Voting 101

Shawnee Love   •  
September 12, 2014

“Let’s vote on it”.

If you have spent any time in a workplace with more than 1 colleague, you will have heard someone suggest voting to make a decision on:

  • Where to go for lunch,
  • What kind of paper to use, or even
  • Which paint colour to paint on the walls.

In fact, these can be quite good times to vote as long as you are choosing between very limited options, all of which are palatable to the voters, and the voters likely care a bit but not enough to freak out if they are on the losing side of the vote.

I like voting because it is efficient and since it is used a lot, people are generally pretty good at it.

However, there are many situations where voting is not a good idea.

For example voting on which town or even part of town to move the office to is a bad idea.  Of course, people are going to vote for the location that suits them best and you risk losing those people who voted for other locations because they can’t commute to the new location.

Lesson:  Use voting if all of the options appeal to the group members.  i.e., either way they win.

I also wouldn’t recommend voting on anything relating to compensation and benefits.  E.g., asking your staff whether to maintain the benefits program or cancel benefits in favour of a raise might seem like you are giving your people choice.  However, for those who desperately need benefits, the potential loss will strike fear in their hearts and often create resistance and lowered morale.  Similarly, it isn’t fair to tease the people who really need the extra money with a choice that isn’t really a choice because no one else is willing to go there (Hint: Benefits programs generally punch above their weight when it comes to value to the employees who have them.)

Lesson:  Use voting when the stakes are low.

Voting is a bad idea when choosing who to hire as well, because there is an element of the unknown when it comes to how successful the candidate will be in your organization, regardless of the selection techniques you practiced.  Because you can’t know with any certainty how people will handle the new environment, new commute, new people, and new pressures, there is a lot of speculation and assumptions that go into choosing between 2 or more imperfect candidates (assuming all have the potential to be successful for different reasons).  Voting on candidates either becomes a popularity contest or a beauty contest and neither are good reasons to invest in a new asset to your organization.

Lesson:  Use voting if the options and consequences of selecting each option are clearly known and simple.

Even Mac vs. PC should not be decided by vote in my opinion, because users of each tend to identify themselves with that “tribe” and you stand to alienate those who are on the losing side of the vote.

Lesson:  Use voting if all the options are likely to engage the voters.

In short, vote on preferences but not on big, complex, or unclear choices.