Organizational philosophy: Participatory management
After the recent death of Steve Jobs, many people lionized Job's highly controlling but visionary leadership. Steve Jobs, they say, 'was' Apple and his aesthetic and technological style was infused throughout the company and in the design of all of its products. In terms of my own philosophy of organizational leadership, however, mine is more of a vision of participatory leadership, in which members of the organization are in constant dialogue with leaders of the organization. Sometimes members of the lowest rungs of the hierarchy have the greatest insights. As the world changes, workers can and must grow more autonomous in their orientation. "The management style must change from one of control to one of instruction and guidance. There must be a move to the concept of an organization without boundaries," including boundaries between positions (Herrera 2001).
Participatory leadership is based upon the concept that "involvement in decision-making improves the understanding of the issues involved by those who must carry out the decisions" (Straker 2005). Even in my first job, I witnessed this fact. While working as a retail employee, I quickly noticed how managers were unwilling to alter standard operating procedures and store layout based upon employee input. However, given that we were on the 'ground level' and actually seeing people's reactions to how the store was organized, we often had a better understanding of what customers needed in the store. It was frustrating to have to behave in a manner that we regarded as inefficient and counter-productive.
Participatory leadership also holds that "people are more committed to actions where they have involved in the relevant decision-making" (Straker 2005). Change resistance is one of the most common and frustrating phenomenon confronted by managers. No matter how beneficial the change might be for the organization, often there is resistance if people feel as if the change is imposed upon them. All changes within the organization will cause some initial 'pain' for the participants, and to get through the initial psychological and logistical discomfort requires a high-level of buy-in on the part of all workers. However, "when people make decisions together, the social commitment to one another is greater and thus increases their commitment to the decision" (Straker 2005). The philosophy of participatory management is also that "several people deciding together make better decisions than one person alone" and demonstrates that when managers are willing to change based upon dialogue with workers, rather than simply ignoring workers' concern or attempting to smooth over ruffled feelings, often a more optimal change transition is realized (Straker 2005).
Although participatory management may sound like a New Age philosophy, it is a concept of management that actually has fairly deep roots within history. Peter Drucker's 1954 philosophy of management by objective (MBO) or "aligning goals and subordinate objectives throughout the organization" is considered to be the first example of this (MBO, 2011, 1000 Ventures). Drucker believed that employees themselves should set performance goals as well as employers. But while Drucker believed that the leader ultimately had the responsibility for 'conducting' business, like the conductor of an orchestra, participatory management allows for the possibility that workers may have equally good ideas as those who lead them. The concept of participatory management is that of a 'living' organization, which can allow lower-level workers to be 'on top' of the hierarchy if they have better ideas. So long as the organization is a team united by a common purpose, worker input can enhance the organization.
While the idea of a single, charismatic visionary leading an organization like Jobs may have its attractions, even the most forward-thinking and dynamic CEO needs top-level staff with good ideas to bring his or her overarching vision into action. Good workers are usually attracted to companies in which they can feel they can make a difference. Another notable technology company, Google, actually specifically allows its engineers to have time during the workday to pursue their own projects. "We offer our engineers '20-percent time' so that they're free to work on what…