The benefits of involving employees in decisions that affect them are clear. Victor Vroom, one of the seminal pioneers in areas of motivation and decision-making, once wrote:
“Participative decision processes…can provide a training ground in which people can think through the implications of decisions. Participation can also perform a team building function, building positive relationships among group members and helping meld them into a team. Finally, participation can aid in aligning the individual goals of group members with the goals of the organization.”
It stands to reason, then, that if leaders want employees who can think through the implications of their decisions, who can work effectively as members of a team and align themselves with organizational goals, they need to involve their people in the decision-making process.
In countless organizations, though, this does not happen.
The challenge is not one of tactics or strategies, for involvement can be pursued in variety of ways, whether formal or informal, in group settings or one-on-one.
The unfortunate reality, rather, is that many of us simply have very little regard for the thinking of others.
We might say we believe that others’ thoughts can improve our own. We might even believe – at the level of abstraction – that our leadership is enhanced by the input of others.
Yet when the time comes to reorganize the department or open the new site location, we just don’t feel that this is the right situation to start involving employees. We believe in involvement, just not today.
It’s crucial, then, to understand that involvement is as much a practical description of operational reality as it is a normative standard of aspiration. Put more simply, the issue is not so much that leaders ought to or should involve employees in decision-making processes for one reason or another. It is that involving them is simply the way the best decisions are made.
In its highest form, involvement stems from leaders’ recognition that their own thinking suffers without the thoughts of others. It is the practical expression of an acknowledgement that they will accomplish less acting alone than they will by leveraging the capacities of the human system they lead.
Do we really believe this? Do we truly embrace our dependence on those we lead, oversee and supervise? Or do we sometime try to reap the organizational benefits of participation by providing the form, but not the substance, or involvement?
True involvement comes from leaders genuinely valuing the thoughts and ideas of employees, to the point that they consistently seek out and actively listen to those opinions and suggestions.