Employees and organizational responsibility
Employees and organizational responsibility
Employees, whether unskilled or skilled, manual, clerical, or knowledge worker, are required to take the burden of responsibility. For this, they need tools, incentives, and security. Organizational management normally expects every employee to be responsible and has focus on his job. The job has to make achievement possible. Though the job is not everything, yet it comes first. If other aspects of working are not satisfactory, they can spoil even the most achieving job. But if the job itself is not achieving, nothing else can provide achievement.
This may appear to be silly, but the major approaches to managing the employee, throughout history, have focused on elements external to the job. For instance, several trade union leaders, while focusing on ownership, have, by and large, left unchanged the structure of jobs and the traditional practices of managing employees. Protectiveness focuses on welfare, i.e., on things like housing and health care etc.. These are very important, but not substitutes for job achievement. More recent solutions such as the ‘co-determination’, which certain trade unions are pushing to put union representatives on the board of directors and into top management but do not concern themselves with the employees’ job itself.
The fundamental reality for every employee is the eight hours or so he spends on the job. It is this job, through which the great majority of the employees have access to achievement, to fulfillment, and to the organizational success. To enable the employee to achieve, he must therefore first be able to take responsibility for his job. This basically needs (i) productive work, (ii) feedback information, and (iii) continuous learning (Fig 1).
Fig 1 Basic needs of employees for taking responsibilities
It is foolish to ask employees to take responsibility for their job when the work has not been studied, the process has not been synthesized, the standards and controls have not been thought through, and the physical information tools have not been designed. In such case, it points towards an incompetent management.
The creativity for productive work
This goes counter to the old slogan of the individual’s creativity. The old popular belief is that when the people are freed from restraint, they come up with far better, far more advanced, far more productive answers than the experts. But there is no proof to support it. What is known indicates that creativity can become effective only if the basic tools are given. It also indicates that the proper structure of any work is not instinctively obvious.
For example, people are shoveling sand since a very long time. Most of the time, it is assumed that no one told them how to do it. If making work productive has depended on the creativity of people then the people would undoubtedly have found the best way of doing the job from the beginning of the history. Yet when Taylor first looked at the job in 1885, he found everything wrong. The size and shape of the shovel were not suited to the job. The length of the handle was incorrect. The amount of sand the shoveler lifted in each of the operation was the wrong amount. In fact, it was the amount most calculated to tire him and do him physical harm. The containers were the wrong shape the wrong size and in the wrong position and so on.
The best proof that creativity is no substitute for analysis and knowledge are the experiences of those organizations which were taken over by governments with the professionals of the organizations either expelled or left the organization. All of these moves were very popular among the employees of these organizations. All the employees were full of enthusiasm. But as soon as the managers, professionals, and technicians departed or were thrown out, productivity collapsed and was not restored until managers and professionals were brought back.
Feedback information for self-control
The second prerequisite for employee’ responsibility is feedback information on his own performance. Responsibility requires self-control. This in turn needs continuous information on performance against standards. There has been a great deal of interest lately in the application of ‘behaviour modification’ to work. In particular, there has been great interest in the approach worked out recently in one of the organization, which found that the employees on all the levels manage their own performance if only they are informed immediately what their performance actually is. In fact, this has been known for many years for which there are several examples available all over the world.
It is known that people can control and correct performance if given the information, even though neither they nor the supplier of information really understand what has to be done or how. This applies also to those processes which are, by definition, ‘uncontrollable’, such as a great many processes in the human body. Few work processes are inaccessible to analysis and in a good many processes people do not exactly know the process. However, the employee himself, given the information, can control his own work and output.
This approach applies even to such advanced knowledge work as research. Feedback in research does not mean a daily report. Rather it means sitting down with the research scientists several times a year and providing information which are the things of significance which the research group has contributed to the organization during the last half a year to a year, and also the impacts earlier research work has had on the organizational performance during the last half a year to a year.
The information which the employee needs is to satisfy the requirements of effective information. It is to be timely, relevant, operational, and to focus on the job. Above all, it is to be his tool. Its purpose is to be self-control rather than control of others, let alone manipulation.
