Using Working With Others Training Sessions
to Drive Employee Involvement
James S. Byron and Raphael L. Vitalo, Ph.D.
An exemplar-based productivity analysis (Byron and Vitalo, 1991) was
conducted for the Process Systems Group Operations (OPS) division, the component
of a Fortune 500 company responsible for the manufacture and delivery of tonnage
gas products directly into customer facilities. Its purpose was to uncover
why some plants within the organization consistently outperformed others. The
head of the organization, a member of the company's leadership team, had noted
variability in performance among work units despite the successful broadcast
of a Statistical Quality Control initiative across the organization. The
study concluded that there were four determiners of exceptional performance:
employee involvement, information
technical capability, and incentives. The single greatest source of variance
was the level of employee involvement (EI) present in a facility. With this
learning, a goal and process were established to broadcast and advance EI across
the entire organization. The leader of OPS became convinced that elevating
900-person division's business effectiveness required pervasive employee involvement
in plant management and operations.
Employee Involvement (EI) Defined
EI is an organizational strategy—that is, an approach to applying the
human resources of an enterprise to accomplishing its business results and realizing
its purpose. The EI strategy has management engaging employees in the business
to achieve its quality, productivity, and growth targets. This involvement always
extends beyond the performance of an employee's regular job and, ultimately,
connects all employees to the defining and accomplishing every business objective.
Management involves people by giving and getting ideas and information with
them and having employees:
- Advise on problems and opportunities and how the company might solve or
- Participate in setting goals, evaluating results, and assuming responsibility
for achieving them; and
- Lead entire business activities as a team.
Levels of EI
To enable reliable judgments about the presence of EI in a workplace, we described
in behavioral terms that any worker could observe five levels of adoption of
employee involvement (Vitalo and Byron, 1992).
Briefly, at the low level of EI adoption (Level 1), management uses a top-down
approach emphasizing direction of the workforce. Managers are either unaware
of the employee involvement strategy or doubt its value. The employee's involvement
is limited to doing assigned work and workers see themselves as "hired
hands." Each employee's information about the workplace is limited to what
is needed to do his or her jobs.
At the low-to-moderate level of EI adoption (level 2), management still uses
a top-down approach but is open to hearing employee ideas. Managers are aware
of employee involvement and willing to experiment with its use in accomplishing
business objectives. Employees see themselves as workers who have some say over
the content of their work and workplace. Employees are asked to provide input
and feedback concerning business issues that are outside their immediate assignments.
Employees have access to information about matters that indirectly affect them
as well as about matters that are immediately relevant to their work.
At the moderate level of EI adoption (Level 3), management uses a participative
approach that engages employees in thinking through options, recommending actions,
and assessing accomplishment. Management still makes the final decisions but
is convinced of the importance of involving employees in addressing business
issues. Employees see themselves as advising on the business through their participation
in problem solving teams and special task forces. The employee's information
about the workplace is expanded to provide an informed basis for team problem
At the moderate-to-high level of EI adoption (Level 4), management has extended
the participative approach by delegating decision-making authority to work teams
that are empowered to manage their achievement of assigned goals. Management
is convinced of the importance of employee involvement for accomplishing business
objectives and has begun to redefine their role as enabling personnel rather
than directing them. Employees feel they have a direct stake in the organization's
success. They see themselves as co-managers of the business not just performers
of its work. The involvement of employees includes participation in every aspect
of business management and operations. Each employee has access to all information
about the workplace so that they can participate fully in defining and accomplishing
At the high level of EI adoption (Level 5), management has redefined itself
as partners with employees on one team dedicated to defining and achieving business
goals. Managers position themselves to enable the free and collaborative enterprise
of the team. Employees experience ownership for the business and a personal
commitment to insuring its success. Work unit personnel operate as a self-lead
team configuring themselves as needed to define and achieve corporate purposes
and to coordinate with other work teams. Each employee has access to all information
about the workplace except that information restricted by law.
