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For employees to commit to making improvements and changes within their organization, they need to have both trust in their leaders and a strong sense of job autonomy, according to a recent study from University of Illinois business professors Gopesh Anand and Dilip Chhajed.

The problem with many initiatives focused on improvement in the workplace is that they tend to follow a top-down structure: management decides the direction and then brings employees into the loop to execute the plan. Anand and Dilip believe this is simply not an effective approach because employees are not allowed to demonstrate true autonomy and leadership capabilities.

“Many times, employees end up working on continuous improvement projects simply because the CEO is telling them to participate in the initiative,” Anand said. “But they aren’t really sold on this idea of making an effort to improve their workplace and work practices.”

“Workers need to have a sense of control over their work environment,” Delfin said. “They need to be able to decide how and what to do in their day-to-day work. And that’s actually what motivates them to improve. Their buy-in becomes even stronger when leadership provides them the support to do this.

The researchers outline steps managers can take to enhance employees’ commitment to initiatives geared toward improvement in the workplace:

1. The daily work environment must promote job autonomy for employees, giving them the power and flexibility to make decisions that affect their work practices.

2. A high degree of trust in leadership is essential, leading to more employee empowerment  and proactive actions from employees.

3. Change initiatives shouldn’t feel like more work to employees; they should be able to see and invest in the day-to-day benefits for themselves and their colleagues.

4. There should be a balance between top-down management goals and bottom-up employee input; managers should play a coaching and guiding role, while employees should be active participants.

The bottom line is: managers must show their employees that they trust them to make decisions within the organization. When employees are given room to take the lead on improvement initiatives, they are able to make more lasting, effective changes.

How do you involve your employees in these types of initiatives? Share your comments below.

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