How Companies Can Make Better Decisions

Whenever a company changes its direction, mission statement or corporate culture, it usually needs the maximum amount of support from employees. Therefore, many businesses in this situation assemble a representative group of employees who will work with management to formulate a strategy. Usually, the managers pick employees from various departments or corporate functions.

We agree with this goal, but see a better way to choose the team of employees. After all, each worker's concerns about the decisions at hand may depend on his/her personal values as much as, or even more than, it depends on the department he works in or the products she works on.

So, for a large company to win the widest possible support for strategic decisions, we recommend that it form a task force on which every employee has a spokesperson they trust to speak for them on the issues to be decided. Then, that task force can work with management on a plan. Each task force member will then be in the best position to champion that plan to all the employees who chose him or her as a spokesperson. In this way, the largest number of employee can embrace the decision.

A company can create this kind of task force by using "Personally Accountable Representation" (PAR), a process developed by the Center for Collaborative Democracy and the MIT-Harvard Public Disputes Program. It works as follows:

The company sends all employees a memo or email to explain the circumstances. The memo asks anyone who wants to be on the decision-making team to submit a statement of what he or she believes should be the company’s priorities: “What factors do you see as being most important in the decisions that the task force will be asked to make?”

If the managers feel that the candidates don’t adequately cover all points of view or all divisions of the company, the managers can recruit additional candidates.

The candidates' statements are then distributed to employees.

If some employees feel that no candidate adequately addresses their concerns, they are asked to recruit candidates from within their own ranks.

Each worker is sent a ballot on which he/she is asked to rank the candidates he prefers, in order (1, 2, 3, etc.).

The ballots are counted in a way that maximizes the number of employees who get their first choice of a representative. Most of the rest get their second choice. Most of the rest get their third choice.* In this way, each employee will be represented as accurately as is practical.

Each representative then receives the names and contact information of all the employees who chose him/her.

As the task force deliberates, each representative sends those employees progress reports about how the task force is addressing their concerns.

By linking every employee to the decision-making, Personally Accountable Representation (PAR) maximizes workers’ sense of ownership in strategic decisions.


* The candidate who is the first choice of the fewest employees is taken out of the running. All the votes cast for that candidate count toward his backers' second choices. Then, the candidate with the fewest first and second choice votes combined is dropped from the running. All the votes for her count toward her backers' next choices. This process is repeated, until all the remaining candidates have a minimum threshold of support, say three percent of the company.