Tell Your Employees Why!

The benefits of explaining the rationale behind management decision to your people and asking for their input

In a recent conversation with a friend of mine who works for a Fortune 500 corporations, she complained about some recent procedures their management had decided to implement. To her these new rules were motivated by management’s laziness and desire to pass work down to the lower ranks. After listening to her complaints, I suggested she ask her manager directly about the reasoning behind these rules without sounding confrontational. I ran into her a few weeks later and asked how it went. Her attitude about her work and management had shifted 180 degrees and she was quite excited about the changes. It turns out that when she asked about the rationale behind those irritating new procedures, her manager explained that they were put in place to comply with new regulations and that management was aware of their tedious nature. But the story doesn’t end there; as the manager explained the desired outcome from the new procedures, my friend was able to come back with suggestion that made the system more robust, cheaper and simpler for the employees.

As managers get busier, they tend to fall into a mode where they try to quickly resolve problems and issue directives to their employees without taking the time to explain the reasoning behind these directives. This is not surprising considering many managers are characterized as having “Red” personalities by the Via Institute: they tend to quickly gather the facts and make decisions in a New York minute. They have not patience for long, drawn-out chats and explorations. And while these are prized characteristics in a line manager, they can have a negative side effect on the employee morale, especially when it comes to communicating decisions; managers with “Red” personalities typically tend to not explain the reasoning behind their decision and are not inclined to seek input from their subordinates.

Explaining the “why” to employees is essential to generating buy-in. People usually do not buy into a decision or an idea without understanding the rationale behind it. Some managers assume that it should be easy for their employees to understand, but what they don’t into account is that they have more information than their employees. So while it seems to be a no-brainer to them, it is not so to their employees.  The new rules seemed to be the reasonable thing to do to the manager in the example above considering the new regulations, but they seemed so arbitrary to my friend, who was not aware of the regulations.

Some managers seem to think that because they have formal authority over their employees, they don’t need to explain. These managers should acquaint themselves with the term “passive aggressive,” because this is how their employees will thwart their decisions and plans.

Another advantage of explaining the reasoning behind your decisions to your employees is that they may have better solutions than the ones you came up with, just as my friend’s suggestions in the example helped achieve the desired results using a better system. Employees who do the day-to-day work are usually able to come up with good solutions as long as they know the needed outcome.

Finally, explaining the rationale behind decisions to employees protects against the negative effects of the resident malcontents. We’ve all worked with these people and seen how they thrive on confusion and uncertainty. To them, an unexplained decision has the worst motivations and they love to spread the word among their colleagues. However, a well-explained decision and solicitations of ideas for solutions minimizes their effects. Oh, they will still complain, but their colleagues will realize that there is no legitimate basis for their complaints.

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