The real strength of feedback information is clearly that the information is the tool of the employee for measuring and directing himself. The employee does not need praise or reproach to know how he is doing. He knows.
Continuous learning is the third requirement for achieving in work for a responsible employee. There is need for employees, whether unskilled, skilled, or knowledge worker, to be trained in new skills. Continuous learning does not replace training. It has different aims and satisfies different needs. Above all, it satisfies the need of the employee to contribute what he himself has learned to the improvement of his own performance, to the improvement of his colleague’s performance, and to a better, more effective, but also more rational way of working.
Continuous learning is also the one way of coming to grips with two basic issues namely (i) the resistance of the employees to innovation, and (ii) the danger of the employees becoming outdated. The way technology has progressed in recent past, the employee’s knowledge has become obsolete earlier than expected. It is also a severe indictment of the management. An employee who starts with the proper foundation of knowledge for his work has no business to make it obsolete. Hence, the continuing improvement of his own skill and knowledge at his own job is required to be built into his daily work.
Continuous learning need not be organized as a formal training session the way it is traditionally done in many organizations. But it always needs to be organized. There is need for the continuing challenge to the employee. The present knowledge of the employee makes the job more productive, more performing, and more achieving. The employee needs the knowledge, the tools, and the information to prepare him for the job. But it does not cover him towards new needs, new methods, and new performance capacities.
Continuous learning is as needed in the office work as it is needed in field work. It is of particular importance in knowledge work. The very fact that knowledge work, to be effective, has to be specialized creates a need for continuous exposure to the experiences, the problems, the needs of others, and in turn, for continuous contribution of knowledge and information to others.
Planning and doing
The above three basics, (i) productive work, (ii) feedback information, and (iii) continuous learning, are, so to speak, the planning for employee responsibility for job, work group, and output. Hence, these are management responsibilities and management tasks. But these are not ‘management prerogatives’, i.e., things done by the management alone, by itself, and unilaterally. Management does indeed have to do the work and make the decisions. But in all these areas the employee himself, from the beginning, needs to be integrated as a ‘resource’ into the planning process. From the beginning, he has to share in thinking through work and process, tools and information. His knowledge, his experience, his needs are resource to the planning process. The employee needs to be a partner in it. Every attempt is to be made to make accessible to the employee the necessary knowledge. He need not become an industrial engineer or a process designer, but the fundamentals of industrial engineering and their application to a man’s own job and work can be grasped by almost anyone without great difficulty.
One of the first attempts to make employees a resource in making work productive was ‘work simplification’. It stated that for the scientific management to be successful, supervisors are to understand its principles, can apply them themselves, and can teach them to their own employees. For this, scientific management is to become a simple, every day, comfortable tool of the employee’s group itself. It is normally seen that unskilled employees who, however, knew what working is, can obtain results as good as those of the most highly trained industrial engineer.
There is no reason why work simplification is to be taught at a special institute and away from the work place. In Japanese industry, beginning with the first application of scientific management in the 1920s, employees have learned the principles of industrial engineering as a matter of course in the continuous-training sessions.
Employee responsibility for job, work groups, and output cannot he expected, let alone demanded, until the foundations of productive work, feedback information, and continuous learning has been recognized. Employee participation in assigning these foundations is to be brought into play from the very beginning.
Creativity, if by that is meant undirected, unstructured, untaught, and uncontrolled guessing, is not likely to produce results. But a system which does not tap and put to use the knowledge, experience, resources, and imagination of the employees who have to live with the system and make it work is as unlikely to be effective.
This is not seen usually, mainly because of a confusion of planning and doing with the planner and doer. In fact, planning and doing are two different things. Planning does not get done if it is mixed in with doing. Planning is to be a separate task. The two are separate activities and require different methods and different approaches. But planner and doer are required to be united in the same person. They cannot be separated, or else, the planning ceases to be effective and becomes a threat to performance. The planner is required to supply the doer with direction and measurements, with the tools of analysis and synthesis, with methodology, and with standards. He is also required to make sure that the planning of one group is compatible with the planning of the others. But in turn, the planner requires the doer as his resource and as his feedback control.
