Making good use of employee involvement in decisions


Many managers are striving to get more employee involvement in decision-making, and some managers find it frustrating.

"Not only do we discuss an item to death, we often revisit the same issue a month later," one manager said. Inability to get closure, unequal participation by members and taking too long to reach a decision are other typical complaints.

The Nominal Group Technique is an effective way to reduce the typical complaints of employee involvement. After the manager identifies the topic of discussion, then he or she directs the group through a structured brainstorming process involving four phases:

* Individual thoughts. Participants are asked to write down their individual ideas on the issue. These may include alternatives, options, benefits, problems, application steps and the like. During this phase, which typically is limited to 5 to 15 minutes, individuals do not confer with others.

* Idea sharing. The group leader asks each participant, in turn, to provide only one idea off his or her list. Each idea is recorded on a flip chart without discussion. The leader continues around the group, usually through three or four complete cycles, until all ideas are on the chart.

Individuals may say "pass" if all their ideas are on the list, and they may offer ideas that come to them spontaneously during the listing.

It is critical to prevent any attempt at group discussion or clarification during this phase.

* Discussion. During discussion, participants explain their thoughts, ask questions, lobby for certain items on the list, combine items and make sure people understand the meaning of all items on the list.

* Ranking. The final phase is to narrow and focus on the most important ideas. Typically, the leader asks individuals to select the ideas that they think are most significant and write them on a sheet of paper. There is no further discussion during this phase. Individuals may select as many items as they wish.

Finally, the leader read each item, asks for a show of hands indicating how many think that the idea is very important and records the number of votes on the flip chart. Typically, two to four ideas will surface with strong group support.

Not only does this method typically get good decisions, it also gains strong commitment to the decision.

Gerald Graham is a professor at Wichita State University and a management consultant. Send questions to The Wichita Eagle, P.O. Box 820, Wichita, Kan. 67201. He will answer representative questions in the newspaper but cannot respond to every request.

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