The strategy developed to promote EI was founded on learning from prior change-making
efforts. Success of the EI initiative would require:
- A method for calibrating progress,
- Top level commitment to change,
- The skills with which to behave differently in the workplace,
- A mechanism for broadcasting involvement and its affects on the business,
- A mechanism for recycling learning from accomplishment.
Progress was calibrated by yearly measurement of involvement conducted in every
suborganization within OPS. Top level commitment to change would be demonstrated
by leadership learning and using the skills needed to implement EI before the
rest of the organization and actively promoting EI through changes in their
own manner of performance. The key competencies required to implement EI were
an understanding of EI and how to detect its presence in the workplace and skills
in getting and giving information and ideas so that people could work together
to build better solutions to the issues and opportunities they encountered.
The core mechanism for broadcasting involvement used the Working With Others
(WWO) training sessions (Byron and Bierley, 2003). As the central mechanism
for broadcasting its results, the head of the organization included feedback
on progress and accomplishment is his weekly telephone conferences with his
subordinates and in all his presentations to employees (i.e., face-to-face,
in-house TV). Two mechanisms for recycling learning from accomplishment were:
- A yearly planning function in which managers reviewed the status of EI within
their organizations and set personal targets and developed plans for achieving
- A similar planning session focusing on the organization as a whole completed
by an EI Advisory Committee made up of employees and managers.
The WWO training sessions conducted during the first two years of the initiative
emphasized teaching the knowledge and skills needed to elevate involvement and
using them immediately to engage employees in making quality improvements to
the business. The WWO training format was adapted to these ends. The WWO materials
were tailored to teach getting and giving skills in the context of building
an understanding of EI, completing an assessment of the current state of EI
in the workplace, and identifying and resolving a quality improvement challenge.
Action teams were spawned from these sessions to follow through on making changes
that were not achievable within the WWO sessions. The WWO sessions, which were
completed in either one or two days, simultaneously taught the skills needed
to enable constructive involvement, involved employees immediately in the business,
and generated business benefits from greater employee involvement.
Prior to the rollout of these sessions, the organization was readied to receive
the EI initiative by presentations about the findings of the exemplar study
and what it suggested about how the business needed to move forward so that
it realized its commitment to excellence.
The rollout began with top management participating in WWO sessions. Next,
these leaders produced a video in which they displayed their use of the WWO
skills while educating about EI and exploring their own personal insights into
the benefits EI offered employees and the business. The WWO sessions continued
through the management levels to touch every employee. Along the way, session
participants were identified who had interest in becoming leaders of WWO sessions,
train its skills, and eventually coach their suborganizations in using teamed
approaches to solving local problems and uncovering and realizing business opportunities.
Within two years, every member of OPS received training in these core skills
and processes and participated in making quality improvements to their business.
More than 100 trainer-coaches were developed to support teaming within local
organizations. An EI Advisory Committee was established to carry forward the
work of promoting EI. Members of the advisory group represented all employee
levels from hourly wage employees through top management.
Subsequent to the rollout phase, the EI Advisory Committee used the results
of the EI assessments to uncover new activities that would further organizational
adoption of EI. They initiated a yearly organizationwide EI assessment that
was completed by survey. The survey replicated the EI model previously taught
and used to make the baseline assessment of the organization.
WWO sessions continued for training new hires in the knowledge and skills needed
to be involved. Apart from training new hires, the WWO session structure was
used to involve employees in problem solving workplace issues, generating quality
improvements, and uncovering and executing ways to accomplish yearly business
drivers (e.g., safety improvements, cost reduction, improved customer satisfaction,
reduced service interruptions). These sessions always began with a review of
the getting and giving skills and then used them to address whatever business
issue was the subject of the meeting. This sustained use of WWO sessions strengthened
the commitment to good communications and simultaneously accomplished ever-broader
use of EI. One highly significant special use of the sessions was to facilitate
the integration of an entire new organization into OPS. This integration occurred
fours years into the EI initiative. It required incorporating into OPS, an organization
that was larger (1,100 employees), performed very different work, and had a
culture that was fully top-down in character.