Also unless the planner knows what the doer is doing and what he requires, his planning, while theoretically correct, may never become execution. Equally, unless the doer understands what the planner tries to accomplish, the doer is not going to perform or try to resist performance specifications that to him seem unreasonable, arbitrary, or just plain silly. And the less capable the planner is of analyzing the work and its individual operations, the more does he depend on the doer. In knowledge work, above all, the doer has to take a responsible part in the planning process for it to be effective at all. But still, the foundation for employees’ responsibility is planning and hence is the responsibility of the management,
Need for clear authority
Another thing which is required to make the responsibility acceptable to the employee is that he needs to have the security of a clear authority structure. He is required to know what areas and decisions are beyond his power and beyond his purview and hence reserved for a different or a higher authority. Management has to work out what the task is, what the objectives are, what the standards are. Again, the doer is to be used as a source of information. But the job is of management.
Also, organization stands under the threat of the ‘common threat’. Always there is the chance of an emergency situation which has not been anticipated and for which there are no rules. The common threat can be physical, while in the organization it is more often be economic. Whatever its nature, an employee has to make the decision in such a situation, and fast or everyone is endangered. Who this employee is has to be known in advance, otherwise there is chaos. And this employee has to be able to say that this needs to be done and it is to be done in this way. The survival of the group depends on his undisputed authority. Without it, no one in the work group can feel secure.
Responsibility for Job and work groups
The plan of individual jobs to do the work and to meet its standards, and the design, structure, and relationship of the work group in which these jobs are integrated into a community, are to be the responsibility of employees and work group. The employees require professional help, knowledge, experience, and teaching from their supervisor. They require guidance and service from the industrial engineer and from many other technicians and professionals. However, the management is to retain a veto power, and is to exercise it frequently.
But the responsibility for job design and work group design belongs to those who are responsible for output and performance, which means that it is the employee and the work group. Employee’s responsibility for job and group varies greatly with the kind of work to be done, with the education, skill, and knowledge level of the employees, and with cultures and traditions. But the principles are the same. The employee and his group are responsible for, their own jobs and for the relationships between individual jobs. They are responsible for thinking through how the work is to be done, for meeting performance goals, for quality as well as for quantity, for improving work, job, tools and processes, and their own skills. These are demanding requirements. Yet whenever these are made, they are needed to be met with the required planning. Indeed in most cases, employees set higher performance goals than the industrial engineer and tend to outdo their own goals.
The reason is neither that the work has become fun, nor just the motivation, though psychological factors certainly play an important part. In large measure, employee’s responsibility for job design and work-group design are effective since these make use of the employee’s knowledge and experience in the one area where he is the expert.
To expect employee’s creativity in making work productive is without sense. But it is realistic to expect knowledge and expertise with respect to the employee’s own job, that is, in putting conceptual and physical tools into use and performance. Here the employee is the only expert. For a job is a configuration. It defies analysis. But it is easily accessible to perception. Particularly if feedback information is provided, the individual can normally work out his own optimal job design fairly fast and fairly effectively. In case of the design of the work group, responsibility on the part of the members is even more important. It is known that the work itself is a vital factor in job design and work-group structure. But it is not known what job design and work-group structure corresponds to this or that task and work.
In retrospect, the way every one of the work groups organizes itself is obvious and right. But nothing can be deduced from one such solution for the optimal structure and organization of the next job. There are general rules. But they are very general. For example, work-group structure and organization are appropriate to the task to be performed, the personalities, skills and values of the employees, the physical environment and the tools, which no ‘how-to-do-it’ conclusions emerge.
Work-group structure is a configuration of great complexity even though it is composed of a fairly small number of fairly simple elements. It resembles a kaleidoscope. Fairly small shifts drastically change the pattern. And the number of combinations and permutations is so large as to approach infinity. In such a situation the only way to arrive at the right, the optimal solution is trial. The outsider, e.g., the industrial engineer, can help. But he cannot analytically arrive at the answer. The group itself, however, usually arrives at a right answer fairly fast and without much trouble. It works things out.
