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Joint Decisions: Brexit

The reaction of young people to Britain’s EU referendum can teach us a lot about workplace decision-making and the importance of getting involved.

Joint Decisions: Brexit

The fallout from this year’s Brexit referendum provides a fascinating insight into human nature, which interestingly has strong parallels with the workplace.

To recap, swathes of young people in Britain have been lamenting the fact that their futures have been ruined by the selfish older people who voted to quit the EU, yet probably won’t live to see the full extent of the damage they have caused. However, it is estimated that only 36 per cent of people in the 18–24-year-old category voted in the referendum, meaning that around 64 per cent of them didn’t even bother going to the polling station.

So, what relevance does this have to the workplace?

Well, if you have employees who sit back and complain about stuff, without playing an active role in instigating positive change, it’s time to get them more involved in your decision-making processes. In fact, the best (and perhaps, only) way to achieve effective and lasting change throughout your organisation is to involve your employees before a decision is handed down.


When people’s opinions are invited and genuinely valued, they will feel they’ve played an active role in the decision, instilling a sense of understanding and ownership that will drive successful implementation and positive, sustainable outcomes.

Closed meetings can lead to a cycle akin to Sylvia Plath’s infamous bell jar, and you just wind up breathing your own tepid air.

On the flipside, the risk of not seeking input is that staff might not understand the thinking behind the change, or feel that the consequences of the change have not been considered from their point of view. And when employees feel disempowered or ignored, they are more likely to become passive or disengaged, and eventually move on — leaving you to bear the significant disruption and costs associated with finding a suitable replacement.

As executives, it’s easy to get caught in a groupthink trap, where a succession of closed meetings can lead to a cycle akin to Sylvia Plath’s infamous bell jar, and you just wind up breathing your own tepid air. Inviting involvement and input from people at every level of your organisation can have the opposite effect — injecting fresh air and life into your business.

Bringing people from the shop floor into your discussions and decision-making can have numerous positive flow-on effects, bringing:

(The positive effects of bringing people from the shop floor into your discussions & decision making:)

  • Improved levels of purpose and engagement, as employees discover their input is important and valued
  • Fresh thinking, ideas, observations and insights from employees who are at the coalface of your operations
  • Better decision making, which takes into account the practical execution of ideas at an operational level — which in turn, will maximise the chance of successful outcomes, and
  • More motivated employees who (because they are enlisted in the process) feel a sense of ownership in decisions and changes, and will therefore be more likely to embrace them, and work harder to bring any resulting action points to fruition.

There are lots of ways to get employees more involved in your management processes, from inviting representatives from different parts of your organisation to executive meetings, to inviting input into specific discussions via email or your intranet site.

Whatever methods you choose, your intentions must be authentic. It’s important that employee input is heard and acknowledged, and that those involved are kept informed of the outcomes.

The danger of not acknowledging and keeping participants in the loop about what’s happened to their input is that your invitation of involvement could potentially be viewed cynically as a token gesture, which will actually have a negative effect on engagement.

Of course the level of enthusiasm and the quality of the input you receive from employees will depend on:

  • The ability of your executive team members to ask the right questions and extract the right information, and
  • The skill level, attitudes and behaviours of individual staff participants.

Usually those employees who are most willing to get involved — and who often provide the most valuable input — are switched-on high-achievers, who understand and embrace the bigger picture of your organisation’s vision and values.

Quality, values-aligned recruitment, combined with well-executed engagement and internal communications programs, will help increase the percentage of these standout performers in your organisation — and you should always make the most of their ideas and insights.

However, it’s also important to include both the quiet workplace wallflowers and known dissenters wherever possible, because they can often surprise you with their level of knowledge around a specific operation, function or customer group.

Sometimes an employee feels disenfranchised in their role because they are frustrated with a particular process or function. Getting their input and making any relevant improvements could boost operational efficiencies, and create a more engaged and purposeful employee at the same time.

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