Psychology in Business Series 2011: Involving Staff in Decision Making

Involving Staff in Decision Making in Business Change

In the last article we focused on how to introduce change into businesses and organisations. One important aspect of introducing change was to appropriately involve staff form all levels of the business in decision making processing. In this article we will take a closer look at this process and open discussion on what best works, what does not work and why.

Generally speaking, when we allow people to participate in decision making in any sort of group, we encourage group ownership, positive participation and openness to receiving, embracing and promoting change. Involving staff can significantly increase the business readiness to accept even difficult changes within the business.

However, there is a fine line between creating opportunities for staff participation in decision making and appropriately guiding changes within the business that will work. So the forums for staff input need to be structured with realistic boundaries and clear about the scope of how their information will be used in the business or organisation. For example, let’s say a hypothetical business wants to increase its use of social media and internet technology into its daily functions. The initiative for that change and its desired goal has already been decided on before staff involvement. These goals are not up for negotiation! Rather, it is how these goals will best work within this business that is up for discussion and negotiation. For the purpose of this consultation, staff may be invited to participate in focus groups top brainstorm and discuss which positions in this business are best suited to take these roles and what are realistic and achievable parameters for these changes.

The focus group in this example has two purposes. Firstly, there is valuable expertise that these staff hold that can guide this

initiative successfully within the context of this particular business. Secondly, if staff have been given authentic opportunity to input into these decisions, they will be far more likely to co-operate and take these new roles and duties seriously.

What tends to not work well is when change is forced on staff in a top down approach. This is especially true if the staffare professionally trained and have ideas of their own about what works well and what does not. No body likes to be told what to do. Processes such as focus groups can embrace respect for staff as well as capitalize on staff expertise. After all, staff members do have a pretty good idea what is realistic and achievable and what are potential barriers to implementing change within their own workplace.

Another important point in this example is to be clear from the beginning of the focus group why they are participating, how their information will be used and what will be done with it after the change has been implemented. It is OK to keep this information for 10 years in the business and used to inform future changes, but it just needs to be said upfront to the staff members involved.

Finally, being accountable, transparent and real to the staff members involved to the consultations is vital for successful change to be implemented into a business or organisation. If staff open up and give management information about their experience on their positions, it is important for management to inform them how their information was used. Some organisations have run “token” focus groups that just built up member’s expectations of positive change without delivering the goals or following up to feed back to the members of those focus groups. Staff and consumer groups know when this happen and it does nothing for morale or productivity. Being “real” is important as it gives staff a clear message that they are valuable in the business they work for.

Focus groups are just one method of including staff in decision making. Other methods include surveys, one on one interviews, and adding questions into reviews or reports. However staff are asked, the same principles apply. Be up front about why they are being asked and about the scope and use of their information. Be transparent and accountable to them about how their input has influenced changes within the business. And use their information respectfully and appropriately.

Stay tuned for our last article on psychology in business when we look at responsiveness to staff well-being. After all, a business’ mental health is only as good the mental health of its staff!


8 Responses to “Psychology in Business Series 2011: Involving Staff in Decision Making”

  • Jill Chivers:

    Great piece Vanessa. I worked in change leadership for a huge consulting firm for many years, and one of the things we had to be careful to balance was the need for consultation and involvement in decision-making processes…. and being clear on what the boundaries were on issues that could (and could not) be changed. If people are consulted on an issue and then their input is ignored (or there’s a perception that it’s ignored), it backfires terribly – people feel they’ve been ‘had’ in some way, and it can lead to a lot of resentment. So, an excellent point about getting that balance right!

    • Vanessa:

      Hi Jill, fantastic… you have experience in the same sort of challenges when consulting staff in decision making. Yes, people do feel incredibly ripped off or even betrayed when they see their contributions are not taken on board and acted upon. Thank you for your response to my post.

  • Suzanne Robertson:

    Hi Vanessa,

    Really good to see a post on involving staff in decision making processes! I have previously worked for a service where major changes were implemented and management made it very clear that they were not interested in any staff input or discussion about the changes. This led to staff suffering from completely avoidable stress and low morale. As staff work was monitored, management could see an obvious decline in productivity. The ironic thing is the organisation had a policy on managing change but they didn’t follow it!

    • Vanessa:

      Hi Suzanne, excellent points! Often organisations and businesses think it will take to much time and resources to involve staff in decision making and yet the benefits often far out way the expense when you see the results of good staff involvement. I think it up holds the integrity of the business and motivates a positive and co-operative community when staff are actively valued in decision making.

      Thank you for your comment, Vanessa

  • Kylie Huckstepp:

    Great article Vanessa – seen both sides – the “token” focus group (really bad for morale – worse than the top down change enforcement I think because it breeds cynicism) and then again Business Process Improvement workshops as we ran at IBM in the 90s and early naughties – very good – the workgroup explained their process, worked with the BPI person to iron out process redundancies and problems, all signed on new process and then system redesigned to support new process – this was great and worked about 80% of the time without drama.

    • Vanessa:

      Thank you Kylie for sharing your experiences, they really demonstrate the value of involving staff in decision making.

  • Lisa Wood:

    Be good if more business asked Staff to help with decision making! Maybe then more work would get done in the work place.

    I have heard of one company, that was in huge trouble because they were losing so much money. A new owner came along, and pulled the staff into a meeting. He asked them all to write out a list of what could be done to change the company, and to help make more money..within six months that company was booming. Goes to show that if you ask the staff for input, then you will get the results.


    • Vanessa:

      Hi Lisa, thank you for your comment! This is a great example of how powerful involving staff in company decision making can be!