Assembly line and job enrichment
The pressure for changes in the traditional ways of management of the employees and their working has been building up in the last few decades as the new class of employees has come into the work force and as the old motivating drives of hunger and fear have rapidly lost their power. The pressure has been greatest on the traditional assembly line of manufacturing industry. The traditional view has always been that the assembly line, by its very nature, is not capable of being run any other way than from the top and by command. However, this has been disproved long ago. Nothing which is now being proposed, for example, goes quite as far in demanding responsibility from the employee. The employee has to take responsibility when there is shortage of industrial engineers, supervisors, and managers.
An example can be given of one of the aircraft engine plants with a product which, by the any standards, was exceedingly complex and required high skill. Yet each team assembled one entire engine which was a product considerably more complex than any automobile engine. Each team organized the job slightly differently, with different employees doing different operations at different times. Each, however, started out with a foundation in work study and was supplied with full information. And each was engaged in continuous learning. It met several times a week with its foreman and with the engineering staff to discuss improvements in work and jobs. Each team exceeded, by substantial margins, the output standards which the engineers had suggested. These were the experiences, which have been forgotten.
This seems to reflect a temporary emergency rather than fundamentals. Now people are rediscovering the same principles again. And wherever tried, the results are the same. Among the most significant changes are those of the most rigid and most highly engineered line, the automobile assembly line.
The intensive studies of work, work group, and worker which had been made in the forties and fifties had reached and documented the same conclusions earlier. Other examples are in the United States, when Chrysler has experimented with responsibility on the part of the workers for assembly line operations. In a Chrysler plant in Detroit, employees were actually asked to re-evaluate the entire manufacturing operation as a result of which the whole plant was reorganized, resulting in higher output with fewer men.
The most systematic approaches to employee responsibility to automobile assembly line jobs are those taken by the two Swedish automobile makers, Saab and Volvo, both acting under the pressure of severe labour shortages. In one Swedish plant, one work group takes the responsibility for the assembly of the total car. The output standard, that is, the number of cars per hour, and the quality standard are set by the plant. The process has been worked out. But the structure of jobs, their scope, their relationship, and the organization of the work group are worked out by the employees themselves with their supervisors and the industrial engineer.
Other features of the Swedish experiment include the formation of development groups which include production employees and which discuss such matters as new tool and machine design before they are approved for construction, temporary assignment of the employees to a team of production engineers to work on specific production problems, and the shifting of responsibility for process inspection from a separate quality inspection unit to the production worker. The quality inspection unit now concentrates exclusively on the completed product. Finally, employees’ tasks have been expanded by the employees themselves to include maintenance of the equipment, which was previously the responsibility of special mechanics. There are more such examples.
In a big department-store chain responsibility for job design was turned over to the sales persons. Sales persons in this are on commission and competition among individuals was high. Yet the sales persons immediately tackled job design as a group problem, with the clear goal of optimizing every sales person’s opportunity to earn the maximum commission. They focused on the changes in the way the work, which were being done for helping all the people. They came up with a demand for continuous training in merchandising, in selling methods, in paper handling, and so on. What they wanted and got, by sitting down together a little time each week with an experienced expert from store operations or sales training to discuss their experiences and to suggest to each other whatever methods would work the best. They also came up with suggestions for changes in the way the selling floor was to be organized. The idea of having a person who handles the paperwork for all the salespeople in the department was one of their ideas, for example, and first tried by them.
But outside of the assembly line there is also growing demand for ‘job enrichment’. In job enrichment the expert, e.g., the industrial engineer defines the ‘modules’ of the work, the individual operations which have to be performed. He establishes the standards and analyzes the information the employee requires. But then the employee himself designs his job, that is, the number of modules that constitute his job, their sequence, speed, rhythm. The result is higher output, better quality, and a sharp drop in employee turnover. Job enrichment has so far been tried primarily in clerical operations. It seems, however, to be particularly applicable to knowledge work. Many organizations have been practicing job enrichment for a long time. The way claims settlement has been done for decades in some insurance organizations, is job enrichment pure and simple. Several organizations were practicing things, the way beyond anything job enrichment now tries to do. It has been known for a very long time. That it is now being heralded as a discovery is somewhat ironic, but harmless as long as it is being done.
