Parameters for employee involvement in decision-making



Dear Joan:
My manager prides himself on involving his workers in many decisions such as the hiring of new workers. The problem is that he tries to control the process. This leaves our team frustrated and feeling like they have been manipulated.


An example occurred recently concerning the hiring of a new employee. My manager had everyone that would work directly with the new employee involved in the interviewing and hiring process (this meant that five people were involved). After the interviews, a meeting was held with the group to determine which candidate my manager wanted to hire. He discussed his choice in glowing terms and acknowledged few strength’s in others. He attempted to control the decision. Members of the group that initially were neutral (about hiring one of the two equally qualified candidates) changed their choice to the other candidate my manager did not support. As a result, everyone in the group supported the second candidate, while my manager supported his candidate alone.


The choice of the group was hired, but the process left the group frustrated with the manager. This attempted control of the group process occurs in other areas with regularity. What is the best way to approach the subject with our manager?


We judge ourselves by our best intentions while others judge us by our last worst act. Your supervisor has good intentions. Unfortunately, he is confused by what participative management really means. He is among a large group of managers who think that involvement means getting a group of employees together so they "feel better" about doing what the manager wants. Because the manager isn't issuing a direct order, he or she feels that they have "involved" employees.


I'm familiar with other managers who want to "empower" employees by forming teams to work on problems but they give them little direction and no authority. The group works hard with the information they have but when they propose their solution the management team blocks them. Why? Because management knows their solution won't work. It's no wonder, when the employee group didn't have the same information the management group had. Employees become cynical fast. Nobody likes to feel patronized or manipulated.


Many managers are stumbling around this idea of "involvement" without a clear sense of what it really requires. For instance, a senior executive I know said, "This whole idea of participative management really seems like a mistake. We're letting these employees groups get together and then we're forced to do what they want, even if it's not a good idea. If we don't take their recommendation, they'll think we aren't really letting them participate."


Whoa! Stop! Wise managers know that there are degrees of participation and the degree of involvement should fit the situation. People will appreciate knowing what their parameters really are. Imagine a continuum with the two extremes at either end:


Boss makes decision ----------- Employees make decision. There are many degrees of involvement in between. For example:

1.    Boss makes decision alone and mandates implementation

2.    Boss makes decision- asks for help with implementation

3.    Boss gets input before he/she makes decision

4.    Boss and group decide together

5.    Group works alone but checks with boss before implementation

6.    Group decides alone and implements, informs boss later

The degree of group authority should increase when you can answer "yes" to questions like these:

1.    Is the group closest to the situation?

2.    Will the solution affect their jobs?

3.    Do they need to commit to the solution?

4.    Does the group understand the criteria that must be met in order for them to have a satisfactory solution?

5.    Does the group understand the parameters they must stay within?

6.    Does the group understand the politics of the situation?

7.    Does the group know who the stakeholders are and how/when to communicate with them?

8.    Do they have all the right information and have the right resources at their disposal?

Perhaps the next time your manager asks for involvement, you can find out where he is on the decision continuum before you begin. Ask him questions about the degree of authority the group has. Ask him if he has any solutions in mind before you begin the discussion. And perhaps the most important question of all is "If we decide to do something that is different from your solution, will you be able to give it your wholehearted support without reservation If he can't, you need to find out how much control he is really willing to let go. 

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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