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Does Good Communication with Employees Mean All Employees Get Decision Making Rights?


I am often asked by leaders and managers in client firms why the item in our engagement survey, “I am asked for input on decisions that will impact my job”, is important. Many managers tell me they have the authority to make change and employees should recognize that. 

Why is this so important for engaging employees?

You may have seen my article referencing Malcom Gladwell’s discussion of legitimate authority. According to Gladwell, one critical element of having legitimate authority is giving employees a voice in the process. 

You may also recall my conversation about a year ago with Clive Bedoe of WestJet about how seeking employee input has worked for him.

Both of these articles point to the need to communicate with employees and engage them in change initiatives. If you want to foster a truly engaged workplace, you must seek employee input on decisions.

I would suggest organizations have four levels of communication– and in the best case scenario, leaders would ensure each employee reaches at least level two for every decision that affects their job.

Here are the four levels:

1. To Be Informed

I have maintained throughout my career in senior leadership roles that, at a minimum, employees should expect to be kept informed.

Keeping employees informed will answer some, if not all, of the following employee questions:

  • Why are we making these changes?
  • How will it impact me in my job?
  • How will this benefit me?
  • How will this benefit our customers?
  • And so on.

In this role, employees have no decision making authority; however, it cannot be a one way dialogue. Employees should have the opportunity to ask questions, make suggestions, and offer alternative solutions. 

A caring leader must work hard to create a full level of comfort with the decisions being made.

Employee communication2. To Be Consulted

In other situations (such as at WestJet), the company culture encourages involvement and consultation with employees.

Employees often have innovative solutions that you haven’t thought of, and are able to notice roadblocks you might miss. After all, these are the same employees who deal with the logistics of the business and the realities of the customers on a daily basis.

Consulting with employees gives them a voice in the business, helping you broaden your perspective when making decisions. It also gives them the drive to implement the decisions when it comes time, as they feel involved in the decision making process.

3. To Provide Approval

In some cases, the people involved have the right to approve.

For example, this is appropriate when an employee task group is given the challenge of assessing an issue and bringing a recommendation to the manager for discussion. Another example is when the employee is the General Manager of the location in question.

In these instances and many others, you will want to solicit approval from employees before implementing a decision.

4. To Decide

The ultimate decision-making power is usually reserved for a team of senior leaders or the board of directors. However, informing and consulting with employees along the way will ensure they feel respected and involved in the choices that impact their jobs.

Engagement Begins with Communication

As you can see, every change must start with being informed and end in a decision. It is the leadership’s prerogative to decide which level each employee should be permitted to reach. But at a minimum, all employees should be informed – and in my opinion, consulted with as well.

When employees do not feel informed and consulted with, I begin to see lower engagement scores.

Of course, not all issues or changes require this much rigor – but I contend that companies always need to think about how they’re engaging their employees.

You should give careful consideration to the various roles employees can play and the need for constant communication to build a culture of involvement and engagement.

>> How engaged are your employees? Contact us now to set up an employee engagement survey and find out!

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Written by Dwight Lacey

Dwight Lacey

Dwight is the President at Workplace Engagement Insights. He leads Workplace Engagement Insights with a clear understanding of the latest employee engagement research, survey best practices, and leadership styles that create successful businesses.

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