How To Get Your Employees Involved In Decision Making

by: Dean Fulford

Employee involvement is a leadership ‘philosophy’ about how people are most enabled to contribute toward the ongoing success of their work organization.  It emphasizes creating an environment in which employees have an impact on the decisions and actions that affect their jobs.

As HR consultants, we encourage organizational practices that involve employees in planning and work decisions. This includes involving staff in setting work goals that use their skills, in their areas of interest, to contribute to the organization’s success.  In fact, we measure employee involvement in deciding how best to get their work done as an important contributing factor to overall engagement.  Involvement increases ownership and commitment, and often results in retaining the best employees.

There are many effective ways to involve employees in decision-making and continuous improvement. Organizations can create work teams, use continuous improvement systems like Kaizen, engage in root cause analysis, or even just put out a suggestion box.  In all cases, successful employee involvement practices require organizational commitment. Individuals may need training in team skills such as communication and group problem solving. Reward and recognition programs may also need to be adapted.

The Tannenbaum and Schmidt Continuum describes a range of leadership behaviours that progressively encourages an increasing role for employees (and a decreasing role for supervisors) in decision-making processes:

  • Tell: the supervisor makes the decision and announces it to staff. The supervisor provides complete direction.
  • Sell: the supervisor makes the decision and then attempts to gain commitment from staff by “selling” the positive aspects of the decision.
  • Consult: the supervisor invites input into a decision while retaining authority to make the final decision herself.
  • Join: the supervisor invites employees to make the decision with the supervisor. The supervisor considers her voice to be equal in the decision process.

Some HR authors add a final step in this continuum – Delegate (fully turn the decision over to others).

In the end, well-executed employee involvement practices can result in an improved sense of connection among employees that lasts beyond the completion of an individual project. But it all starts with management philosophy.  So where do your managers reside on the leadership behavior continuum?

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