CHL Lesson Plans provide members with ongoing education focusing on supervisory or management issues. These lessons are designed for CHL re-certification, but can be of value to any CRCST in a management or supervisory role.
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In the first part of this two-part series we emphasized the need for entry-level staff members to be involved in planning activities that impact them and their department. We noted that advantages typically include the generation of creative and useful ideas, and employee alignment also increases their commitment to the facility and the Central Service Department within it. We also stated that alignment activities plans should be made as “plans are worked” and that is the topic of this lesson.
Participative leadership is an open form of management in which employees who are affected by decisions help their leaders to make them. The range of participative input can be very little (managers reactively listen to their staff) to very extensive (example: self-directed teams that develop their own work schedules, plan their own work processes and, sometimes, make personnel-related decisions).
There are a wide range of advantages that accrue to participative leadership. These include:
Not all staff members may want to or will benefit from participating in the decision-making process. The best “candidates” include those wanting to meet ego (“I’m important”) and esteem (“the organization needs me”) needs on the job. Those with the appropriate experience, those who do not desire close supportive supervision, and those who identify with the organization’s goals are among the employees who will likely work best with a participative leader.
In some instances, there can be disadvantages to staff members’ involvement in the decision-making process. For example, the process does take more time than a unilateral decision made by the manager. As well, low-quality input can result if employees do not have expertise in the topic being addressed, and/or if the manager does not know how to properly request or utilize the input. There is also the possibility of “group think:” an emphasis on consensus (agreement) rather than on genuine and purposeful differences of opinion.
Figure 1 indicates that, as the extent of employee participation increases, the amount of authority (power) by a manager is reduced.
Figure 1 shows (left side of figure) that the extent of the manager’s authority (power) can range from low to high. When it is very high, the leader makes the decision with little, if any, input from employees. This approach has been traditionally used by many managers who thought that they (the managers) had the responsibility to make these decisions, and their employees would not be able (or would not want to) contribute to decision-making process.
Figure 1 shows that, as the leader’s authority (power) decreases, the extent of employee participation (right side of the Figure) increases as more opportunities for “sharing” authority become available. These range from the leader obtaining specific information and then deciding to, at the extreme, the team itself making the decision.
Traditionally, managers have viewed authority as a critical element in their effectiveness. However, as noted in Part 1 of this series, contemporary managers are often more concerned about facilitating work than they are in “managing” it.
Effective participative leadership strategies require commonly-understood goals, and it is the manager’s responsibility to assure that this occurs. Note: staff members who have participated in their department’s planning activities (see Part I in this series) are more likely to know about and be committed to their department’s goals than are their counterparts in other facilities where managers are not committed to employee alignment. Managers must also recognize that accountability (responsibility) cannot be delegated. Those who solicit staff member input and make decisions with this assistance will still be responsible for the effectiveness of the decision which is made.
Central Service Managers who are most effective at utilizing participative leadership in their departments have the ability to recognize the talents of their staff members, and they know how to work around their associates’ weaknesses. They are also effective communicators as they conduct meetings and listen to their employees’ ideas. Managers must be able to manage conflict, negotiate when necessary, and practice self-control at all times.
The organizational culture of the facility is an important factor in influencing whether staff member participation is utilized within specific departments. Staff members must want to participate, and this is a function of the mutual respect and the ways in which managers show genuine appreciation for the assistance which is provided. As well, participative leadership is not a “program” that begins and ends, and it is not a tactic that utilizes people in a broader strategy that fails to recognize the importance of staff participation. Opportunities to gain employee input do not just occur during formal meetings (although they are useful for this purpose). Coaching, training, feedback sessions, performance appraisals, and simple one-on-one conversations can yield information from staff members that are useful in implementing (helping) the organization to attain goals.
What factors impact the extent to which employees participate in specific decisions? Some include the amount and importance of information which is available, “political” considerations, the complexity of the issue being addressed, and the values of the decision-maker.
In this and the previous lesson in this two-part series, we have noted numerous tactics useful in involving staff members in the decision-making process. There are, in addition, two informal actions that Central Service Managers can use to increase the level of input. These are:
Employee suggestion programs. Suggestion boxes and “letters to the editor” in a facility newsletter are commonly used to increase communication among managers, supervisors and employees. Some effort is required to implement and maintain these programs. For example, it must be easy for staff members to participate. The response of managers to employee suggestions is critical to the success or failure of any formal suggestion program. If, for example, suggestions are viewed as criticisms that provoke unwarranted management reactions, employees will be discouraged from providing additional comments.
The importance of feedback in employee suggestion programs must be emphasized. The best managers respond on a timely basis to all suggestions, and they inform employees about the decisions made in response to their ideas. If ideas cannot be implemented, they express appreciation for the input, and they indicate the reasons why implementation is not appropriate.
Several group decision-making methods can be used to facilitate input from staff members. These include:
A quotation attributed to Howard Schultz, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Starbucks, provides an excellent summary for this lesson: “Our mission statement about treating people with respect and dignity is not just words but a creed we live by everyday. You can’t expect your employees to exceed the expectations of your customers if you don’t exceed your employees’ expectations of management.”
This column was written by Jack Ninemeier, Ph.D, CHA of the Eli Broad Graduate School of Management at Michigan State University. Dr. Ninemeier is the editor of Central Service Technical Manual (5th Edition), Supervision Principles: Leadership Strategies for Healthcare Facilities (2nd Edition), and Material Management and the Healthcare Industry, all published by IAHCSMM.