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Basic Business Cents: Change the work environment

In order to realize the potential of their organizations, many leaders need to radically change their work environment. Changes to the environment, in which people work, study, and live, can often provide leverage for improvements. As organizations work to reduce waste, rework, and redundancy to reduce costs and increase the value of their products and services, they may run into roadblocks because the work environment is not ready or supportive of these efforts. Changing the work environment can be a high-leveraged opportunity for making the other changes more effective.

One way is to open up communication to, from, and among the employees. No individual leader or small group is smart enough to make all the decisions required in today's complex world. The combined brainpower of all the employees is needed. There was a time when organizations would not even share their strategic plan with employees because of their fear it would fall into competitors' hands. How can employees make correct decisions if they do not understand the aim of the organization and the strategy required to achieve it?

Also important is bottom up communication. It is normal for employees to know of a better way to do their work but keep it to themselves. When asked why they didn't speak up before, a typical response is no one ever asked me before. This is a sign of fear in the organization, which can be deadly to good performance. The ability to listen is key to leadership and needs to be practiced continually.

Fear is demotivating factor in the workplace, so causes should be explored and eliminated. Some pay systems can encourage competition and discourage collaboration among employees. Bonuses, contests, promotions, unfair salary increases, and employee of the month recognition are a few of the examples. Avoid "win-lose" situations and always work for "win-win".

Understand what provides satisfaction to the employees and pride in their work. Then create opportunities for them to achieve more and more of it on a regular basis. A few of the factors are a good process that turns out a good product or service, good material, needed tools, training, and a conducive environment.

Training is basic to quality performance the ability to make changes for improvement. Training should include the "why" as well as the "what" and "how". It should be complete and current as technology, material, and market needs change quickly. Avoid worker training worker as it may be much like the game where youth sit in a circle and whisper a comment around the circle. The outcome is quite different from what started.

Changing the work environment to one in which everyone - employees, management, stockholders, customers, and suppliers - wins is key to success and prosperity.