Years ago, my friend Mike Watkins, author of the best-selling book The First 90 Days, coined the term "charade of consultation." He used it to describe instances when leaders would hold meetings, ask for input and advice, and yet do not genuinely provide an opportunity for those participants to influence the final decision. He described these situations as a charade because the decisions were pre-ordained, a fait accompli. Leaders were simply using the meetings to pretend that they were giving employees voice in the decision-making process. Somehow, they thought that soliciting input would build buy-in, without recognizing that employees would see right through the charade.
What are the negative consequences of engaging in a charade of consultation?
1. Leaders diminish the extent to which their employees trust them. That loss of trust adversely affects commitment, engagement, and morale.
2. Implementation efforts falter, because employees have not bought into the decision that was made. They perceived the decision process as unfair, and therefore, they fail to commit the selected plan of action.
3. Employees opt out of future opportunities to participate in decision-making processes. They think to themselves, "What's the point? They aren't really listening to us anyway."
4. Leaders find themselves only hearing from people that agree with their proposals and plans. Dissenters have opted out, and thus, leaders find themselves operating in an echo chamber.
Does this mean that leaders always have to do what employees think is best, over their own better judgement? Of course not. The opposite of the charade is not workplace democracy. It's a thoughtful, robust, open process of dialogue and debate. After hearing diverse viewpoints, the leader can then make a more informed and prudent decision.