April 24, 2008
Our performance-evaluation process is key in motivating employees to make the right decisions for the company and in enforcing teamwork. Evaluation criteria are tied directly to company goals, and employees are evaluated based on how well their activities achieve those goals. Employees also are evaluated on how well they perform as members of a team. If in any way they make themselves look good at the expense of others, they won't advance and won't receive significant compensation increases. Furthermore, there's a structured process where employees periodically give co-workers feedback on how they can be better teammates.
Over the last year, we've been implementing lean continuous improvement techniques, which provide a powerful method to engage all employees in improving the organization. This lean approach provides tools and techniques that guide teams through evaluating the effectiveness of their processes and work methods, identifying opportunities for improvement, and designing and implementing the improvements.
Although many organizations are adopting a lean strategy, and harvesting low-hanging fruit, full benefits from it can be achieved only when employees' thought processes focus on improving company performance. Employees must look for opportunities and use initiative to improve product quality, enhance customer service, and reduce costs by eliminating waste. This will happen only when employees feel ownership in the organization and--especially for the younger generations--only by engaging them in decision making and running the business. Our participative culture has helped employees feel this ownership.
EFFORT EARNS ACCOLADES
The participative culture in Con-way IT has paid off. Several years ago, over a period of three years, the IT group took Con-way's e-business services from a competitive negative to consistent top industry ranking. And the group successfully completed a multiyear technology upgrade of the company's systems, achieving what a previous IT group had failed to do four separate times. The current IT group consistently receives very high ratings from executive satisfaction surveys and wins some of the highest-profile industry awards.
To ensure that participative cultures create the most effective organizations, some cautions are in order. Even though the younger generations are independent and want to be empowered, management needs to provide frequent, results-oriented, and specific feedback to make sure employees are on the right path. Care must be taken to ensure that employees with decision-making authority have the information needed to make those decisions. Furthermore, entire teams should make decisions only when the knowledge to do so is dispersed among the team members. Otherwise, if individuals have the right knowledge to make decisions, it's wasteful to involve the entire team. And management must actively monitor team decisions.
Motivating the workforce today and into the future will require different policies and practices than in the past. Participative cultures have been shown to contribute greatly to organizational success and are especially attractive to the younger generations.
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