’. These include personal attributes such as communication, initiative, creativity, being hardworking, dexterity, friendliness or punctuality to name just a few. Many organisations claim that their workforce does not have a lack of skills, but rather they have the skills but don’t use them. A good leader at any level of the organisations, from team leader to Managing Director, can successfully encourage employees to use these skills or behave in a certain way. Leaders personify a company – how employees feel about their leaders can dictate how they feel about working for the company.

High Performing Workplaces identify their employees as key to the success of their business and so people management is taken seriously at all levels of the organisation. Such companies often appoint a dedicated person responsible for people management, and issues affecting the workforce are discussed at the most senior levels of the business.


Flinders University, Australian Industrial Transformation Institute (AITI)