Better Boss - Involvement


People like to feel they are involved in and contributing to their company.  When we don’t feel personally involved in the company we work for, most of us feel disconnected.  Large company or small company the feelings are the same.  The feeling that our ideas and suggestions are not that important makes us feel dejected or unwanted.  And the feelings you have when you are not included in decisions can be profound.  Lack of involvement can be a significant contributor to reduced enthusiasm and overall happiness at work.  Morale decreases, motivation decreases, creativity decreases and initiative decreases.  Once someone does not feel involved and that disconnect sets in, it’s very difficult to change those feelings.  These sometimes-strong feelings manifest themselves into a cancer within the organization.  Like cancer, the effects can progress silently for some time, spreading until it’s too late.  Indeed, we now know the effects happening in our brains when we feel excluded. Using functional magnetic imaging (fMRI), neuroscientists are able to “see” what happens to our brains when we feel excluded. This experience of social rejection activates an area of the brain that is also activated in response to physical pain. This is not a soft topic that should be dismissed with a “just get over it” response. This gives literal meaning to someone’s comment, “Your hurt my feelings.”  There may not be a physical bruise that you can see, but there sure is a mental bruise. The mental effects reduces people’s performance because it causes an emotional distraction.


We have all felt it (or will feel it) sometime in our career.  What is really going on here?  Are you really being excluded on purpose, or is management just too wrapped up in business to notice?  If it’s on purpose, then you need to understand why.  Is it political?  Is it cultural?  Is it personal?  If political then do you want stay in the organization and play politics?  If it’s part of the culture, then you need to decide if you can thrive in this type of environment.  If you are in middle management, you should make sure everyone who directly reports to you feels included.  If you are a boss then please understand that an environment where people are excluded either on purpose or by accident is eroding the effectiveness of your company, and may be the underlying cause of many existing problems.  Remember, people usually will not know or be able to express their true feelings about what is going on.  It’s up to you to put the pieces together and continuously look for clues about why you have the problems you have. Finally, if it’s personal then consider addressing the problem head-on with your boss, or maybe it’s time to look for something else.


I feel I can say with supreme confidence that your organization is peppered with many individuals (some very close to you) right now who feel management hasn’t a clue about what they are doing.  These individuals are gathering in secret places to discuss everything that is wrong with you, management, and the company.  That said, there are ONLY two possibilities to conclude here (and don’t laugh): 1) they are right about many of their opinions; or 2) they are wrong about many of their opinions[1]Either possibility can lead to exciting positive and long lasting improvements to your business – but only the humble will reap the benefits.  Let me explain.  If it turns out the people are right then you literally have gold mine of opportunity for improvements.  But if you can’t humble yourself and realize you may be part of the problem then don’t open this can of worms.  Many of the problems may be pointed at you or areas of your responsibility.  This can be hard to accept for some people.  Your first reaction will be to get defensive. The result will be a massive “bitch session” leaving everyone feeling worse and further reinforcing earlier beliefs. If you are humble, however, and really listen and try to change the perceptions or problems, then the people within your company (or area of responsibility) will make leaps and bounds in attitude, morale, and yes improved effectiveness and happiness in your business. If done right, involving people can pay huge dividends.


In order to involve people, you need to be ready to manage the perceptions floating around your company. So how do we tackle the perceptions, (or should I say misperceptions?) that are going on in your organization?  As the old saying goes, "there are three sides to every story; yours, mine, and the truth.”  Your job is to find the truth, or at least come close.  I'm sure you may think that any misperceptions going on in your organization are because people just don't have the same information you do, so they don't completely understand why certain decisions are made.  Although I understand the simplicity of shrugging this off - don't.  Misperceptions are the basis for many problems within a company (and in life incidentally), and should be looked at as a serious situation needing attention.  The best way to get started cracking the misperception about employee involvement is to actually start including people in more decisions. Consultant and author Jim Clemmer writes, "An involved work force not only implements changes more effectively, but also, if properly guided and trained, the work force makes better improvement decisions."   Obvious, but not easily accomplished.  Management needs to find the right balance between involving people in decisions, and creating a quagmire of discussions and meetings that ultimately reduce effectiveness. If your company does not currently have a culture that welcomes ideas and involves people in decisions then you will have a difficult time with this. Culture is the foundation for any new leadership practice, so be sure to evaluate this first. If your culture is conducive to involvement then it becomes a matter of who you involve and when. The sooner you can involve people with various viewpoints, the more effective your decisions will be. Who you involve depends on the size and scope of the project or decision. The bigger the size and scope the more people you should include. Bigger projects can be littered with pitfalls and problems that can be prevented or minimized with different perspectives.


To summarize, excluding people can cause people to feel rejected and distracts them from their work. Involving people and getting feedback benefits you and your business because you either receive a wealth of improvement ideas, or better transparency. Involvement inevitably brings out perceptions that may not be accurate and it is your job as boss to manage the perceptions that can cause negative effects or creates a negative atmosphere in your business.


[1] One could argue that since it’s someone’s opinion then there is no right or wrong. But for the purpose of this discussion we are talking about opinions based on perceptions. If perceptions are unfounded then it is up to management to do their best to change the perceptions.