But what is not so harmless is the belief that job enrichment is the answer. It is only a first step. For this energies of the work groups are needed to be mobilized. Job enrichment confines the employee’s responsibility to his own individual job. But he is also expected to assume responsibility for the work group, its relationship in and through the work process, its structure and its cohesion.
Employee’s responsibility and the ‘new types’
Employee’s responsibility for job and work group is important for all kinds of employees in the present day organizations. It is fundamental to a present day environment in which a very large percentage of people at work are employees in organizations. But employee’s responsibility is particularly important for the three groups one might call ‘the new types’ though for different reasons.
The first of these groups – It consists of the new type of young manual workers. These people arrive at work already rejected, already losers. Yet, though they are the rejects of the educational system, they have had long years of schooling and have, by any historical standard, a high degree of education. Their formal knowledge may be limited. But their horizon is wide. They are, by and large, not motivated by carrot and stick. They are resentful, in many cases with good reason, because the lack of scholastic success which has condemned them to inferior status does not appear to them a genuine, a true, and a valid criterion. At the same time, they have doubts about their own ability to perform and to achieve, about their own manhood, about their own dignity.
These people need achievement to overcome their habit of defeat. Otherwise, they go forever in a state of smoldering resentment and rebellion. They need responsibility to overcome their feelings of inferiority. They need a challenge in which they can succeed. They are suspicious since every earlier contact with authority has conditioned them to be suspicious. Yet they need self-assurance and security, more than any other group in the work force.
The organization which engineers the work thoroughly is successful. Such organization works out the employee’s and the supervisor’s information needs, by bringing employee and supervisor into the planning process as participants and a resource. And then it demands from the work group responsibility for job design and work-group design, and obtains it.
The second of these groups – It is also known as pre-industrial group. It consists of an entirely different class of employees whatever be their outward similarity. It consists of large number of people from families with rural background who have got entry into the organization. In many ways these employees need paternalism. They need to be looked after. They are not at home with modern technologies and equipments. On the other hand they are frightened by it, lost in it. But at the same time, they need to be integrated into the organization for their own sake as well as for that of the organization where they work. Otherwise they have a disturbing, an unsettled, and a compulsive influence. Again, what is needed is to inculcate in these employees the habit of responsibility and the taste of achievement.
A very dramatic demonstration which can be given regarding the need of this pre-industrial group and of its willingness to assume responsibility is the experience of a large textile mill. The mill has a large number of employees who came from rural background. For years, management had depended on fear.
Production and performance at the mill, however, had been going down steadily. After a certain period the mill was near collapse. Quality had become so bad that the output was almost unsalable. Machines were antiquated and had not been maintained for years. A new general manager brought in who has submitted to the owners a comprehensive plan to rebuild the plant, buy new machinery, train supervision, and so on. But the needed capital could not be raised. Yet the mill could not be closed for political and legal reasons. The new general manager thereupon decided to do the only thing left which was (i) to lay out work as productively as could be done on the obsolete machines, (ii) to set specific standards for department and section, (iii) to supply the employees in each department and section with feedback on their own performance, and (iv) to impose on them responsibility for the design of jobs, the arrangement of tools and machines, and the structure of work groups. Productivity, within a year or so, almost tripled and in some areas, it almost quadrupled. Where production up to minimum quality standards had been the exception, it became the rule. And for the first time in many years, it became possible to introduce new materials, new patterns, and new techniques.
The third of these groups – This group consists of the knowledge worker, and especially the advanced knowledge worker. Such employee is to be ‘knowledge professional’. This means that no one can motivate him. He has to motivate himself. No one can direct him. He has to direct himself. Above all, no one can supervise him. He is the guardian of his own standards, of his own performance, and of his own objectives. He can be productive only if he is responsible for his own job.
