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Using Working With Others Training Sessions to Drive Employee Involvement
James S. Byron and Raphael L. Vitalo, Ph.D.

Employee Involvement (EI) Defined
  • Levels of EI
  • EI Strategy
  • Establishing EI
  • Sustaining EI
  • Evaluation
  • Response to Training
  • EI Progress
  • Business Benefits
  • Postscript
    About the Authors
  • James S. Byron
  • Raphael L. Vitalo
  • Feedback Please


    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 that there was significant 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 access, 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 his 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 realize them;
    • 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 solving.

    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 its objectives.

    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.


    EI Strategy

    The strategy developed to promote EI was founded on learning from prior change-making efforts. Success of the EI initiative would require:

    1. A method for calibrating progress,
    2. Top level commitment to change,
    3. The skills with which to behave differently in the workplace,
    4. A mechanism for broadcasting involvement and its affects on the business, and
    5. 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 them, and
    • A similar planning session focusing on the organization as a whole completed by an EI Advisory Committee made up of employees and managers.


    Establishing EI
    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.


    Sustaining EI

    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 of OPS.


    Exhibit 1. 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

    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.


    Business Benefits

    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 in benefits.



    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

    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


    Published April 2004

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