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Employee involvement: implementing quality change.

Some of the most critical problems that contribute to low morale, stress, and high turnover in law enforcement agencies today stem from a lack of employee involvement in the decisionmaking process. This circumstance results from various factors, perhaps, the primary one being that managers tend to be more interested in their own ideas and solutions than in those of their employees.(1) This is a somewhat understandable, but potentially destructive, stance for modern managers to take.

One simple tenet holds true in any occupation: If employees are not involved, they will likely resist change. Accordingly, involvement becomes the key to effectively implementing and increasing employee commitment to change.(2)

The Challenge of Change

Changing organizations and the views individuals hold is neither simple nor easy. People tend to cling to old views and habits. It requires considerable effort (both for organizations and individuals) to develop a set routine--a systematic pattern of doing things. The same holds true when attempting to establish a new way of doing things. In other words, to make or break a habit takes great commitment--and commitment comes from involvement. Therefore, involvement represents the catalyst in any quality change process.

Of course, the downside to involvement is risk. Managers who involve subordinates in the problem-solving process may fear losing control. For this reason, many find it easier, safer, and seemingly more efficient to continue making unilateral decisions and then directing (or expecting) others to accept and follow their decisions. Because this "easy way out" of decisionmaking harbors numerous shortcomings, the outcome produced through this process generally leaves something to be desired, especially in the area of compliance. Today's supervisors must then choose between the safe and easy position of direct authoritative leadership and the far more risky, but infinitely more effective, principle of employee involvement in the decisionmaking process. The choice that they make could significantly impact on how well agencies retain employees, maintain high morale, and serve their communities.

The Quality and Commitment Formula

An effective decision has two dimensions--quality and commitment. By weighing these two dimensions and multiplying them, an effectiveness factor can be determined. For example, supervisor A makes a quality decision--a perfect 10 on a 10-point scale. However, for various reasons, employee commitment to the decision is low--a 2 on a 10-point scale. As a result, a relatively ineffective decision is established (10 x 2 = a fairly low effectiveness factor of 20). Now, consider that in the same matter, the supervisor involves employees in the decisionmaking process. The quality of the decision is compromised somewhat (dropping from 10 points to 7), but the commitment to it increases substantially (from 2 points to 8). In this case, the effectiveness factor (8 x 7) is a much more acceptable 56 points.(3) This means that the decision may not be as good, but it is almost three times as effective.

These seem like good odds. Nonetheless, many managers hesitate to involve employees in decisionmaking for fear of opening the door to other options, contaminating their own thinking, or compromising their positions. However, successful administrators know that the effectiveness of their decisions depends on quality and commitment, and they understand that commitment comes through employee involvement.

Solution to Problems

When individuals become involved in the problem-solving process, they become sincerely committed to generating solutions. Moreover, when employees identify their personal goals with the goals of their organizations, they release an enormous amount of energy, creativity, and loyalty. They gradually allow their perceptions to "thaw," broadening their thinking so that they offer well thought-out alternatives.(4) For these reasons, enlightened leaders and business managers throughout the industrial world use this simple principle of involvement.

Conversely, by using an authoritarian approach to problem-solving, managers slip into a condescending, or vertical, communication pattern. If employees sense that they are being "talked down to," or that a manager's motive is to manipulate workers rather than to make meaningful change, then they will resist the changes being asked of them.(5)

The most important element in establishing a content and prosperous atmosphere is to insist upon free, open, and honest communication up and down the management structure. Employees must participate more in organizational decisions to unlock their full potential, while managers take on the role of facilitator and expeditor.(6)


Law enforcement managers make a multitude of decisions every day. No one suggests turning every judgment call into a collaborative process. But, by involving employees in major decisions, managers do more than invite diverse opinions from those who will most likely be affected. They foster an environment of cooperation and empowerment that promotes compliance and strengthens agencies.

Managers should embrace this concept. Even if it may not always work, the problems that they now experience when implementing change will diminish.


1 Stephen R. Covey, Principle-Centered Leadership (New York: Summit Books. 1991). 217-223.

2 Ibid., 217-223.

3 Ibid., 219.

4 Ibid., 220.

5 Ibid., 222.

6 David C. Cooper and Sabine H. Lobitz, Quality Policing: The Madison Experience (Washington, DC: Police Executive Research Forum. 1991).

Sheriff Corsentino heads the Pueblo County, Colorado, Sheriff's Department. Chief Bue heads the Sedalia, Missouri, Police Department.
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Title Annotation:Focus on Personnel; employee involvement in decisionmaking process
Author:Bue, Phillip T.
Publication:The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin
Date:Nov 1, 1993
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