Give Employees Their Say

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It’s common these days for employees to have a say in improving the processes of an organization, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. If you want to create an exceptional team spirit that only the most elite organizations possess, give employees a strong voice in establishing all of the structure, even the HR policies and quality standards. But make sure you don’t create chaos in the process.

Elite teams have a particular team spirit that can be physically felt and scientifically measured. It arises when team members feel a strong connection to each other and to their organization. This spirit fosters an intuitive communication and collaboration that has been proven to lead to greater innovation and helps employees perform at the top of their game.

How do you foster an employee feeling a strong connection to your organization? One way is to make employees feel like the organization is theirs rather than just something in which they take part. The difference can be illustrated by the way a parent feels about their children. The parent created their children and continually shapes them, so they feel a connection that they rarely feel towards someone else’s children. Similarly, when employees have a strong voice in establishing and running an organization, it engenders a strong feeling of ownership and connection.

How do you make employees feel like the business is theirs without letting everyone do their own thing and creating chaos? I recently helped a client do this in an Information Technology (IT) group. The organization needed to establish an architecture function, which specifies the standard tools and techniques used to create custom applications. The entire IT group of about 300 people has to use the same standards or else there will be chaos and none of the pieces will integrate. So we created a single architecture team but the entire IT group has a voice in its functioning. The architecture team identifies which types of tools and techniques are needed, and they research the options, but before they make a decision, they involve the broader IT group. Employees can volunteer to be on a team to review the options for a particular toolset, and they test them out and provide their feedback. Even the employees not on the team can review the options being considered, the selection criteria, the progress of the testing, and the decisions made, and they have the ability to provide input throughout the process. This same technique can be used to establish any of the policies, processes and standards in an organization.

I’ve worked with other organizations that involve employees in setting HR rules such as who gets an office vs. cubicle, what criteria and process will be used for performance reviews, and even in establishing the organizational structure (e.g., how many managers are needed and how the groups will be divided). In making these decisions, which require less technical expertise than an area like IT architecture, we’ve created decision-making committees that employees rotate onto and off of periodically. These committees discuss the issues and make the decisions, with leader of the organization as a member of the committee. At times a decision is put to a vote in the broader employee community or broad input on a specific item is solicited. At any point, any employee can observe a decision being made and provide input.

Does it take more time to make decisions when you involve people to this level? You bet it does. But you save lots of time on the back-end by not having to sell people on the decisions to get their buy-in. And you don’t have the complaining and reluctance to comply that often accompany policies and standards. These are important benefits, but even more important is that people feel a higher level of ownership in and connection to the organization. This helps create the team spirit that we’ve all felt around the most elite teams.

I acknowledge that it’s more challenging to manage an organization that gives employees this much of a voice. It’s much more difficult to oversee employee decision making than it is to just make all the decisions yourself. As the leader, you’ll need the very best communication skills, the ability to trust your people, and lots of patience. You’ll also need to know how and when to step in with persuasion or even veto a decision that’s not in the best interests of the business. Be sure to keep the phrase “having your say doesn’t mean getting your way” close at hand because you’ll need it.

As we learn more from neuroscience about the incredible power of group emotions, we see reasons to adopt techniques beyond the ordinary. For more on shaping team emotions to increase creativity and performance, including research references, get notified of the upcoming book Primal Teams: Harnessing the Incredible Power of Group Energy or sign up for a monthly summary of articles.


About the Author:

Jackie Barretta is a writer, speaker and consultant helping organizations strengthen agility and performance by shaping emotional energy. She is a thought leader bringing to light the new science of group emotional energy and connecting it to business performance. She has had a 28-year award winning career as a C-level Fortune 500 executive and Big Four consulting firm professional.
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  1. Christina Lattimer  October 5, 2012

    Hi Jackie, thanks for what is for me a very relevant article. I love the concept and have seen such involvement achieved and when it is, team spirit is outstanding. In my experience I think leaders don’t go down the line of involving employees to such an extent for a few reasons. a) they aren’t convinced that the commitment of time with employees will give a corresponding return in the achievement of external results, b) they are not sure about where to draw the line on the issues to be “out there”, (a control issue) and finally c) they believe the process will simply slow the pace too much to justify the benefits. I hasten to add I don’t subscribe to these mostly, but just relaying what I have observed.

  2. Jackie Barretta  October 5, 2012

    Christina, I think you’re right about why leaders don’t typically involve employees to this degree. I believe this will change as leaders understand more about human creative ability and its value in business. For most companies, it is the key driver of success. In 2010 IBM surveyed over 1500 global CEO’s and they concluded that the creative ability of their workforce is the number one key driver of success into the future. Team spirit is crucial to creative ability, and I recently saw some research on the most successful entrepreneurial organizations and how they all had a particular team spirit that fostered creativity and success.


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