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Food Safety - A Complex Leadership Challenge (Part 2)

Alcide DeGagné

This post follows on Part 1 where we discussed employee engagement and the vestiges of 19th century management.


“Treat regular workers as if they were volunteers.”

Drucker on Leadership

Gaining Traction on Engagement

What exactly do we mean when we talk about ‘improving engagement’?

Put simply: both individuals and managers must focus on how they need to work together.

To do so, employees must:

  • Understand the Strategy and contribute to the organization’s mission and direction—at least in terms of how it impacts their day-to-day work
  • Be led by Managers who willempower them and create a work climate that promotes motivation
  • Posses the ability to Self-Managein order to participate in setting their own goals as a critical contribution to the strategic direction of the enterprise

These skills are absolutely necessary in our world of “doing more with less”—and to do so at the speed of change itself.  Imagine the gains if organizations were able to harness the discretionary effort of all employees all of the time!

With that in mind, lets take a look at each component.

Understanding Strategic Direction

To give their best every day requires that employees make a total commitment to the company mission. The first step is that all employees understand and accept the fundamental purpose of the organization, the clients it serves, and it’s operating assumptions. Modern workers expect no less and will not accept any less. There is ample evidence to support this.

As a reality check, consider the following three questions from Gallup’s employee engagement survey:

  • I know what is expected of me at work.
  • I have the materials and equipment I need to do my job right.
  • At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.

Managers who can Empower Teams

Pushing the reset button on employee engagement requires managers to change their mindset from the command and control model and means that they can no longer do it all:

  • The span of knowledge represented in the modern workforce is so vast that managers can’t possibly be experts in all aspects of their job.Fist-230x345
  • The speed at which change is occurring in turn requires rapid decisions in order to meet client expectations and to remain competitive.
  • The need for self-organizing teams operating from a shared understanding becomes essential for achieving results.
  • And the above leads to the inevitable need to build consensus. Consensus building is the key to integrating interests and to avoiding problems in business processes. If you want employees to be engaged and to use their best judgment when making day-to-day decisions, they need to understand how their actions will harmonize with the overall team effort as well as others in the greater organization.

These issues require a radically different leadership style from and managers and leaders.

Again, let’s check how the above issues key into the questions that count for employees as reflected in Gallup’s Q12:

  • In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work.
  • My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person.
  • There is someone at work who encourages my development.

Arriving at positive answers to these questions is key to getting employees engaged!


Why is self-management so important? Because, in traditional organizations, most employees have not had a chance to develop the team decision-making skills required with greater discretion. Self-managed work teams have been around for decades. While much was learned from the early trail blazers such as Tavistok Institute, wide spread application began with the work of the likes of Deming and others who advocated a much softer version of employee involvement in the pursuit of quality.

A more contemporary example the Lean movement, first employed by Toyota (post Deming) and the Agile Manifesto which grew out of it, is widely considered as an effective management philosophy appropriate to our modern times. Lean production, or simply lean, is a production practice that considers the expenditure of resources for any goal other than the creation of value for the end customer to be wasteful, and thus a target for elimination.

As a management philosophy, who can argue with such a definition given the need to innovate and reduce cost!

Placing the Role of Management Under the Lens

You can gain a rapid perspective of how much self-management “space“ there is in your own organization through the lens of leadership styles. The continuum of leader behaviour is adapted from the Harvard Business Review article How to choose a leadership pattern by Robert Tannenbaum and Warren Schmidt.  The continuum outlines leader behaviours that range from ‘tell’, through to ‘sell’, ‘consult’ and ‘join’.

To achieve any semblance of employee engagement and self-management, it is pretty obvious that teamwork—leaders in collaboration with team members—must shift to the right of diagram. Shifting to the right creates space for employees to use their own judgement about what is best.

It also creates the climate necessary if you want to harvest the “discretionary effort” dividend!

Leadership continuum-453x347

In my experience, this co-dependency is the often-overlooked “joint product” of greater employee engagement and leadership. The one can’t take place without the other.

Again, let’s check how these topics key into the questions that count for employees—here are another three key questions from the Gallup’s Q12:

  • At work, my opinions seem to count.
  • The mission or purpose of my company makes me feel my job is important.
  • My associates or fellow employees are committed to doing quality work.

With this information informing the discussion, do you feel your employee engagement profile is up to the challenge of your food safety goals?



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About this Article

Posted by Alcide DeGagné
Posted on January 23, 2012

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