To further sustain the initiative, each manager's appraisal plan required yearly
progress in increasing EI within his or her suborganization. This strengthened
the significance of the yearly management planning session which included the
half-day session in which managers worked together to analyze the results from
their suborganization's EI assessment, uncover the sources of the results, target
next year's improvement level, and generate actions they personally would take
to realize their individual improvement targets.
Over the course of its decade of implementation, very many evaluations were
made of this EI initiative—far more than can be described in this brief
article. What we can describe are three summary elements: response to the WWO
training sessions, movement of the organization with respect to EI, and a study
of the return on the investment in the EI effort.
Response to Training
An evaluation process was built into the WWO training. It assessed the relevance
of the WWO skills to the jobs of the trainees, the learning achieved in the
training, and trainees' satisfaction with the training. After the training was
completed, participants were asked to determine the percentage of job success
that these getting and giving skills contributed. This assessment revealed the
relevance of the content being taught to the jobs of the learners. In addition,
participants rated their personal proficiency for each skill taught. A proficiency
scale was used to make these judgments which had a range of "0" (no
proficiency) to "9" (very proficient). Participants rated their proficiency
prior to training and after training. Participants were also asked to report
on their satisfaction with the training. This assessment also used a "0"
(no satisfaction) to "9" (completely satisfied) scale. Exhibit 1 provides
a summary of the average results produced from WWO sessions with the 900 personnel
Response to WWO Training Sessions
||Skills said to account for
73% of the success employees achieved in their jobs
||36% improvement in skill proficiency
||7.81 out of 9
EI progress was calibrated by comparing the year-to-year changes in the level
of adoption of employee involvement throughout the workplace. A chart was maintained
that depicted the percentage of suborganizations that achieved Level 2 or lower
levels of employee involvement versus the percentage of suborganizations that
received Level 3 or higher (Exhibit 2). Managers and employees made ratings
of their suborganizations.
Beginning in 1993, we also charted the average level of involvement achieved
across the entire OPS organization (Exhibit 3). These assessments used a standard
EI scale (Vitalo and Byron, 1992) that represented five levels of EI in a manner
consistent with the model of EI all employees learned.
One evaluation of the benefits derived from the EI initiative employed utility
analysis (Vitalo, 2000). This method estimates the dollar value of benefits
generated by an initiative based on the improvement in worker productivity the
initiative produces. By estimating the cost of the initiative, you can easily
create a return on investment measure using the result of the utility analysis
as the "return" and the cost of the initiative as the investment.
Using utility analysis, the dollar value of benefits to the company from one
year of the initiative was $5.6 million dollars. Again, these investments flow
from improved worker productivity. Improvement mechanisms included more efficient
communication and the workplace improvements generated from the WWO sessions.
The investment in the EI initiative at the point of the assessment was $580,000.
The resulting ROI was 9.66 based on a one-year performance period. This means
that for every $1 invested in the EI initiative, the business realized $9.66
Chris Loyd, the pioneering Vice President and General Manager who championed
this EI initiative, announced his retirement in 2000. Throughout the 10 years
of the initiative, his organization consistently achieved productivity improvements
of 5% or more annually. In an e-mail communicating his retirement to one of
the authors, Chris said: "When I think about the most significant changes
over the last 20 years I think EI was the most important change we made. The
technology changes were not as critical and the organizational restructurings
often had little effect, but the EI changes will stay with us forever. In fact
the EI training and its acceptance has been a foundation that has allowed us
to make all other changes."
Byron, J.S. and Bierley, P.V. (2003) Working With Others Training Program.
Hope: Maine, Lowrey Press. Available at http://vitalentusa.com/products/wwotp/wwotp_learn_about.php
Byron, J.S. and Vitalo, R.L. (1991) Quality improvement through exemplar-based
productivity analysis. Brief #82 (Monograph), American Productivity
and Quality Center, Houston, TX.
Vitalo, R.L. and Byron, J.S. (1992) A scale for measuring employee involvement.
In the Employee Involvement Ideabook, Vital Enterprises, Hope: ME.
Vitalo, R.L. (2000) Utility Analysis: An Overview. Available at http://vitalentusa.com/learn/utility_analysis_overview.php
Published April 2004
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