If you want your high-performing team members to really perform by participating in leadership decisions, then you’d better be giving them — or training your managers to give them — the information they need.
According to that study’s report, “The Threshold Effect of Participative Leadership and the Role of Leader Information-Sharing,” released last year, there’s a certain performance threshold employees cross when bosses “openly share, discuss and communicate important information needed to make decisions and form judgments.”
Without the confidence that supervisors’ information-sharing fosters, the study suggests, employees may actually come to “hold a negative assessment of the leader’s participative action, interpreting it as a way to increase their workload and responsibilities with no reward.”
According to the authors, making such points is important because managers often assume “that a moderate degree of participative leadership may be enough to improve employees’ performance; this is a common phenomenon in organizations — participation is widely recognized [as valuable], but often done half-heartedly by managers.”
Earlier this week, I contacted Xu Huang, a researcher and professor at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University — and co-author of the study along with Catherine K. Lam of the City University of Hong Kong and Simon C.H. Chan of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University — asking for more specific takeaways for employers and HR, especially how leaders and managers can be trained to share, authentically instead of half-heartedly, more organizational information.
First off, he tells me, the differences between participative leadership and information-sharing are important to note. Based on years of research into these behaviors, he says, participative leaders encourage team members to express ideas and suggestions, they listen to those ideas and suggestions, they use those suggestions to make decisions affecting the entire organization, they give all group members a chance to voice opinions and they consider all team ideas even when they disagree with them.
On the other hand, he says, information-sharers “explain company decisions; company goals; how the team fits into the overall organization; the purposes of company policies, rules and expectations; and his or her decisions and actions.” This open sharing, he adds, doesn’t necessarily have to include sensitive information, just “organizational practices and decisions that may affect the employees and groups.”
There are ways HR professionals can train managers to show more openness and share company information without giving away the store, he says. Behavioral psychologists can even help with this. The problem is, not enough employers recognize this or do anything about it. More often than not, says Xu Huang:
“Managers show openness to different views and opinions from their subordinates, but fail to provide sufficient explanations for companies’ strategies, policies, rules and decisions that may affect employees. As such, employees may not feel that they’re being treated with full transparency and they see such leaders as less effective [and] may not be motivated to enhance their performance. Similarly, managers may offer a lot of information, yet fail to show openness.”
The trick is in combining the two, he says:
“Our key argument is that, if a manager wants his or her employees to perceive him or her as an effective leader, he or she must show a moderate-to-high level of participative leadership as well as a high level of information sharing. A low-to-moderate level of participative leadership behavior will give the impression that the participative leader is ‘half-hearted.’ Similarly, a high level of participative leadership yet low level of information sharing will [also] give the ‘half-heartedness’ impression.”
Probably a bit complex and maybe academically obscure, but worth thinking about if your goal is enhancing performance.