Employee involvement is creating an environment in which people have an impact on decisions and actions that affect their jobs. Employee involvement is not the goal nor is it a tool, as practiced in many organizations. Rather, it is a management and leadership philosophy about how people are most enabled to contribute to continuous improvement and the ongoing success of their work organization.
Employee Involvement Model
For people and organizations that desire a model to apply, there is a simple one developed from work by Tannenbaum and Schmidt (1958) and Sadler (1970). They provide a continuum for leadership and involvement that includes an increasing role for employees and a decreasing role for leaders in the decision process. The continuum includes this progression.
Tell: the leader makes the decision and announces it to staff. The leader provides complete direction. Tell is useful when communicating about safety issues, government regulations and for decisions that neither require nor ask for employee input.
Sell: the leader makes the decision and then attempts to gain commitment from staff by “selling” the positive aspects of the decision. Sell is useful when employee commitment is needed, but the decision is not open to employee influence.
Consult: the leader invites input into a decision while retaining authority to make the final decision themselves. The key to a successful consultation is to inform employees on the front end of the discussion that their input is needed, but the leader is retaining the authority to make the final decision. This is the level of involvement that can create employee dissatisfaction most readily when this is not clear to the people providing input.
Join: the leader invites employees to make the decision with the leader. The leader considers his/her voice equal in the decision process. The key to a successful Join is when the leader truly builds consensus around a decision and is willing to keep her/his influence equal to that of the others providing input.
Delegate: the leader turns the decision over to another party. The key to successful delegation is to always build a feedback loop and a timeline into the process. The leader must also share any “preconceived picture” or vision he has of the anticipated outcome of the process.
The benefits of employee involvement typically far outweigh the potential pit falls. Advantages of a collaborative environment include an increased employee buy-in, a better understanding of the overall goals, an increase in the both the quantity and quality of generated ideas, as well as clarification of the message. It does require a larger amount of time which can be seen as a potential pit fall, but in most situations this is far outweighed by the attributed benefits. In situations structured by a short time span, or when only one message needs to be communicated with no further discussion, the Tell or Sell approach will be more effective.