To involve or not to involve employees in leadership choice

Peter, a reader, responded to my article on workplace democracy. He informed me that there was unrest within his department after the previous manager, who was not functioning well, had to leave quickly. The management started a recruitment procedure, and Peter and his colleagues noticed that they were not involved.

Request for Employee Involvement in Manager Selection

During a department meeting, employees expressed their desire to be involved in the selection of a new manager. The employees jointly made a request to the director of operations for their involvement in the selection process. They emphasized the importance of their daily collaboration and knowledge of operations. The employees provided examples of how they could assist, such as aiding in drafting the job profile, participating in candidate pre-selection, and actively attending job interviews. These are concrete ways to influence the selection of their future management. They hoped that their involvement would lead to the selection of a manager who was truly suitable for the job.

Below are two different ways in which the director of operations might respond. It is unclear how the situation progressed in Peter's organization.

Scenario A: Angry rejection of the request

The request went awry with the director, who reacted with irritation.   He firmly rejected the team's desire to be involved in the selection procedure and reprimanded the employees in a harsh tone. He called their way of communicating unacceptable and said he felt put on the spot. He emphasized that the management carried out the procedure objectively, carefully, and with integrity, and that there was no reason to doubt their approach. The staff was surprised by this reaction and later discussed their frustration with the situation among themselves.

Scenario B: Honoring the Request

The director of operations expressed gratitude towards the employees for their request. He appreciated their proactive attitude and desire to play a constructive role in the selection process.He acknowledged that their daily experience and knowledge were of great value in finding a suitable candidate. The director suggested holding a separate meeting with department representatives to discuss their ideas and suggestions on how to integrate them into the recruitment process. The employees' proposals were taken seriously, and it was jointly decided that some employees would participate in drawing up the job profile, while others would be involved in the pre-selection of candidates. It was agreed that a small delegation from the department would attend the job interviews. The team received these decisions with enthusiasm, which increased their sense of ownership and involvement in the process.

Different effects

Below is a brief overview of the expected effects of the two scenarios in table form:



Scenario A: Negative Response

Scenario B: Positive Response

Quality of the Selection

Possibly lower due to ignoring employee insight

Increased by integrating employee insight

Support for Candidate

Low, due to lack of involvement

High, due to active involvement


Reduced, due to rejection of contribution

Increased, by appreciation of input

Relationship Employees – Director 

Worsened, by authoritarian rejection

Improved, through appreciative involvement

Involving employees mainly has advantages

Scenario B illustrates a more productive approach by involving employees in the selection process of a new manager. This leads to greater involvement and motivation among employees, increases the chance of a successful match, and positively impacts the organizational culture and decision-making process. 

Managerial hesitations

At the same time, it is understandable that executives may have reservations about implementing such a participatory model. These may relate to concerns about loss of control, the efficiency of the process, and the potential for conflict. However, these hesitations, while understandable from traditional management perspectives, are often based on misconceptions. Managers can also ensure that the feared negative effects will not occur through good rules and agreements.

Involving employees is not the same as letting go

Involving employees in decision making does not mean that managers lose authority or influence. Involving employees does not put you on the sidelines. On the contrary, this approach can actually strengthen the legitimacy, authority, and effectiveness of management by building on the collective intelligence and experience of the team.
However, finding the right balance between employee involvement and maintaining decision-making authority remains an ongoing challenge. It requires open and respectful communication that both values employee input and respects the decision-making authority of managers.

Workplace democracy

Recognizing the value of workplace democracy and actively seeking ways to overcome potential barriers is key to success. Strengthening democratic values and practices within organizations can contribute to a healthier, more productive, and more responsible work environment.