Every employee wants their voice to be heard, to feel valued and have ownership in the decision-making process.

How Listening to Direct Reports Can Improve Your Decision-Making

Article originally published in the American City Business Journals on October 30, 2018

Do you have a culture within your company that welcomes input from direct reports and encourages discussion about their views?

In a previous article headlined, “The ABCs of decision-making,” I wrote about the benefits of listening to the opinions of others within the organization. This is an update of that article.

Have you ever worked for a leader who wouldn’t listen to your ideas, or who wouldn’t ask for your opinion? I have. I would verbally share an idea with them and before I could finish, they would tell me that it wouldn’t work.

This type of boss saps the energy out of the organization. Employees turn off any desire to work more effectively, don’t go the extra mile for their customers and don’t put any energy into growing the business. This creates an undesirable work environment, and the best and brightest employees won’t stick around for long.

Learning from this experience, as a young leader, I adopted an open culture with my direct reports that encouraged them to share their opinion and input on any issue, and I expected that they in turn would do the same with their direct reports. I used the ABCs of decision making in order to come up with the best solution to an issue, relying on input from those employees with experience and expertise.

In my leadership roles, including CEO, I would normally ask for opinions on an issue before I shared my own proposals. However, on occasion, I might first propose that we go with solution A on a certain issue. Within our culture, an employee may then share their view that solution B might be the better option. The manner in which I communicated my response would convey how welcome their opinion was, and this would affect their desire to share their opinion on this issue and on future issues.

My approach would be to ask why they thought B was a better option than A. We would then discuss the alternatives for an hour, for a day or for however long was appropriate. We would also invite other employees with expertise on the subject and those with good critical judgment to join the discussion. All opinions were considered and valued before making the final decision.

One of three things would result from this process. I might sustain solution A and thank my employee for suggesting solution B and for creating the opportunity for solution A to be rigorously tested against an alternative. Or, if it became apparent that solution B was the better choice, I would choose B, thank my employee for suggesting it, and make sure they got credit for providing the best solution. This employee would feel empowered because their insights were valued, and their solution was chosen. They would also have a sense of ownership in the solution because they proposed it.

More often than not, however, by going through this process, solution C would emerge — a completely different solution or some amalgamation of A and B — which was far better than the alternatives. This outcome occurred only because we had an open culture that encouraged employees to propose alternatives and work collaboratively to determine the best solution. When we followed this process, we always felt confident that we had made the best decision, and indeed, we found that we rarely made a mistake.

Every employee wants their voice to be heard, to feel valued and have ownership in the decision-making process. The leaders who understand this and empower their employees to be active contributors will set themselves apart with better decision making and higher employee retention.

The same decision-making process holds true for decisions that you have complete authority to make but involve a high level of risk. To mitigate the risk, get other opinions. Many leaders feel that for decisions in which they have complete authority to make, it’s a weakness to ask others for their opinions. It’s not a weakness, it’s a strength.

Remember the ABCs of decision making. Your employees will feel engaged in the decision-making process, you will be a more effective leader and your organization will achieve better results.

Stan Silverman is founder and CEO of Silverman Leadership. He is a speaker, advisor and nationally syndicated writer on leadership, entrepreneurship and corporate governance. Silverman earned a Bachelor of Science degree in chemical engineering and an MBA degree from Drexel University. He is also an alumnus of the Advanced Management Program at the Harvard Business School. He can be reached at Stan@SilvermanLeadership.com. Follow Silverman on LinkedIn and on Twitter, @StanSilverman.

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