04/04/2012 03:18 pm ET Updated Jun 04, 2012

Your Company Is Not a Democracy, Until...

One of the biggest traps that leaders of companies fall into is believing that every employee's opinion counts. This is particularly true when the company is going through significant change. Leaders mistakenly believe that it is necessary to solicit and take seriously everyone's opinions and feelings about how the change is going. The truth of the matter is, every opinion is not created equal. Employees have to earn the right to have their opinions taken seriously. Here's why.

You will find in every organizational change situation, those people who are barking from the sidelines. They haven't invested anything of themselves to the endeavor. They carp and complain, refusing to take the smallest risk.

For example, with one of my clients, when one of the managers presented her team with her results from a behavioral style assessment and asked the team for feedback on which descriptors of her they have observed in working with her, one of her employees declined to give any answer whatsoever. When the manager followed up with the individual later, the employee gave the reason of "I'm not comfortable giving you feedback in public and having it come back to haunt me." Mind you, the exercise was, "do you feel any of these are true of me," not "what do you think of me as a manager?" A relatively low risk situation, I would say. And yet this fairly senior employee couldn't take it. He has not earned the right for his opinion about the organizational change to count because he hasn't engaged himself to the slightest degree in the change.

You have to earn the right for your opinion to count by giving the idea a try. Even in our democracy you have to register to vote, you just can't voice an opinion on the street expecting someone is there to record it as a vote. If you're a leader, you have to make sure you spend your time wisely on those who have earned the right for their opinion to count. Spend minimal time dealing with the folks who are on the sidelines.