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A Technique for Enhancing Participatory Management

by Phil Bartle, PhD

Dedicated to Gert Lüdeking

Training Handout

Written job descriptions are important in an organizational set-up that emphasizes participatory management

Introduction; Job Description's Role in Participatory Management:

In participatory management, decision making is still the responsibility of the designated managers, and it is not the same as collective or communal decision making (with everyone having equal weight).

What it needs, however, is that there is invited participation of all staff members in the decision making that affects the whole, or their particular segments or departments.

Some of the important principles in participatory management are respect (for the staff) and transparency (of decision making).

Furthermore, when staff members are invited to participate in decision making, when they can feel safe and that they will not be punished for making unpopular suggestions, they bring to management a wider range of experience, knowledge, wisdom and training.

Management as an element of organizational structure and process is noticeably strengthened by the addition of those elements.

Initial Creation of the Job Description:

When the staff member is initially taken on as a member of the organization, s/he is hired in order to do a job, to do a specific set of tasks. That is what s/he is paid to do, and if s/h does not do them, then s/he knows that s/he is not in a secure position to keep the job. The definition of her/his set of tasks should be, from the beginning, set down on paper as a formal job description.

Upon the hiring of the new staff, that new staff and his or her immediate supervisor should sit down and review each item on the job description, line by line, to ensure that both the staff member and the supervisor are well familiar with what the position entails. At the end of this initial discussion, both the supervisor and the staff member should sign the job description.

The new staff member should be encouraged to indicate which of the tasks listed in the job description can be done and which not.

The supervisor can take some time to initially sketch how to do such tasks, and/or set up a time later for detailed instruction.

Supervision and Staff Performance:

The job description not only improves supervision, it is an integral part of supervision in participatory management.

All staff members will do better, perform well, be more loyal, and make more positive suggestions and contributions, when their supervisors show interest in them, take time to see what they are doing, and are sympathetic to their difficulties and problems. This is not the same thing as standing over a worker and insisting on the staff member working hard; that will achieve the opposite result.

When a staff member and supervisor are very familiar with the job description, supervision can be much more positive, less stressful, and a process of co-operation instead of dictatorship. The mark of a good manager is that staff do well in her/his absence. Frequent review of job descriptions, line by line, allows the supervisor to make necessary field trips and missions, knowing that each staff member knows what to do and is willing to do it well.

A Non-Monetary Contract:

The job description should be seen as a non-monetary written contract between the staff member and the supervisor, legitimized by and in the organization. It sets out the tasks that the staff member should do, and the overall responsibilities.

Some job descriptions include a list of required and desired qualifications (and the document can then, perhaps, be called TORs –Terms of Reference).

The signature by the staff member and supervisor should be seen as a necessary and integral part of the job description, and it should be stated that it is not valid until it is signed.

Jobs Change:

No job can remain static, especially on project work or programmes, and where conditions are changing. For that reason, every job description in an organization should be reviewed at least once a year by each staff member and supervisor.

They should set aside an hour to go through the job description line by line, and indicate what tasks are no longer part of the job, what tasks have been changed, however slightly, and what new task have been added to the job. This session, taken out of the time and context of performing the tasks, gives the supervisor and staff member a chance to indicate that some tasks are inappropriate and should be dropped by mutual consent.

Where a staff member does not want to do a task, and the supervisor insists that the staff member should do it, then the staff members should suggest an alternative method to get the task done (if it is one necessary to the objectives of the organization), in a cost effective manner. Where such conflicts can not be resolved, the two should bring the issue to the attention of the supervisor's supervisor for reconciliation.

Review of the job description gives the supervisor an opportunity to emphasize some important elements of the job, remind the staff member perhaps that some of the tasks are not being done as well or as often as needed, and to remind the staff member that taking on the job, and its tasks, is a decision made by the staff member.

Conversely, it gives the staff member an opportunity to suggest better ways of doing thins (more cost effective, more efficient, more easily accomplished), to point out some tasks that are redundant, unnecessary or negative to the goals of the organization.

By dialogues both the supervisor and staff member are co-operating in participatory management of the organization.

Conclusion and Summary:

The annual review by the staff member and supervisor, modification and updating of the job description, and signing the new job description, become a very important non-intrusive, calm and balanced form of supervision. If changes in the situation are more rapid, the job description should be similarly updated and signed more frequently than once a year. Review of each job description should never be left to more than a year later each time.

Creation of job descriptions, initial and regular joint review by supervisors and staff members, regular and frequent modifications to reflect changing realities and conditions, and signing each updated job description, together make up an important element of participatory management.


A Workshop About Using Job Descriptions:

Community Training Workshop

© Copyright 1967, 1987, 2007 Phil Bartle
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Last update: 2012.12.19

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