In The Workplace

I’m the operations manager of a small factory in Laguna. Our current issues are delayed product delivery to customers caused mainly by poor labor productivity. Our workers are high school graduates who appear eager to learn and help management. When I consulted our human resource manager, he recommended that we create an employee empowerment and engagement program. He cautions me, however, that our CEO disliked the idea when he proposed it two years ago. I like the idea as I’ve visited many dynamic factories within the area. Could you help us gain the CEO’s support for this? — Yellow Bell.

An eight-year-old boy asked his girlfriend to marry him. She rejected him outright, saying that in her family, only relatives married each other. She added: “If you and I are relatives, we could get married at the right age, but we’re not. In my family, my father married my mother. My grandpa married my grandma, and all of my uncles married my aunts. You see? We can’t get married because we’re not relatives.”

When everything is said and done, reflect on the lesson of this story. Do we understand how things work? Put things in the right perspective to find out.

You want to do a good job. You want to solve those operational issues. And you’ve agreed with the HR manager that the most likely solution is by empowering and engaging the workers. There should be no question about that. Many dynamic organizations have done that and are continually benefitting from it.

But why does your CEO dislike the idea? Know both the written and the unwritten rules of your top management. Sometimes, a written policy gets misinterpreted by the people and by the management team. How much more if they are unwritten? If you’ve been in your job for a long time, you should have learned all these rules by now. If not, then you better ask questions. If you don’t ask, you’ll never know the answer. If you don’t ask, the answer is always “no.”

If we don’t know where your CEO is coming from, then you better ask what makes him reject the idea of making the workers help management in problem-solving and decision-making. In the meantime, we can only speculate. Many decades back, I had a boss who didn’t want to call me by my first name. Instead of calling me “Rey,” he insisted on addressing me by my last name until I discovered several months after that he was a former captain who missed barking orders to his soldiers.

Don’t agonize over the thought that your employee empowerment and engagement program will be rejected automatically. Times may have changed. Your CEO may have changed his mind about it except that he doesn’t want to admit it. Unless you adopt a strategy to correct your operational issues, you won’t make progress. After all, how can you improve product delivery and labor productivity without the active cooperation of your workers? Therefore, let’s look at some prudent ways to deal with your current situation:

One, do your homework before proposing a program. It may look obvious to some people, but in real work life, even factory managers don’t think through their proposals, because it’s not part of their work experience and training. They are experts in using their hands and feet in plant operations but not in writing convincing reports.

It doesn’t mean, however, that you’ll be writing a 100-page thesis. Who cares about that? In fact, a one-page executive summary will suffice, if only to provoke your CEO into deep thought. Go and assign your hard-working and promising engineer to write that first draft for you.

Two, get the cooperation of other department managers. Seek the input of the HR manager and improve on the draft, if any. You can also get the support of other managers like those in Finance, Sales, and Administration. The more, the merrier. They can help you discover probable issues that you can proactively resolve. If there are none, then they might point the way to discovering why the CEO is so reluctant. They ought to know how to deal with him. The most important approach is to secure other managers’ cooperation in the spirit of co-ownership. You can’t go wrong with that.

Last, solve problems without spending much money. More often than not, managers would like to solve problems by hiring additional workers or buying more equipment. That’s totally wrong. First things first. Commit to solve your current operational issues by understanding Kaizen, Lean Management, and the Thinking Production System.

They’re basically one and the same in advocating the use of creativity before committing capital. If you embrace this, how can the CEO block your proposal? He is less likely to oppose a three-month pilot project with demonstrable impact.

Your ability to convince the CEO about empowerment and engagement rests on your track record. I should say it’s an important indicator for predicting whether your proposal is accepted, regardless of merit. I’ve seen and heard managers who don’t get along with their bosses succeed simply because of their credibility.

Many CEOs view performance as the only thing that really matters in the workplace. Therefore, show initiative in improving your work performance. It may look like a chicken and egg situation, but there’s no point in overanalyzing it. Even if you demonstrated superior performance in the past, don’t coast. You have a current problem that needs to be corrected right away.

Your CEO may easily forget what you’ve done over the years, but he could be focused on asking, “What have you done to solve our current operational issues?”


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