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5 benefits of elevating employees in business decision-making

Jennifer Dudeck, Red Hat
Jennifer Dudeck
Jennifer Dudeck is senior vice president and chief people officer at Red Hat. In this role, she leads the team responsible for global human resources. She has more than 25 years of HR experience and before joining Red Hat spent more than 20 years with Cisco Systems, most recently as vice president of the Transformation Office.

The bigger a company gets, the harder it becomes to listen to your employees. In start-up days, conversations flow around cramped offices or Slack channels. But when workforces get into the thousands, involving employees in decision-making takes intention.

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The Open Decision Hub (ODH), launched at Red Hat in 2021, addresses that need. ODH is a forum where Red Hat’s more than 21,000 employees can share their thoughts on major organizational decisions, and start their own groups to inform smaller-scale decisions.

The goal of ODH is to have a structured conversation for the purpose of decision-making. Each decision has a “decision manager,” who owns the work of taking it through the decision-making process from start to finish. Employees can see which leaders are driving an issue, what is open for feedback (and what’s not) and where we are in the decision process.

They can also participate in polls to inform data-driven decisions, hear other employee opinions, respond to them, ask questions of the decision manager and trace the history of how and why decisions were made.

In the past year, almost 9,000 Red Hatters have participated, and seven company-wide initiatives leveraged ODH, with Red Hatters sharing 41 ideas to contribute to these initiatives.

The ODH involves about one major company-wide or team decision a month, including such things as revamping the internal mailing list platform, Memo List, creating a new conduct pledge and developing a consistent performance and development process. This included dealing with specific requirements for managers and clarity on how performance connects to compensation and rewards. The groups and teams that start their own conversations on the hub average two to five conservations a week. Recent ones involved strategic planning for a specific team.

How involving employees in decision-making helps

We’ve found that involving employees in decisions leads to:

  • Higher engagement. No one knows a company better than the frontline employees who make it work every single day. But employees are often not involved in decisions that affect their work lives, processes, workflows and company strategy. That’s a mistake. Only three in 10 U.S. employees strongly agree that their opinions at work seem to count, Gallup research shows, so when leaders send out an employee survey but take no action on the results, it can lead to lower engagement than doing no survey at all. Engagement drives productivity, and employees who are listened to will tend to be more engaged.
  • Faster decision-making. Part of Red Hat’s DNA is that everyone can have their say. That springs from the heart of open-source innovation. Everyone can contribute and, when people do, better products and services occur. But when workforces get large, involving so many people in decisions can also lead to paralysis. ODH balances the need between wanting to listen to employees and having to act on a decision.
  • Better buy-in. When employees feel they have a say in the decision-making process, there’s better buy-in when the decision comes down. Many pandemic-related decisions had to do with how workforces would work once the COVID risk was lifted. Red Hat decided to give the majority of employees the freedom to be “office-flex,” where they can come to the office as much as they need to, or not at all if they choose. All told, 163 comments on ODH informed that decision. Involving employees in the front end of making a decision helps the ultimate execution of the decision, too, because buy-in is more complete.

See also: Amazon told employees to return to the office. Now they’re walking out

  • More inclusive decisions. Before ODH, Red Hat gathered a lot of employee sentiment via Google surveys. But that meant that employees shared their opinions without first hearing input from other employees. Only the executives saw the full gamut of sentiment. With ODH, employees inform other employees of differing points of view. Red Hat also saw increased involvement from employees because they could participate with thumbs up or down versus having to respond to an email thread or answer a survey question.
  • More trust. Employees who say their manager is always willing to listen to work-related problems are 4.2 times as likely to strongly agree that they trust the leadership of their organization, Gallup research shows.

The open-source ethos

Like open source software developers help to find and fix bugs in software, employees can help find and fix bugs in how companies operate. ODH helps us find the bugs, iterate, make more informed decisions and ultimately become more efficient and effective. It also requires Red Hat leaders to be transparent, which is another major trait of open source development. Most importantly, by engaging employees in decisions that affect their work and experience and showing that their engagement has tangible results, we create trust and commitment to our mission.