A program that uses teams of employees to tackle issues like marketing and quality.
David Hatch's company was at that troublesome in-between stage. It was big enough to require more focused attention on marketing, human resources, quality and productivity, and technology, but not affluent enough to afford pricey experts. So Hatch, president of $4-million Risk International Services, an Akron risk-management and environmental-claims company, tackled the problem with resources already at hand -- his 45 employees.
Nearly two years ago he asked for volunteers to sit on four information and policy-development teams. During the 18-month assignment the teams would develop valuable expertise, and, says Hatch, the arrangement "would give employees a chance to feel more involved by giving them an organized, legitimate forum to address companywide issues." The six- to eight-member groups included employees at all levels of seniority, each led by a manager. They created their own charters, which Hatch reviewed; developed lists of priorities; and derived problem-solving strategies. Their tenure has recently ended, and each team, says Hatch, has had a positive impact on the company:
· The human-resources team established an orientation curriculum for new employees, reviewed the company's peer-evaluation forms, and made revisions to the employee handbook.
· The productivity and quality team helped assemble a "training superhighway" to address the long- and short-term training needs of Risk International's growing staff.
· The marketing group, says Hatch, "came up with a conceptual model of the types of companies we should market ourselves to." The result is one new client.
· The technology group set up a computer training program and created an "expert resource" network of employees willing to share their software expertise.
The teams' biggest stumbling block was "managing ambiguity," says Hatch, who admits that he had initially hoped to see more accomplished. "In the first six months the team members spent a lot of time trying to evaluate what they wanted to focus on. There was a lot of learning." Hatch recently surveyed participants, and based on their responses, he says, he'll take a modified approach with the next group of service committees. He will not restaff the technology committee, for instance, because its members believed they didn't have enough technical know-how. Productivity and quality will be covered by two separate teams, each of which, along with the human-resources group, will be permitted to select its own leader. Also, the groups' life span will be six months, and their focus will be on only one or two issues. And because employees wanted more suggestions and feedback from Hatch, he'll provide direction and help them define priorities. "I'm going to get a little more involved than I did the first time," he says.