Participative (or participatory) management, otherwise known as employee involvement or participative decision making, encourages the involvement of stakeholders at all levels of an organization in the analysis of problems, development of strategies, and implementation of solutions. Employees are invited to share in the decision-making process of the firm by participating in activities such as setting goals, determining work schedules, and making suggestions. Other forms of participative management include increasing the responsibility of employees (job enrichment); forming self-managed teams, quality circles, or quality-of-work-life committees; and soliciting survey feedback. Participative management, however, involves more than allowing employees to take part in making decisions. It also involves management treating the ideas and suggestions of employees with consideration and respect. The most extensive form of participative management is direct employee ownership of a company.
Four processes influence participation. These processes create employee involvement as they are pushed down to the lowest levels in an organization. The farther down these processes move, the higher the level of involvement by employees. The four processes include:
A participative management style offers various benefits at all levels of the organization. By creating a sense of ownership in the company, participative management instills a sense of pride and motivates employees to increase productivity in order to achieve their goals. Employees who participate in the decisions of the company feel like they are a part of a team with a common goal, and find their sense of self-esteem and creative fulfillment heightened.
Managers who use a participative style find that employees are more receptive to change than in situations in which they have no voice. Changes are implemented more effectively when employees have input and make contributions to decisions. Participation keeps employees informed of upcoming events so they will be aware of potential changes. The organization can then place itself in a proactive mode instead of a reactive one, as managers are able to quickly identify areas of concern and turn to employees for solutions.
Participation helps employees gain a wider view of the organization. Through training, development opportunities, and information sharing, employees can acquire the conceptual skills needed to become effective managers or top executives. It also increases the commitment of employees to the organization and the decisions they make.
Creativity and innovation are two important benefits of participative management. By allowing a diverse group of employees to have input into decisions, the organization benefits from the synergy that comes from a wider choice of options. When all employees, instead of just managers or executives, are given the opportunity to participate, the chances are increased that a valid and unique idea will be suggested.
A common misconception by managers is that participative management involves simply asking employees to participate or make suggestions. Effective programs involve more than just a suggestion box. In order for participative management to work, several issues must be resolved and several requirements must be met. First, managers must be willing to relinquish some control to their workers; managers must feel secure in their position in order for participation to be successful. Often managers do not realize that employees' respect for them will increase instead of decrease when they implement a participative management style.
The success of participative management depends on careful planning and a slow, phased approach. Changing employees' ideas about management takes time, as does any successful attempt at a total cultural change from a democratic or autocratic style of management to a participative style. Long-term employees may resist changes, not believing they will last. In order for participation to be effective, managers must be genuine and honest in implementing the program. Many employees will need to consistently see proof that their ideas will be accepted or at least seriously considered. The employees must be able to trust their managers and feel they are respected.
Successful participation requires managers to approach employee involvement with an open mind. They must be open to new ideas and alternatives in order for participative management to work. It is important to remember that although the manager may not agree with every idea or suggestion an employee makes, how those ideas are received is critical to the success of participative management.
Employees must also be willing to participate and share their ideas. Participative management does not work with employees who are passive or simply do not care. Many times employees do not have the skills or information necessary to make good suggestions or decisions. In this case it is important to provide them with information or training so they can make informed choices. Encouragement should be offered in order to accustom employees to the participative approach. One way to help employees engage in the decision-making process is by knowing their individual strengths and capitalizing on them. By guiding employees toward areas in which they are knowledgeable, a manager can help to ensure their success.
Before expecting employees to make valuable contributions, managers should provide them with the criteria that their input must meet. This will aid in discarding ideas or suggestions that cannot be implemented, are not feasible, or are too expensive. Managers should also give employees time to think about ideas or alternative decisions. Employees often do not do their most creative thinking on the spot.
Another important element for implementing a successful participative management style is the visible integration of employees' suggestions into the final decision or implementation. Employees need to know that they have made a contribution. Offering employees a choice in the final decision is important because it increases their commitment, motivation, and job satisfaction. Sometimes even just presenting several alternatives and allowing employees to choose from them is as effective as if they thought of the alternatives themselves. If the employees' first choice is not feasible, management might ask for an alternative rather than rejecting the employee input. When an idea or decision is not acceptable, managers should provide an explanation. If management repeatedly strikes down employee ideas without implementing them, employees will begin to distrust management, thus halting participation. The key is to build employee confidence so their ideas and decisions become more creative and sound.
Participative management is not a magic cure for all that ails an organization. Managers should carefully weigh the pros and the cons before implementing this style of management. Managers must realize that changes will not take effect overnight and will require consistency and patience before employees will begin to see that management is serious about employee involvement. Participative management is probably the most difficult style of management to practice. It is challenging not only for managers but for employees as well.
While it is important that management allows employees to participate in decision making and encourages involvement in the organization's direction, managers must be cognizant of the potential for employees to spend more time formulating suggestions and less time completing their work. Upper-level management will not support a participative management program if they believe employees are not meeting their daily or weekly goals. Some suggestions for overcoming this potential problem are to set aside a particular time each week for workers to meet with management in order to share their ideas, or to allow them to work on their ideas during less busy times of the day or week. Another idea that works for some managers is to allow employees to set up individual appointments to discuss ideas or suggestions.
Managers should remember that participative management is not always the appropriate way to handle a given situation. Employees often respect a manager that uses his or her authority and makes decisions when it is necessary. There are times when, as a manager, it is important to be in charge, make a decision, and then accept the responsibility for the choices made. For example, participative management is probably not appropriate when disciplinary action is needed.
When managers look upon their own jobs as a privilege instead of as a responsibility, they will fail at making participative management work. They will be less willing to turn over some of the decision-making responsibility to subordinates. Another reason that participative management fails is that managers do not realize it is not the same as delegating or simply shifting responsibility. Participation alone has no value; it is only an effective tool if it is used to solve problems and meet goals. Some managers believe that inviting employees to join in meetings and form committees will create a successful participative management program. However, these measures are only successful when employees' ideas are accepted by management and implemented.
The larger the organization, the more difficult it becomes to institute a participative management style. Large organizations have more layers and levels, which complicate effective communication and make it difficult to register the opinions and suggestions of a diverse group of employees and managers. Critics argue that unions are often more effective than participative management in responding to employee needs because union efforts can cut through bureaucratic organizations more quickly.
Participative management programs can be threatened by office politics. Due to hidden agendas and peer pressure, employees may keep their opinions to themselves and refuse to tell a manager if they feel an idea will not work. Managers also play a part in politics when they implement participative management programs to impress their own bosses but have no intention of seeing them through.
Many companies have experienced the positive effects of participative management. Employees are more committed and experience more job satisfaction when they are allowed to participate in decision making. Organizations have reported that productivity improved significantly when managers used a participative style. Participative management is not an easy management style to implement. It presents various challenges and does not succeed overnight. Managers will be more successful if they remember that it will take time and careful planning before they will see results. Starting with small projects that encourage and reward participation is one way to get employees to believe that management is sincere and trustworthy.
Revised by Debbie D. DuFrene
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