MANAGEMENT SPEAK: I know we've empowered you, but that doesn't mean you can say no.
TRANSLATION: too bad.
-- David Knoblich offers a useful phrase for those special situationsFrisbees and hula hoops both came out when I was a kid, and at about the same time. A year later almost nobody seemed interested in hula hoops, yet frisbees have thrived as a perennial favourite for 40 years or so as a cross-species success.
Some management "fads" are more durable than others, too. One danger of following the hula hoop is employee involvement.
The idea of employee involvement is simple: if you're making a decision that affects your employees, they may have intelligent ideas to offer. There's a useful adjunct to this idea: if you're making a decision that affects people, asking for their ideas is a matter of simple courtesy.
This thought process has started to lose its luster among managers at all levels. There seem to be two basic reasons for disenchantment with it.
Reading the tea leaves
The first reason is it is inefficient and wastes everyone's time. Even worse, it causes unnecessary anxiety which makes employees worry about what might happen when instead they can toil away in happy ignorance until management is ready to tell them the answer.
There is, I think, a second reason managers have started to retreat from involvement, and it isn't pretty. Many who aspire to management do so because they desire power. Wanting power is neither good nor bad. It is why you want the power that matters.
It doesn't take a psychotherapist to realise that many managers want power because they were bossed around earlier in life.
They've mistaken frisbees for hula hoops. Right now we're dealing with the best employment market in 25 years, at least as far as employees are concerned. Unpleasant managers will retain only those employees too inept to be hired by good companies or too afraid to start looking. Companies that allow these managers to dominate their ranks will slowly crumble as their best talent leaves for better work conditions.
Involvement doesn't have to mean holding hands and singing Kumbaya. It's more a matter of courtesy, asking people's opinions before making decisions that affect them.
So in the cold, hard world of commerce, simple courtesy gives your company a big competitive advantage.
Bob Lewis is a Minneapolis-based consultant with Perot Systems. He writes InfoWorld's popular IS Survival Guide column, along with Advice Line and a regular forum on InfoWorld Electric (www.infoworld.com).
Send him e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.)