Boosting engagement, making decisions

By John Langhorne / Guest Editorial

The Gallup organization is perhaps the premier survey research organization in the world. Not only does it carry out highly respected and widely cited political polling but it is also doing interesting measurement in all types of work organizations across the world.

The organization has developed two powerful and available tools to carry out such assessments: the Clifton Strengths Finder and the Q12.

The Finder is an individual online assessment that allows people to uncover their top five talents and strengths. It then does what very few surveys do, making explicit behavioral recommendations about what to do to enhance these characteristics.

The finder is a “good news” assessment, in that it offers people the opportunity to clearly identify the very best aspects of themselves. It is useful for those interested in improving their performance, considering a career change or needing a morale builder after a bad work experience.

The Q12 is a group assessment carried out by the leadership of an organization. With this tool, it is possible to identify and measure the company practices that contribute to productivity. Executives and managers can learn much about their personal styles, as well as the variables they must focus on to enhance productivity. Those who use these tools often comment on their common sense and practicality.

Much has been written about the relative levels of job satisfaction in many types of organizations. A New York Times article on a recent study of more than 12,000 employees ( includes a dramatic graph titled “The White Collar Salt Mine.” The article also cites a well-known finding by Gallup that only 30 percent of American workers are engaged at work (

For a book titled “Strengths Based Leadership,” Gallup researchers polled 10,000 people and asked them a simple question: “Use three words that describe what a leader contributes to your life.” Four major themes resulted from this work: trust, compassion, stability and hope.

Synonyms to describe each of these were also straightforward and understandable. For trust, people used honesty, integrity and respect. For compassion, those surveyed used caring, friendship, happiness and love. For stability, the words were security, support, strength and peace. Finally, for hope: direction, faith and guidance. It is these four characteristics the Finder uses to direct the explicit suggestions for self-improvement inside each of a person’s strengths.

I once noted that the book “Good To Great” was spot-on in its findings about what makes an organization successful. The Gallup work carries this forward with an empirical definition of the results of leadership, and includes actionable suggestions to begin to develop such an organizational culture.

The most important issue in organizational improvement is what lever to use. I have found that one key to driving organizational change is helping executives and managers understand and alter their decision-making style. At a very basic level, management is getting people to do things for you. The two major tools for this are communication and decision-making.

Organizational decision-making exists on the following continuum: authoritarian, authoritative, consensual and consultative.

Authoritarian is the “old” American style of decision-making: one way, the right way, my way. It has the advantage of being very fast, but comes at the cost of limiting – and usually eliminating – any input from others.

Authoritative decision-making is a more complex version of the authoritarian style. Many effective managers have a primarily authoritative style. They retain control of the decision but explain the why and how. This means using decision-making as a method to communicate the “why,” an approach usually respected by employees.

Consensual decision-making is the Japanese way: “Let’s talk about this until we all agree and then do it.” This method maximizes input but can be terribly slow to reach consensus. It also has another major disadvantage that is related to culture. Japan is a culture where seeking consensus is trained into people, but that is not necessarily the case in American culture. Think of a jury – slow and conservative.

Consultative decision-making is a process that encourages input, can be accomplished in a timely fashion and maintains a clear executive function. It is simply: “Ask me before you decide.” Successful organizations seem to prefer a mix of authoritative and consultative styles, although they use the others as appropriate.

The challenge of managing an engaging environment is having all these decision-making styles, and knowing when and how to use them. A key question is, “Do I have the right people involved in the decision?” Some decisions require no input or commitment, whereas other decisions are critically dependent on input and involvement. The next time you make a decision, use this criterion to suggest the most effective style.



John Langhorne is owner and principal of Langhorne Associates His most recent book, “Beyond IQ: Practical Steps to Find the Best You,” is available digitally at