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Making decisions for employees: An employee experience revolution
Image by Jimmy Foulds

6 min read

Making decisions for employees: An employee experience revolution

Are you making decisions at your employees? Gil Cohen walks us through how you can shift to collaborating with them instead, and improve their employee experience this way.

Historically, most companies and their leaders have shown little interest in the experience their employees were having and it has shown. Take a look at the history of the labour movement where workers fought for better working conditions, or at the yearly surveys that demonstrate disengaged workforces, or at the fact that the average GlassDoor company rating is 3.3

These outcomes are unsurprising given the minimal priority the employee experience has held in executive teams. In many cases, the HR leader is still fighting to create a meaningful impact, while other leaders relinquish responsibility for their role in creating an undesirable culture. 

To consistently create positive employee experiences, leaders need to be intentional about the outcomes they seek to achieve. Otherwise, the human outcomes they make will be an unintended consequence of their actions, often misaligned with their stated goals and espoused company values. 

A key shift in both mindset and behaviour is required to change decision-making between employees and their managers. Let’s take a look at this together:

The old way: the ‘At’ mindset

The traditional leadership and HR mindsets have been to make decisions ‘at’ employees. Decisions would be made at the leadership level, and change management programs would be implemented to make it happen. In this mindset, the role of the manager is to impose decisions. It is up to employees to implement the decisions that managers make. 

In this old way of doing things, considering the impact on employees was secondary, at best. In some cases, this thinking even put the workers’ lives at risk. There were often numerous organizational goals on which leaders based decisions absent of the human impact. 

One significant error with this mindset is that it makes the assumption that leaders have enough information to make good decisions. This assumption is flawed because good decision-making requires input from those being impacted. However, user-centric design is necessary for consistently positive human outcomes. 

This mindset creates a separation between those making decisions and those living the consequences. Human consequences aren’t even part of the decision making process. Instead, organizational objectives are prioritized, including customer and shareholder outcomes. These were the traditional bases on which leadership, Boards of Directors, and shareholders made decisions (See the book The Shareholder Myth). 

Unfortunately, those decisions aren’t always in alignment with what’s right for the people who’re executing them. These actions are also frequently misaligned with an organization’s stated values. When alignment does happen, it’s by chance, not by design. 

Transitioning to the ‘For’ Mindset 

Many leaders have been evolving away from the ‘at’ mindset over the last 20-30 years by prioritizing their employees in the decision-making process. This is a significant step up because human outcomes are no longer completely ignored.

In this evolution, leaders implement initiatives they believe benefit their employees. These ideas will generally come from executives or the HR department, often by way of a ‘thought leader’ or a business publication. Unfortunately, they don’t always align with the needs of the company and its employees. 

Some examples of ideas that are implemented ‘for’ people are catered meals, in-office games, and fun ‘culture’ events. These are ideas that people enjoy and benefit from, but they don’t change how work gets done. 

They’re also often implemented as a result of the negative impacts of the existing experience, like increased stress or long hours at the office.

While this is a significant improvement over the ‘at’ mindset, the same assumption is made about leaders knowing what’s best for their people. Decisions are still implemented ‘at’ people but with a level of positive intent.

Depending on the leader’s mindset, when doing something ‘for’ employees, it can still be done either ‘at’ or ‘with’ them. Doing ‘for’ is a step up from the traditional way, but it still lags in creating consistently great employee experiences. 

Evolving towards the ‘With’ Mindset 

Being truly intentional about creating great employee experiences requires a combination of top-down and bottom-up thinking. The experiences need to align with 

leadership goals and objectives to help move the business forward. As well, these experiences need to be adapted to the specific needs of your employees. Consistent experiences will align the needs of both the company and its people. 

One of the key elements for leaders to work ‘with’ their employees is voice of employee. Voice of employee refers to allowing people to share their ideas, opinions, and feedback with psychological safety.

While there are various ways to collect voice of employee (e.g. surveys, apps, 1:1s, town hall meetings, design thinking tools), the key is to ensure people are comfortable sharing openly. There are a few benefits from this process, including better user-centric outcomes. In this case, the user is the employee. Here are two examples:

Scenario 1: A sales leader was facing a lagging response rate to their team’s initial calls. To resolve the issue they started by writing a script that would work for them. The leader then spoke with each individual team member and asked them to adjust the script (or throw it out) and work together to determine what worked for them. The result was each team member bringing greater energy and enthusiasm to their calls, and better responses from prospects. 

Scenario 2: A bank manager was given a quota for mortgages for the year by headquarters. Instead of dividing up the quota and handing it to people, she asked her team to let her know how much each individual thought they could contribute to the quota for the year. The result was the team committing to 1.5x the quota they were given and hitting it. 

Instead of deciding for their teams, these leaders worked with them to create something better than what the leader could come up with on their own. They listened to the voice of employee, and then made decisions that worked for everyone. 

This approach improved both people and the business because the leaders took the time to make decisions with their teams. 


People benefit from seeing themselves as authors of their own destiny. As such, when we have a hand in the way decisions are made, we become more connected with the work that’s being done. People learn from experience early in their careers that their leaders make decisions at them. Many people become disillusioned by answering company surveys that don’t change anything.

By including the voice of employees in decision making (or allowing them to make decisions with the leader), ownership is created and people become more engaged with the work they are doing. Evolving leadership thinking from “at” to “with” will drive better results both for and from employees.

Next time you are making leadership decisions about your team, ask yourself if you are making the decision “at” them or “with” them?


About Gil

Gil Cohen has a passion for helping companies design employee experiences that improve both the outcomes of the organization and the lives of its employees. Gil’s background in psychology and business helps him understand both the individual and organizational aspects of the workplace. His goals are to help organizations to be able to co-create inspirational experiences.  

Over his two-decade career, Gil has worked with leadership teams from numerous industries, gaining insights into their different styles. The work that Gil has completed has had a focus on aligning human and organizational needs. This enhances the ability of the organization and its people to achieve their individual and common goals. Gil has conducted consulting engagements, workshops, and conference sessions throughout North America.

About Employee Experience Design

Employee Experience Design helps leaders to evolve their people practices to improve both human and organizational outcomes. We provide current state assessment, organizational development, training, and co-creation of people strategies and solutions throughout an organization. We help leaders create and implement an intentional Employee Experience.

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