Many years ago, a certain motor vehicle manufacturer in South Africa had an employee who was responsible for the door assembly area on the production line. He was good at his job, led his team well and contributed admirably to the finished product. At times, he made improvement and other creative suggestions to enhance process, but was largely ignored and never received recognition. His complaints to senior management and the human resources department were not even acknowledged. Getting more and more disgruntled over the months, but still producing good work, he filed a formal grievance letter according to labour practice, but was still ignored.
Now, his wife always made him sandwiches for lunch and occasionally put a South African fish, called a “snoek”, on the bread. Although he liked fish, he was getting tired of eating the snoek in a particular week – too many days of snoek with no variety! Towards the end of the week, he was irritated, had eaten enough snoek and was seething with no response from management – at lunch time, he sat down on the production line, opened his lunchbox, only to be greeted yet again with the aroma of cold snoek sandwiches. Fuming, he dumped the contents of his lunchbox into a door, welded the bracing in place and followed with the inner panel. The vehicle completed the assembly process, was cleared by quality assurance personnel and was shipped out to a vehicle holding area, a clearing area before the vehicles were exported or sent to dealerships across the country. The car stood in the hot summer sun for about forty-five days over the year-end holiday period. In the new year, the distribution people were amazed when they set eyes upon the vehicle – it looked as if it had tinted windows all round, unusual for a base-line model. Upon unlocking and opening the door, they were bowled over by the disgusting smell and shocking condition of the interior of the vehicle – the upholstery, carpets and even parts of the electrical harness had been eaten into and the glass had been pitted. They quickly shut and locked the door. The vehicle had to be shipped back to the plant, stripped and rebuilt again, costing the company a good deal of money. Upon investigation, they found the source of the problem to be the door. The net result was an interesting one – the employee, the production manager and human resources personnel were all disciplined, citing sabotage and negligence as respective reasons for the matter. The saying “snoeking the process” has since become a synonym for industrial sabotage.
Creating an environment where ideas and creativity can be offered and where employees are recognised for discretionary input is essential in the moulding of a positive and focused team. Employees leave their creativity and passion at home when such an environment is not in place. The ensuing toxic environment then becomes a potential hazard – an environment where people have to protect their backs, where focus shifts to managing dysfunctional relationships and where the context is ripe for the potential of industrial sabotage. This can be averted when employee engagement principles are being applied by leadership, some of which include the following:
- Leading by example – modelling desired behaviours is paramount to growing trust and creating an environment of participation and involvement.
- Extending trust – showing belief in others, empowering and nurturing growth in them.
- Communicating appropriate “big picture” information to everyone, no matter the level or role employees are playing in the organisation. This information includes, but is not limited to, the following: mission, vision, values, strategy, profitability and organisational “stretch” (targets and potential savings).
- Giving appropriate recognition, especially for creativity and discretionary effort.
Employee engagement leads to better productivity, lower employee turnover rates and an environment of creativity, where people feel valued and have no thought of “snoeking the process”.