Oct
02

The Kids’ Table

by  Julie Winkle-Giulioni  |  Leadership Development

What happened to ‘employee involvement’? Has it gone out of vogue?  Has it been replaced by new initiatives?  These are questions I’ve come up against recently as I’ve worked with organizations across a variety of industries.

kidstableThe most pointed (and poignant) way I’ve heard the issue raised was from a gracious, intelligent, capable professional who shared:

“I feel like they’re making me sit at the kids’ table.”

We all can relate to this. Remember those awkward ‘tween years when you weren’t grown up enough to join the adults but were clearly too grown up to eat with the kiddies with whom you found yourself sitting? It was embarrassing. It was insulting. It was a waste of time.

The difference is that in the workplace, these aren’t kids; they’re smart, able professionals. And this isn’t an isolated meal; it’s people’s careers and businesses’ bottom-lines.

After years of corporate belt-tightening, organizations have learned to live with the effects of all the downsizing, staff reductions, reorganizations, and outsourcing. They’ve learned to protect their (ever-shrinking base of) employees’ time and energy by:

  • Figuring things out for them.
  • Solving problems for them.
  • Making decisions for them (about them, and without them).
  • Seating them at the kids’ table!

No wonder employee engagement statistics are abysmal. No wonder ‘intent to leave’ is so great among workers today.

The research of Deci and Ryan nearly four decades ago points to autonomy as a primary psychological need that we all bring to work. It involves the experience of choice, volition, and willingness.  It’s the ability to self-organize and regulate one’s own behavior.  It’s at the core of involvement… and unfortunately, it’s also a casualty of today’s time and resource-strapped organizations.

Yet some organizations are finding ways to enhance autonomy and involve employees in meaningful – yet efficient – ways that invite them to the big table.

  • Culture councils are a powerful tool for bringing employees together, leveraging their perspectives, and engaging them in decisions that affect them and their work.
  • Assigning an employee to be a regular attendee at executive committee meetings is an effective way of ensuring that the C-suite stays in touch with the reality of the organization. But it’s equally effective as understanding flows in the other direction, helping employees better appreciate the complexity and issues faced by executives.
  • Just the simple act of allowing employees to determine how and when they’ll do their work goes a long way toward elevating autonomy and involvement levels… and the positive effects that follow.

So, perhaps it’s time to resuscitate employee involvement in your organization.

Perhaps it’s time to put that extra leaf in the dining room table and make some extra space.

Perhaps it’s time to shut down the kids’ table and invite your employees to take their rightful place at the big table with you.

Image: http://www.flickr.com/photos/makelessnoise/466769907/sizes/m/in/photostream/

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What People Are Saying

Karin Hurt  |  05 Oct 2013  |  Reply

Great post. I’ve also found that sometimes employees put themselves at the “kids table.” Sometimes literally in meetings. I’m constantly encouraging employees to pull their chair up to the main table (they act as if there’s no room and sit on the sidelines). They’re afraid to presume a bigger chair. It’s important that leaders don’t sell themselves short as well.

Mike Henry  |  05 Oct 2013  |  Reply

Karin, this is a key point as well. We need to be looking for opportunities to solve bigger problems and take more responsibility. We also need to question the signals we interpret as instruction to stay at the kids table. Great addition. Mike…

Mike Henry  |  05 Oct 2013  |  Reply

Great post and wonderful challenge Julie. I don’t know what it is about business leaders who won’t involve their people. Every time I’ve seen leaders who actively viewed their own success as a direct outcome of the success of their people, I’ve seen a successful enterprise. It not only makes money, but it gives life to its employees, its customers and even its suppliers. The more I examine organizations, the more I believe the single key to success is leadership focused on growing and developing employees. Thanks for the challenging post.

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