Someone You Should Know

Dick Axelrod Posted by Dick Axelrod.

Dick Axelrod co-founded The Axelrod Group, Inc., a consulting firm that pioneered the use of employee involvement to effect large-scale organizational change. He is the author of Terms of Engagement: Changing the Way We Change Organizations and co-author of Let's Stop Meeting Like This.


Someone You Should Know

Magnus Manske, Creative Commons 2.0

People with graduate engineering degrees don’t expect to walk the picket line. But that is what you would have seen in February 2000 when over 14,000 Boeing employees went on strike. The largest white-collar strike in U.S. history. Today, despite slumping aircraft demand and layoffs, employee satisfaction is at a ten-year high.

Many leaders following a strike would try to remedy the situation by implementing strategies with sophisticated control systems to manage change from the top. But not Hank Queen, Boeing’s vice president of engineering and product integrity.

What Hank did was to apply three simple beliefs.

The first is that people accomplish more when they work together. So he engaged a wide spectrum of employees and union leaders in developing a new direction. What came out of those discussions was the desire “to create a work environment where people could be successful.” But working together was not limited to developing the change strategy, it was at the very heart of what he asked his organization to do.

The second is that success requires people to be engaged in the new direction. This meant involving more people than ever before and giving local units the freedom to decide what changes were needed.

The third is that if people sit down and talk with each other about what bothers them they will make decisions that benefit themselves and the company. Hank put this belief into action by asking leaders to discuss three questions with their work groups, and to take action based on those conversations. The questions were:

What is your current job satisfaction level?

What is most important to you about your job?

What are the biggest issues or greatest barriers to improving your organization?

By asking leaders to engage in these discussions, he addressed employee satisfaction in a simple yet profound way. Hank did not tell people what to work on, or even how to address the issues. He believed that the answers would come from the conversations.

However, Hank’s trust was not blind. What he expected was that the discussions would occur. And, he backed up that expectation by making employee satisfaction a key component of performance reviews.

Hank didn’t let people flounder. He used his power to make sure that time, training, and consulting resources were available to help employees and managers address these questions.

What sets Hank apart from other leaders is that he doesn’t just give lip service to working together. He includes others, he sets challenging goals, he establishes clear limits, he provides people with the resources to get the job done, and then he gets out of the way.

Tips

  • Don’t do it alone. Engage employees at all levels in identifying what needs to change and in changing it.
  • Make sure the work is worth doing, not just to you but to everyone involved.
  • Help people focus on the task by providing a few clear boundaries.
  • Provide local autonomy so people can decide for themselves how to reach the goal.
  • Make available the time, resources, and training necessary to do the job.

Dick Axelrod is the co-founder of the Axelrod Group, Inc. a consulting firm that pioneered the use of employee involvement to effect large-scale organizational change. He is the author of Terms of Engagement: Changing the Way We Change Organizations (Berrett-Koehler, 2000) and co-author of You Don’t Have to Do It Alone: How to Involve Others to Get Things Done (Berrett-Koehler, 2004).