Face of Quality
Organizational Culture and Work
Understand the variables that affect employee self-determination.
May 2, 2013
As the author of Quality’s Jim’s Gems blog, which appears weekly at www.qualitymag.com, I am often contacted about some of the featured pieces. Recently a discussion centered on organizational empowerment, its relationship to employee self-determination, and the impact on opportunity. The following is a summary of a recent conversation with one of our readers.
Though further investigation is needed to measure the impact employee determination has on the field of quality and, more specifically, organizational results, it is possible to identify what organizational culture and work process variables have the greatest impact on employee self-assurance, self-determination, self-worth and opportunity.
Employees choose to align their behaviors and attitudes with an organization’s strategic direction based on the following three characteristics.
- Organizational purpose when the primary strategic elements of vision, mission and guiding principles are substantive and sustainable.
- Individual effort when the objectives are challenging but attainable and knowledge and skills continuously supported by management and learned.
- Work activity when the process is manageable, stimulating and consistent.
Organizational purpose is the strategic element that empowers and engages employees from the top down. People internalize visions, mission statements and guiding principles (organizational values) that are substantive and sustainable. Substantive means the visions, mission statements and guiding principles have significance to employees. The strategic elements need to have relevance to employees’ personal vision, mission and core values so they positively impact the quality of work and work-life experience. Sustainable means the vision, mission and guiding principles have long-term implications for the successful operation of the organization.
Employee self-assurance and self-determination is enhanced when organizations anticipate the need for the ever present workplace change and use change to bolster organizational certainty and integrity, thereby increasing an employee’s feeling of safety needs and a sense of belonging.
Individual effort follows organizational purpose and has implications for employees aligning their personal behavior and attitudes with the organizational primary strategic elements.
Employees internalize individual objectives that are challenging but attainable. The outcomes that result from meeting these objectives must be perceived as having value to the employee. Additionally the employee must expect their efforts will lead to those outcomes.
When not meeting desired outcomes, corrective action must be presented in a positive manner to maintain and even increase an employee’s self-worth. Dr. W. Edwards Deming’s #8 point of his 14 Principles of Management said that organizations must drive fear out of the workplace so that everyone may work effectively. Individual and organizational effectiveness will occur as this happens. Employees have experienced the importance of continuous improvement from a lifetime of success and struggle, and understand continuous learning is necessary to maintain and enhance personal power.
Work activity must have relevance to the work being performed and expectation of attachment to the objectives. Employees internalize work processes that are manageable, stimulating and consistent.
Dr Joseph M. Juran taught us that truly effective workers have full mastery over the attainment of planned results. He said that organizations should put the employee into a state of self-control but to be in that state people must be provided with three things: knowledge of what to do; knowledge of their performance; and a means of regulating performance. Sadly, regardless of what many organizations believe, most have not established that state of self-control.
When employees experience that work activities or process steps are under their control and they have the ability to regulate or adjust their performance to achieve maximum outcomes, employees begin to feel a sense of ownership. The work itself becomes meaningful and exciting enough to tap their potential.
Opportunity is maintained and enhanced when individual differences are valued. While some employees are deep thinkers, others are deep feelers. Extroverted employees want social interdependence; introverted employees want social independence. Employees do not all prefer to work the same way, yet they all prefer to reach their own unique levels of excellence. For instance, employees inclined to be extroverted as a means to personal excellence likely favor being on teams, while introverted employees tend not to enjoy working on teams.
An employee’s unique level of excellence is achieved when he or she has the personal power to choose how best to achieve results, and ultimately affects their self-determination. Personal power does not have to be instilled in the employees by their organizations. Employees gain their own personal power through lifetimes of struggle and success. Organizations only need to ensure that culture and work processes are free of barriers that might diminish personal power. Personal power arises when employees are certain the organization is free of barriers, are valued for what they contribute, and are allowed to express themselves, without fear.
Employees may then use their need for self-determination to achieve performance excellence. No longer restricted by organizational barriers, the potential for enhanced individual and organizational effectiveness is unlimited because employees can use their self-assurance, self-worth and opportunity.