"The Twenty Foot Rule: People within twenty feet of the problem will give you the best solution if you give them the opportunity."

While almost every organization espouses the maxim, "Our employees are our most valuable assets," few maximize the contributions of which employees are capable, due to internal communication barriers limiting their opportunities to contribute.

I was introduced to "The Twenty Foot Rule" at a medium-sized manufacturing plant about 20 years ago. After spending a day teaching employee teams basic principles of ergonomics for two days, we turned them loose to apply their new knowledge to address various ergonomic exposures. They went to work identifying ergonomic risk factors through basic incident analysis, conducting symptom surveys with their peers, and workplace observations. They then developed recommendations to reduce risk through engineering, improved work practices (they even developed their own peer observation process for the work practices), and administrative controls.

Two days later, when they presented their results, I was flabbergasted. As an ergonomist, I was humbled at how well they had come up with practical and cost-effective solutions. When I told the plant manager how impressed I was with the work his people had done, he shared with me "The Twenty Foot Rule." Over the years I have come across a number of organizations that practice "The Twenty Foot Rule" with incredible results.

While this rule sounds simple, in reality it is easier said than done. This paper will address a number of process-driven activities that allow organizations to improve employee communications and increase their participation in the success of an organization. The paper will also discuss some of the barriers encountered over the years and strategies to overcome them.

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