How to engage staff in decision-making

When times are hard some organisations have been known to say “turkeys don’t vote for Christmas” and ignore the views of staff when making changes.

The wiser route to is to recognise that people at the frontline are in a very good position to say how things can be made to work better.

Employee engagement is now seen as a way of achieving the goal of doing more with less by tapping into the knowledge and creativity of frontline staff and managers.

Here are 10 factors that require thought before proper staff engagement can occur.

10 steps to engage staff

Senior managers don’t have all the answers. They need to recognise that a willingness to listen does not show a lack of resolve. The ability to take on board criticism without appearing defensive and the willingness to explain decisions show true confidence without arrogance.

Frontline staff know what really goes on and have suggestions for improvements.

People don’t say what they really think if they are afraid. The fear may be of being publicly rebuked, labelled as disloyal or jeopardising their career.

Managers need to lead by example and routinely explain decisions.

Staff questionnaires, employee engagement groups, and a “director’s blog” will work only if they receive a quick and positive response from senior managers.

Don’t be surprised at first if the only people who engage are the ones who want to moan about management – this is normal.

If senior management is not prepared to address issues about its performance, staff will assume you are not serious about changing things.

What does it say about your organisation if you talk all the time about listening to service users but ignore your staff?

Middle managers will need reassuring that they are not being bypassed if staff use employee engagement initiatives to speak directly to senior management.

Employee engagement is not a substitute for working with trade unions but it does recognise that in many organisations less than half of staff belong to a trade union.

If staff engagement is to be more than an opportunity to moan about “management” but change the way things are done, two things must happen. The organisation needs to be a safe place to say what you think, and management style needs to be more people-focused.

Blair McPherson was until recently a senior manager in a local authority. He is author of People Management in a Harsh Financial Climate published by See also 

This article is published in the 26 August issue of Community Care magazine under the heading How to …engage with staff in decision-making

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