Participative Management

When I first heard of participative management, I thought that it must be some ‘new fad’ (which isn’t true at all) and after reading a few things about this management model, I decided to dive a little deeper.

Participative management has been defined by Barron’s as:

An open form of management where employees have a strong decision-making role. Participative management is developed by managers who actively seek a strong cooperative relationship with their employees. The advantages of participative management include increased productivity, improved quality, and reduced costs

To get a good look at this type of management style, all you need to do is read the book Maverick by Ricardo Semler. The book has been around for quite some time…it was originally published in 1988 as Turning the Tables and republished in 1993 as Maverick. The book does a good job of explaining the transformation of Semco into a large, profitable conglomerate. The key to Semco’s success, according to Semler, is their implementation of participative management.

There are other examples of companies who have been successful using this type of organizational mentality are. The most well known is probably W.L. Gore & Associates (makers of Gore-Tex), who have embraced participative management methods for many years.

The W.L. Gore website provides the following as an example of their corporate culture:

Our founder, Bill Gore created a flat lattice organization. There are no chains of command nor pre-determined channels of communication. Instead, we communicate directly with each other and are accountable to fellow members of our multi-disciplined teams.

How does all this happen? Associates (not employees) are hired for general work areas. With the guidance of their sponsors (not bosses) and a growing understanding of opportunities and team objectives, associates commit to projects that match their skills. All of this takes place in an environment that combines freedom with cooperation and autonomy with synergy.

The ideas behind participative management are fairly straightforward and something that I agree with. I’ve always believed in open and honest communications, freedom and transparency.

I’m sure that there are people out there that look at this type of management model as being ‘soft’, but I look at it and see some things that I like. Namely:

  • Transparency of business operations
  • Employee growth through job rotation
  • Open & Honest Communications
  • Employee involvement in their career

There are some things that I don’t like (or perhaps I just don’t understand them) about the Semco version of participative management though. Some of the things described in Maverick are hard for me to swallow…especially the fact that the employees have the ability to set their own salaries. Somehow this just doesn’t sit well with me.

But who am I to argue…it seems to have worked for Semco and W.L. Gore and possibly other organizations. If you know of any other organizations that have succeeded using a participative management model, I’d love to hear about them.

[tags] W.L. Gore, Semco, Participative Management, Ricardo Semler, Maverick [/tags]

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