Getting serious about giving rank and file more power

Getting serious about giving rank and file more power

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Nineteen years in the corporate world, and I've seen that rank and file workers are the people who know how a (large) organization works, what's wrong, and how to fix it. 

That's true in the public sector and the private sector.

There's a really good Gallup report about this:

The gist from the Gallup report:

The world’s top-performing organizations understand that employee engagement is a force that drives business outcomes. Research shows that engaged employees are more productive employees. They are more profitable, more customer-focused, safer, and more likely to withstand temptations to leave the organization. In the best organizations, employee engagement transcends a human resources initiative — it is the way they do business. Employee engagement is a strategic approach supported by tactics for driving improvement and organizational change. The best performing companies know that developing an employee engagement strategy and linking it to the achievement of corporate goals will help them win in the marketplace.

From  a really good summary:


What I am saying is that the major reasons employees:

  • Enjoy being at work
  • Are willing to give more effort to work
  • Feel good when they tell their friends and family about their work

…are that they:
Enjoy working with the people they work with

  • Feel pride in the workspace that they occupy
  • Feel that the work they’re doing is important and meaningful
  • Relate to the work they do and identify with it on a deep level

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One Comment

Wilson Zorn

Heh, at first I misread the beginning of that quote as "The world’s top-performing organizations understand that employee engagement is a farce that drives business outcomes."
Seriously, surely it's important to empower (truly, not just the way it's casually thrown around) rank and file to some real degree (I think just as much there must be checks and balances, and management has a critical function, or at least I should say SHOULD have). But I fear that the poll results and selling employee engagement strategies (which is a valid model, I don't mean to suggest otherwise) are going to move us there significantly. This is where management needs to "get serious" not just in terms of executing employee engagement surveys and following the tactical suggestions thereof but by actually rolling up sleeves and getting into the trenches (wow, could I sound more trite?) and seriously challenging the culture of the organization, getting more hands on as they raise rank and file engagement.
The issue I see is that the rank and file and management levels have become, through increasing specialization (a normal response to sprawling complexity), not merely culturally estranged but also job-estranged, to the point where the knowledge of management is often inadequate, and yet the time demands on management force all communication (especially bottom-up communication) into inadequate 15-30 minutes of content at a time. I do not mean that management has to become mired in the muck of details, but I do mean that in order to properly empower, they will have to meet these empowered employees halfway in some fashion. We often talk about the need to communicate up and down the organization, and I argue that reflects our lack of effective knowledge to quickly respond. Management is too uncertain of details, often, to act quickly, or on the other hand all too often acts brashly with undetermined consequences, while conversely the rank and file struggles to cast itself into a strategy as it cannot get the true pulse of the shifting sands management is reading from. And true empowerment requires that the party have a level of self-confidence, as well as the stakeholders accepting that empowerment equally have confidence in that party. This cannot be accomplished without common and critical top-of-mind knowledge.
Or we blow up the specialization model, as some companies have done in giving employees a wide berth of process responsibilities. Of course this also requires significant knowledge share among the organization.

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