“Michael, you’ve frequently been talking when you teach classes on the importance of engagement and buy-in. You’ve said that when leaders involve their team members in decision-making and win their trust, and this turns the “I have to” into ‘I am able to, and I believe that there is the power of this. I think that when people feel they have ‘the right to take action, they are able to put an amount of effort into it than where they feel they “must” perform something. But, it doesn’t make sense for my company because …”
Do you sound familiar? What comes from the executive’s mouth will be the justification to explain why engagement isn’t working.
Let’s make it crystal clear about this. Engaging people is difficult. It’s usually simpler to make the decision rather than involve others in the decision-making process. Engagement is a process that takes time and is a common way to delay things. If you engage, you must listen, a talent that many of us are still working to improve. However, when those affected by the decision are given very little or no input with the making of that decision or deciding how the decision should be implemented, A lack of commitment is usually the result.
What happens when people don’t purchase? The majority time, nothing happens. In those instances when there is a problem, the outcomes are usually not what was expected because people are dragging their feet and hindering the process and causing sub-optimal performance, etc.
If engagement is that crucial, why can’t leaders encourage their staff to participate more actively in their decision-making? Here are seven common misconceptions confident leaders are convinced of.
#1. People like me are lazy. They’re just looking at the instructions of someone else on how they should do.
Each company has employees who simply want to be instructed on what to do. But, in the average workplace, this type of group is shrinking rapidly. The X, Y, and millennial generation have little interest in working environments in which they are just an assortment of hands and feet. The generation wants to feel active and be able to hear.
#2. They’re just worried about their particular area. They don’t want to take the corporate position.
It is also an accurate statement. If left on their own, individuals tend to take a narrow, “how does it impact me” viewpoint.
To counter this trend, we create basic rules of conduct at the beginning of the engagement process. “Take the Big View” is a common one to achieve this goal. I describe it as follows, “Many of us may have entered this meeting with the intention to maximize the use of our time and space. If this is the way we plan to conduct our day, we must stop the meeting right now as there’s no way it’s going to be productive when each one of us is fighting for our own personal needs. If we intend to go on with the meeting and agree on an objective is to decide what’s best for the business, and this involves making decisions with the interests of the company in the first place. This is known as taking”the big picture. If you’re not convinced you can see the full view from the room, I’d suggest that you quit immediately. (pause) We must all agree that if for some reason we slip into the small view, someone should shout out, “Let’s not forget to get the full view.’
#3. It’s an unnecessary waste of time. They don’t agree on anything.
It’s possible to spend much time in meetings where people are arguing and arguing. Another common problem can be observed: leaders think they are in a consensus since the people did not speak or didn’t voice their opinions. However, once the meeting is over, the actual meeting starts, and people are able to voice their complaints and concerns in private discussions as well as at the water cooler on the internet (i.e., text messages).
We at Leadership Strategies believe disagreement and conflict can bring about innovative solutions and greater levels of participation. In order to be successful in doing this, leaders must be aware of the causes of disagreement and devise efficient strategies to move from conflict to resolution. The disagreements that arise can be a means for collaboration and more effective solutions if they are correctly handled.
#4. Why should I bother them? They don’t understand what I perceive.
Leaders typically possess a broader perspective than their employees of the elements that influence the success of their organization. Although each member of their team might be involved in particular areas of the problem, leaders are the ones with a broader view and are able to take into consideration the issues and concerns that their employees are probably not aware of. Therefore, a lack of education could lead to poor choices.
In order for their employees to be actively involved in the decision-making process, leaders should provide them with the knowledge and information they require to be successful. Leaders should help their followers learn from what’s been accomplished before, how it has been successful, what didn’t work, and any limitations or obstacles.
Remember that while leaders might have an awareness of problems that their colleagues are likely to not be aware of, in a similar way, their followers will likely be aware of issues that need to be addressed that the leader is not aware of!
#5. When I inquire what they should do, they’ll consider me to be dumb or weak as a leader.
Generations past have typically viewed uncertainty and indecision as an indication of weak points. However, people in the current generation generally appreciate leaders who solicit their opinions and who acknowledge their mistakes, and are willing to rethink their previous decisions. Being open is considered to be an asset, and listening is an exercise that builds power.
#6. If I ask them to, what happens if they don’t respond to what I’d like them to say?
When leaders know that the correct answer is it is not worth inquiring. Asking for input on decisions that have already been reached is unproductive for everyone. In addition, their followers could be conditioned to see solicitations for engagements as disguised attempts to manipulate. (When one attempts to use techniques for facilitation to have the group come up with a predetermined answer, we call it “manipulation.”)
There are a variety of options for manipulating. For instance, in strategic planning, when the leaders have a vision considered to be the ideal solution for their business, it is not worth the time to ask participants in the planning process what they think that the vision should be. Instead, we let leaders discuss their ideas about the vision. Then, we ask the participants to list their opinions about the vision and suggest suggestions to make it better. Typically, we will have the whole group talk about the suggestions for improvement and then decide on which suggestions to suggest an idea to the head of the group. Leaders are present during the entire discussion and are present as additional participants. After the vote has been taken, the leader then decides (either in the course of the discussion or after the meeting) what suggestions to consider.
Another way to make fasciculation work is to alter the question. Utilizing the example from the previous paragraph, if you believe that the vision is actually an actual “given,” instead of asking what the vision should look like, alter the question by explaining the vision which has been set, giving the participants the opportunity to make comments before asking “What are potential approaches for implementing the vision?” The discussion is focused on the execution of the vision and not the creation of the vision.
#7. None of us is so dumb as the rest of us.
“Groupthink” is the term employed to define the potential for groups to arrive at decisions nobody wants, but the group’s dynamics make it difficult for better thinking to prevail. The well-known film “The Road to Abilene” illustrates the way a group came to the conclusion that they should do something that none of the group wanted and all disapproved of once it was implemented. The old adage, “A camel is a horse made by committee,” is another illustration of group thought went wrong.
If leaders are concerned that the thought process of the group may result in inadequate solutions, they could look at the following strategies that have been suggested.
Instruct the group to ensure everyone has the knowledge to make educated decisions.
Make use of guidelines, for example, “take the big view,” to help people stay to think beyond their own personal interests.
The desired characteristics of the solution to make sure that the chosen solution meets the minimum requirements.
Use analysis strategies to encourage people to assess alternatives objectively by finding weaknesses and strengths, as well as the evaluation of alternatives against standards.
There are times where engagement might not be appropriate, instances where there is no room for discussion, or when the decision or the data supporting the decision must be protected from disclosure. But, considering the power obtained from full buy-in, we believe that engagement should be the norm instead of the one-off event.