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The Kids’ Table


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  Has it been replaced by new initiatives?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.

466769907_7b376ed656The 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.


This post was originally published at Lead Change Group.

1 Comment

  1. Julie,
    Many nuggets in this gold mine! The one that especially caught my eye is the “Assigning an employee” one. Specifically, the thought that such assigning “enables understanding [to] flow in the other direction.”
    This associates well and could be connected with any lower level interdepartmental cross-training program (training people to be more flexible, plus other, personal, benefits).
    Such connecting also arguably has a more important value: improving organization-wide relationships laterally and vertically. This, in addition to your assigning point’s positive aspect, would greatly help defuse (any:)) negative interdepartmental aspects: politics, “superiority” claims, one-upmanship gambits and the like.
    Regards, Peter


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