Saving the supervisor
To make the employee responsible for his job and for that of the work group is also possible in best way by restoring the health and function of the supervisor. For a long time the first-line supervisor, especially in manufacturing sector and in office work, has seen his role shrinking in status, in importance, and in esteem. Where a supervisor was ‘management’ to the employee in earlier times, he has now, by and large, become a buffer between management, union, and employees. And like all buffers, his main function is to take the blows. In fact, in the modern industrial plant, the supervisor is increasingly becoming the ‘enemy’. He is separated from the men he supervises by an ever-higher wall of resentment, suspicion, and hostility. At the same time, he is separated from management by his lack of technical and managerial knowledge.
Similarly, uncertain is the role of the supervisor of knowledge workers. His subordinates consider him their spokesman and expect him to protect them and their knowledge area against managerial demands and managerial ignorance. Management, on the other hand, expects him to integrate the knowledge and expertise of the employees in his area with the mission, purpose, and objectives of the organization. Increasingly he finds himself disowned by both, by his subordinates because he is no longer truly a scientist or an expert but has been ‘sold out’ to the management and by management since he is narrow-minded, departmentalized, and one-sided.
Since the traditional supervisor has been losing function, a solution for this has been proposed consisting of splitting the job into a number of functions, and to have different supervisors for scheduling and training, for tool maintenance, and for discipline, all of them acting together as a ‘planning committee’ but each with direct authority in his field over the men. This has not proven to be feasible since there has to be one focal point for the work group. But the functional competences as proposed in this proposal by having separate supervisors have nonetheless been taken over by an array of specialists such as (i) personnel people and quality control men, (ii) maintenance people, and (iii) schedulers, coordinators and planners etc. As a result, the supervisor has been left with the sole function of maintaining discipline, that is, with the function of being feared. The plight of the supervisor has become universal and there is difficulty of getting good men to accept supervisory positions.
No organization can function well if its supervisory force does not function. Supervisors are, so to speak, the ligaments, the muscles and strength, of the organization. They provide the articulation. Without them, no joint can move. It is the supervisor’s job to be in the middle. Hence he must have responsibility, function, and respect in both his relationships, upward to management and downward to the work group. The crisis of the supervisor by itself is the reason enough to think seriously about the organization of the employee and his working. For making the worker achieving, making him responsible, is the one way of making the supervisor function again. In organizations, where employee’s responsibility has been the guiding concept for managing employee and his working, the supervisor is effective. Only he is effective differently. He becomes resource for the employee and the work group.
Employee and work group, in order to take responsibility, have to have an organized source of knowledge, of information, of direction, of arbitration, and a channel for contact and information flow to and from the various experts. Employee and work group also need discipline, though correctional discipline, which in today’s manufacturing plant tends to be the supervisor’s main job, but is rarely to be exercised. But the proper role of the supervisor is not supervision. It is knowledge, information, placing, training, teaching, standard-setting and guiding. It is not an easy role which old supervisors find it difficult, but it is a tenable role. It no longer imposes a conflict of loyalties, (i) between the supervisor’s work group and management, (ii) between the demands of personality and the demands of work, and (iii) between human relations and discipline.
As the resource to the achieving employee and his work group, the supervisor can again become whole. He can serve, in one and the same act and in one and the same role, both the objective needs of the organization, or performance and the personal needs of employee for achievement.
Plant and office as communities
Plant and office are more than just geographic locations. They are like communities. People speak meaningfully of the prevailing environment of an office or of a plant. People study the culture of office or of plant. People speak of designs of formal or informal organization as well as of prevailing values, of career ladders. And though there are great differences in degree between the most authoritarian and the most impersonal plant and office, all are expected to discharge community functions. In other words, there is a work community. For making the employees achieving they are also to take substantial responsibility for the work community.
Plant and office need governance. The power dimension is an inherent and inescapable dimension of the organization. But not all decisions within the organization are inherent in its purpose and mission or directly related to its performance. There are decisions which, while necessary, have their origin in the needs and realities of the work community rather than in the mission, purpose, and performance capacity of the organization itself. They are incidental to the purpose of the organization rather than integral to it. It is a law of governance that it restricts itself to the necessary decisions. Any management is more effective, and more powerful, the more it avoids decisions it does not have to make.
