Editor's Blog

It's A Limited Democracy

April 27, 2011

I’m all about giving employees a voice in your company. It’s one of the biggest WIIFMs (aka What’s In It For Me) you can create for coming to work at your company, staying a long-time with your company, and buying into your company and your culture, heart and soul.

The people who work for you need to be heard!

But, they need to be heard at the right time and in the right way.

Like a loving parent has a specific role as a leader who both involves and engages the whole family in a healthy family relationship, there are times that you, the owner-parent, must make unpopular decisions to benefit the company-family in the long run.

While seeking employees’ input and buy-in is important, you must be willing to make tough decisions that benefit the customer, the company and the staff because it’s the healthy thing to do for all concerned.

You want to be aware of what your employees’ concerns and motivations are, but you must always balance that with what you know to be the path the company must follow. Many times that can put you in conflict with what they express or desire. The truth is, your ability to lead will be tested every day. Ideally, you want to become the type of person that people willingly want to follow.

The best time and place to ask for your staff’s input is when you’re creating policies and procedures to run your company. The process will go a lot smoother and be more effective when you create them first and determine what is negotiable. That will allow you to approach them in a safe environment and say the following:

“Here are the policies and procedures as I’ve roughed them out. They’re not set in stone. I want and need your input. Just know that there are some policies and procedures that are nonnegotiable and as we go through them together, I will make it clear as to which are not up for discussion. What I seek is your input on these policies and procedures so we have something that will work first for our customers, our company and then ourselves. That is ultimately best for all of us.”

When your staff asks a question or seeks a change to a policy or procedure and it’s up for negotiation, I recommend you take their input whenever you can. Otherwise, they quickly confirm in their minds that you’ll ask for their opinion but you don’t really want it.

Your employees are entitled to be heard. And to prove they’ve been heard, they must hear something such as this from you:

“That’s a good point. It deserves some consideration. I will reflect on it and be back to you with an answer by next week.”

Then you’re obligated to say one of these three things:

    1. “Yes, we can change this policy [or procedure] the way you suggested.”

    2. “No, we can’t change our policy [or procedure] and here’s why…” (Have a good reason.)

    3. “For today, I want to go with what we have here and moving forward I promise to revisit this issue.”

Ultimately, it’s you who has to make the right decisions in a decisive manner. The better you share your reasoning, the more likely your staff is to follow it, especially if they feel they’ve been heard. Even if they don’t like your answer.


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