June 21, 2018

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Moving to participative management means moving from managing to leading

Dear Joan:

Our company is trying to move from an authoritative style of management to a more participative one. Employees are being asked to be on committees and many are offering suggestions on many topics.

Our president is a believer in participative management and wants the managers to involve our employees in making decisions on everything from the marketing plan to our office layout. Although the employees are eager to participate some of the managers are reluctant to let go and let them make decisions. Some of the managers are resisting this culture change and feel threatened by all the input top management is getting from our employees.

Some of the managers are concerned about the time it is taking to involve everyone in all decisions. They are questioning the time it is taking to get anything done. We are a medium-sized company and aren't heavily staffed. All the meetings we are holding to make a five dollar decision are turning some managers off. As a manager myself, I don't question the wisdom of employee involvement but where do you draw the line?


It was easier in the old management made the rules, told employees what to do, made all the decisions and left little room for input. Today, in an effort to involve employees, leaders find themselves in uncharted waters and they get caught in the weeds. Some have discovered that giving employees complete power to make all decisions is just as ineffective as keeping all the power for themselves.

Companies embarking on the continuous improvement journey often find that leading the culture change is tougher than they thought because it requires a shift from managing to leading. For instance, at your company, perhaps the top management team needs to consider these points.

  • The management team needs to provide the overall focus and direction of employee involvement. Without direction, employees don't know what to work on or why and begin to tackle trivial issues or broad topics beyond their scope. Teams need to work on important, relevant business issues that will move the organization toward a commonly understood goal and it's management's job to determine what that goal is.

  • Employee empowerment doesn't mean managers should lie down and play dead. On the contrary, managers need to be actively involved in structuring the decision-making process so that it makes sense and involves the right people for the right reasons at the right times.

For instance, an employee project team must understand the parameters it needs to work within. Turning a group of employees loose on a topic without all the necessary information and a clear set of realistic boundaries is irresponsible. The team usually ends up putting in hours of work only to find out that their solution won't be acceptable to management. The main reason management has been able to make better decisions than employees is because they had more information, so management must transfer that information so employees can make informed decisions.

  • The degree of employee participation will vary by topic. For instance, if management already knows what the decision must be, why not be honest? In a case like this it's better to make the decision but then explain why. The more the decision affects an employee group the more they should be involved. Managers need to ask themselves, "On this issue, can I live with whatever decision the employees make?" The answer will help determine how much latitude to give.

  • Be careful not to cut the middle managers out of the loop. In an effort to listen to employees, some companies fail to include managers and then run into resistance from them. Managers have the information and experience the employees need to make decisions. For years their job has been to control information and information is power. They will wonder what will happen to them when their "power" is in the hands of their employees. As their role changes from director to facilitator, top management must develop managers for that transition. Instead of being ignored in the change process, managers should play an active role with employees as team leaders, team sponsors, facilitators and advisors and work with top management to plan and implement the changes.

Does your team need a tune-up?

We will conduct a detailed assessment and get to the bottom of the problem. We will provide you with detailed recommendations and work with you, and your team, to implement needed changes. We work with all levels within your organization, team or department. We have an excellent track record of success with teams in a variety of industries. Call us today for information at (800) 348-1944.

Internal Consulting Skills for HR Professionals is Joan Lloyd’s intensive, interactive full-day workshop for HR practitioners. Human resources professionals—both functional experts and generalists—have a new found opportunity to act as internal consultants who can help their organizations with organizational changes, performance coaching, conflict mediation and other value-added services. This workshop focuses on giving HR professionals the tools and strategies they need to help their organizations as well as advance their careers.

As a participant, you will have an opportunity to work on the problems and opportunities you face in your own organization, as well as to hear innovative ideas from other organizations. Few training opportunities provide this level of intimate, hands-on experience. Call us for information about having Joan Lloyd work with your HR Team (800) 348-1944.

- Joan Lloyd

Joan Lloyd has a solid track record of excellent results. Her firm, Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding. This includes executive coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, customized leadership training, conflict resolution between teams or individuals, internal consulting skills training for HR professionals and retreat facilitation. Clients report results such as: behavior change in leaders, improved team performance and a more committed workforce.

About Joan Lloyd

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