Through my many years as an executive at various organizations, I have come to appreciate the power of Participative Management. In fact, based on my experiences, I would argue that the only effective management style is Participative Management. As a Managing Partner for Bleu Capital, I keep on seeing firsthand the positive effects that participative leadership and a healthy workplace interaction has on productivity and employee happiness.
I initially experienced the power of participative leadership, while serving as the CFO of Sinodis in Shanghai. Sinodis, a distributor of marquee international food brands in China, had a large geographically dispersed employee base. But, in spite of this, one of our central tenets was to always involve our teams in key decisions. While, getting the participation of teams had its very own set of challenges, the power and purpose with which the company moved forward when everyone was involved made my belief in the power of participative leadership only stronger. And when I saw how Hyphen was helping their customers easily operationalize collecting feedback, ideas and suggestions from their large, fast growing and geographically distributed employee base, I knew we had to invest in them. But more on that later.
As a participative leader, there are a few select values one should prioritize: trust, empowerment, respect, humility, pace, and discipline. First and foremost, you should always trust your employees. This is not only important from a participative management perspective, but in fact is just smart business sense. According to Ermedia’s report on the 100 Best Companies to Work For, “Companies whose employees praise the high levels of trust in their workplace are, in fact, among the highest performers, beating the average annualized returns of the S&P 500 by a factor of three.” One way to ensure your employees’ confidence is by assuming that nobody knows the job better than the person actually doing it. If you give your workers more flexibility and offer them opportunities to lead and create projects with this confidence in mind, you will humanize your relationship with them. A positive corporate environment will emerge when a workforce has faith in its executives and vice versa.
Next, it is essential to always empower employee growth with the mindset of “if they grow, we grow.” You can facilitate this empowerment by providing, and encouraging workshops, conferences, and development programs. By defining job tasks and roles, and by stimulating conversations, your people will take the initiative to increase knowledge and their impact and productivity in the corporation.
Thought leader and social entrepreneur Bryant McGill once said “One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.” Indeed, being respectful to those who work for you and you work with is one of the key principles of successful participative leadership. As such, work with the mentality that the job of the manager has an equivalent importance of the job of the operator. By equally acknowledging the efforts of those around you-- whether it is by preparing your meetings, being on time, listening to grievances or ideas, or following up on reports-- your work atmosphere will become much more positive and communicative. Prioritizing these kinds of communication in the workplace is critical to building a culture of listening.
These three factors, plus humility, pace and discipline will stimulate a productive and happy workplace. According to Fast Company, a leader can express humility by “being open to others’ opinions, tending to needs, admitting mistakes, accepting ambiguity, self reflecting, and by letting people do their jobs.” Being humble and open, balances the power flow between top down and bottom up and increases participation and engagement. The last and most important qualities for achieving participative authority are to set a pace and have discipline. This is as simple as having set goals, checking up on these goals and making sure your vision is in line with the visions of your colleagues.
Operationalizing all of the above aspects was a challenge at Sinodis. With a large team that was spread over multiple locations and with the additional barrier of a culture that was used to top-down management style, it took trust and discipline to inculcate and operationalize a culture that prioritized input and feedback from the employees. But, when I came across Hyphen, I knew that this was the solution that I was missing while at Sinodis. Hyphen, a San Francisco based start-up, has built a great solution that solves for the disconnect in the workplace. By providing a combination of top-down Pulse Surveys, bottom-up employee generated conversations, and options for remaining anonymous; this real-time app allows executives to gain insights from their teams that they otherwise might not have been exposed to. In addition, with their mobile first approach, they are well placed to help companies engage with their millennial employees. Seeing what they were accomplishing and with my experience in the power of Participative Management, I knew we had to join them on their ride.
With the future of work pointing towards a world where the war for talent is going to be fierce, I believe that Participative Leadership will increasingly be front and center of how corporate leaders run their organizations. By following these principles of inclusive leadership and decision-making, leaders have the opportunity to boost workplace engagement, employee productivity, retention, and ultimately job satisfaction at their organizations.