An incidental decision which does not materially, add to the performance capacity of the organization takes just as much time as a basic and necessary one. Incidental decisions block the governing machinery, load down the governing and decision-making group, and detract it from the important things. At the same time, authority over such decisions is not in effect legitimate. Such decisions are not grounded in the purposes for which management is required to function. However, these decisions are needed to be made. But the organizational management is the wrong authority for making them.
Work-community decisions are those decisions which are to be decentralized. However, these are not those organizational decisions which are made by the decentralized managements. These are social decisions, or decisions regarding the affairs of the work community. Hence, these need to be lodged in the work community. The principle behind this is not very different from the principle behind decentralization of decision-making.
If management makes work-community decisions, it loads itself down with matters which appear trivial to the management, though they are of great importance to the plant community itself. Examples of these are decisions on the canteens, on leave schedules, on running of recreational activities outside working hours, and so on. In those organizations where the management deals with these things, they are costly, inefficient, and a constant cause of friction and dissatisfaction. In these organizations, these activities are run poorly and the decisions are made badly since for the management the areas are not important and do not deserve a high priority and are not accorded respect.
However, these are important matters for the work community and its members. If these things are run badly, they impede morale. But running them superbly well adds little, if they are run from the top. The responsibility for these activities and decisions needs to be placed squarely on the work community.
Need for leadership opportunities
The above areas, at the same time, offer major opportunities for leadership, for responsibility, for recognition, and for learning. The employees who head these activities are important people in the work community. The people making the decisions in these areas are also forced to earn what management is and what is meant by the managerial responsibility. These employees are to learn that choices are to be made, priorities are to be set, and that the infinite number of things it is nice to have and are to be fitted to the available resources.
In the absence of such opportunities for leadership in the work community, the abilities, energies, and ambitions within the employees can be directed against management and against the work community. These are to have negative, destructive, and damaging effects. The one who can make the most trouble for the management becomes the leader rather than the one who can perform the best for the plant community. The shop leader considers that his role is shouting and harassing though their capacity and performance as a leader can be alternatively used in work communities. Responsibility is not by itself a guarantee of performance. But lack of responsibility breeds the firebrand leaders.
Work community activities
The list of activities for which a work community may be asked to take responsibility is almost endless. Management is required to impose systematically the responsibility for work-community decisions on the employees. Among these are such tasks as the control of manning assignments to cover for temporarily absent employees, selecting employees to serve on plant committees or task forces, screening and selecting employees to fill vacancies, and counseling employees who do not meet standards with respect to absences or punctuality and so on. Members of the plant community are also put on the plant safety committee. After all, safety is a concern of the employees in the plant, and they also know more about it than anybody else, as a rule, or at least know more about where the safety problems are.
Another example of self-government in a work community which can be given is that of a nuclear submarine. Obviously, a submarine cannot be a permissive place. The captain has to be the final authority whose word nobody dares dispute. Yet the crew acts and works as a single unit. No one can join the crew unless he is accepted by it. And while the captain decides what should be done, each man on his own station then has to decide how to do a specific job and do it as if the life of everybody depended on him, as indeed it does.
The self-governing work community
A self-governing work community is not the participatory democracy. There are no elections or mass meetings. The working teams are organized by management for specific operations and specific jobs.
Work-community self-government cannot be and should not be based on democracy altogether. Authority and assignments can go by seniority. What matters is that self-government of work community tasks be local self-government and that it put responsibility where the consequences of the decisions have to be lived with.
No one yet addresses employees as ‘fellow managers’ and it is expected that no one ever will. Yet this is the goal. There has to be the reality of management power and authority, of command and of decision-making, of higher and lower incomes, of superior and subordinate. But there also is the task of building and leading organizations in which every man sees himself as a ‘manager’ and accepts for himself the full burden of what is basically managerial responsibility, that is the responsibility for his own job and work group, for his contribution to the performance and results of the entire organization, and for the social tasks of the work community.