As farms and organizations struggle to improve, the credit or blame for progress achieved is often leveled at the staff. With changes in ownership, increases in herd size and segmentation of production phases, the pork industry has come to rely more on employees than on owners. With that realignment of the workforce comes a challenge to meet or exceed performance requirements.

In a recent column, we discussed the concept of "culture" and its role in the success of an organization. This week, we'll focus on employee "empowerment" as an approach to increasing the commitment of the workforce.

According to A Dictionary of Business and Management, empowerment refers to "the act of giving increased responsibility and a measure of control to employees in their working lives. The concept is based on the view that people need personal satisfaction and fulfillment in their work and that responsibility and control increase (job) satisfaction."

A recent article by Mark Dawson and Mark Jones, of Price-Waterhouse-Coopers, states nearly 75% of all programs for change, fail. The primary reason, they say, is "Employees feel left out of the process and end up lacking the motivation, skills and knowledge to adopt new systems and procedures... Organizations don't adapt to change, their people do."

Dawson and Jones continue: "Contrary to conventional wisdom, people resist change only when it makes them feel out of control -- when change is foisted on them without their consent. The belief that it is human nature to resist change is the wrong starting point, because it creates an adversarial climate. Decisions are made by management behind closed doors without input from the very staff who are expected to change their behavior. People are willing to change if they understand and accept the reasons and have a say in the way their jobs are restructured."

While empowering employees may require the proverbial "leap of faith," it need not be feared. For some organizations, employee empowerment begins with a suggestion box. Ideas for improvement are both welcomed and expected. All suggestions are considered by management and implemented in a timely fashion if they are appropriate. Surprisingly, companies that have implemented such policies report that a high percentage of ideas are accepted, as many address issues of safety and workspace layout.

Consider the management philosophy of Peter Schutz, the former CEO of Porsche. He describes the need to "decide democratically, implement dictatorially."

As we know from government, deciding democratically requires both input and compromise. Although cumbersome, the use of a democratic approach builds support from those whose cooperation is necessary. Implementing a change, however, requires achieving a balance between competing interests. As we struggle to balance the needs of the organization with the needs for employee fulfillment, consider that, in the end, a well implemented, flawed decision usually yields more than a good decision implemented poorly.

Stephanie Rutten, DVM
University of Minnesota
rutt0011@umn.edu
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