Countless leaders seek to strengthen ownership and personal responsibility for organizational initiatives in their workplace. What many don’t realize is that involving employees in decision-making processes can be a powerful way to build such support.
We once worked with a fire chief who had been budgeted money to buy a new truck. He was looking through a catalogue one day, trying to decide what to order f0r the station, when one of his men dropped by and asked what he was doing.
When the chief explained the purchase, the man dropped what he was doing and immediately called the rest of the station to come take a look. Within moments the small office was crowded with men flipping through the catalogue and enthusiastically discussing the merits and drawbacks of various options.
When the truck arrived, it was the pride of the station. The men cleaned it, cared for it, and talked it up to anyone who would listen.
The chief’s counterparts at the city’s three other stations, however, told a very different story.
Their men, they said, roundly disliked the recent purchases. They showed little if any gratitude for the new vehicles and grumbled incessantly about everything that was “wrong” with them. One of the chiefs went so far as to say he sometimes wished he had never bought a new truck at all.
The chief was surprised and somewhat puzzled by the great difference in response and reaction. But the kicker, he later told us, was that the four vehicles were so comparable in features as to be almost indistinguishable from one another.
The four stations had, in effect, purchased the same truck. But where the chief’s men had been involved in the decision-making process, the others had simply been informed of a decision made by a superior who had not bothered to seek their input or opinions.
That simple act of involvement turned out to be the difference between employees who were proud and excited and employees who were disgruntled and resentful. And in this, the chief experienced firsthand what research has shown time and again: that the act of involving people in the decision-making process builds ownership of decisions and motivation to support them.
Leaders often say people resist change, but this is not quite true. As a general rule human beings do not resist change, we resist being changed. And the ownership that results from involvement can be a key difference between the two.