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Managerial practices that promote voice and taking charge among frontline workers

Listed author(s):
  • Julia Adler-Milstein


    (University of Michigan)

  • Sara J. Singer


    (Harvard School of Public Health)

  • Michael W. Toffel


    (Harvard Business School, Technology and Operations Management Unit)

Process-improvement ideas often come from frontline workers who speak up by voicing concerns about problems and by taking charge to resolve them. We hypothesize that organization-wide process-improvement campaigns encourage both forms of speaking up, especially voicing concern. We also hypothesize that the effectiveness of such campaigns depends on the prior responsiveness of line managers. We test our hypotheses in the healthcare setting, in which problems are frequent. We use data on nearly 7,500 reported incidents extracted from an incident-reporting system that is similar to those used by many organizations to encourage employees to communicate about operational problems. We find that process-improvement campaigns prompt employees to speak up and that campaigns increase the frequency of voicing concern to a greater extent than they increase taking charge. We also find that campaigns are particularly effective in eliciting taking charge among employees whose managers have been relatively unresponsive to previous instances of speaking up. Our results therefore indicate that organization-wide campaigns can encourage voicing concerns and taking charge, two important forms of speaking up. These results can enable managers to solicit ideas from frontline workers that lead to performance improvement.

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Paper provided by Harvard Business School in its series Harvard Business School Working Papers with number 11-005.

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Length: 43 pages
Date of creation: Jul 2010
Date of revision: Sep 2011
Handle: RePEc:hbs:wpaper:11-005
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  1. Markus Frölich & Rosalia Vazquez-Alvarez, 2009. "HIV/AIDS Knowledge and Behaviour: Have Information Campaigns Reduced HIV Infection? The Case of Kenya," African Development Review, African Development Bank, vol. 21(1), pages 86-146.
  2. de Walque, Damien, 2007. "How does the impact of an HIV/AIDS information campaign vary with educational attainment? Evidence from rural Uganda," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 84(2), pages 686-714, November.
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