This piece first appeared The Huffington Post on May 18, 2017
Choice is such a powerful concept. We all love it. When we have choice it gives us a sense of autonomy and control. No one likes being in an environment without choice as it is claustrophobic and constricting.
However, we should know that like many things in life “choice” can have both positive and negative impacts. One should know when to provide choice and not to. Here’s my take.
When Choice Empowers
Having a freedom to choose can be so empowering. Let me tell you what I mean by this.
Choice helps to engage
When employees in an organisation are led by leaders who do not micromanage but give freedom to them to operate the way they want, it can be very engaging. The leaders just set out the objectives and let their teams decide on the approach they will follow to reach the goal. This not only provides flexibility to teams, but allows them to be creative and natural. They are not forced to mindlessly conform to something that is being pushed from the top. Such an approach is intrinsically motivating for employees and they willingly go above and beyond for the organisation.
2.Choice helps to innovate
When employees are provided autonomy it can trigger major innovations that can be beneficial to the company. For example, Google allowed its employees to spend 20% of their time on projects they liked—an initiative which saw innovations such as AdSense and Gmail. Though Google has removed this policy, other companies have similar programs. For example, Apple has Blue Sky which allows employees to spend time on their favourite projects. Microsoft has Garage to work on their project using the company’s resources.
3.Choice creates customer convenience
The way customers like to be served varies with context. Let me give you an example from the retail industry. Supermarkets provide various store formats to cater to the convenience of customers. For example, Tesco in UK provides a range of formats to cater to various customer circumstances with sub-brands such as Tesco Extra, Tesco Supermarket, Tesco Metro, One Stop etc. So when a customer is in a hurry he stops by a Tesco Metro in a train station. When a customer has some sudden guests and has to grab some food item he goes to the Tesco Express in his neighbourhood. However, when he has time during weekend and wants to purchase items not available in the neighbourhood, he goes to Tesco Superstores. Clearly, choices that fit different circumstances and needs create customer convenience.
Choice creates ownership
When employees have the freedom to voice their concerns and ideas, they have a greater sense of belonging for the company. When employees have autonomy and are involved in decision making, they feel more empowered. No employee likes working in a company where even for small decisions they need to go to a higher up. And this freedom creates ownership.
Choice improves work-life balance
When employees are able to take breaks to complete their personal work during office hours it improves their work-life balance . The break could be completing some errand outside or buying a flight ticket online or just do some quick shopping. What happens is that when you allow people to mix office work with personal tasks they are more focused and have this moral responsibility that their work gets completed in time.
Choice improves productivity
When employees have the freedom to work from home they are often more productive. You can give them the option to work at the time when they are most productive—whether it’s early in the morning or late at night. At home one is more focused and there is this quiet pressure to complete tasks to as high a standard as would be expected at the office. At home one also has the freedom to take regular breaks instead of following a regimented schedule, where working despite tiredness leads to lower quality work. The biggest advantage is that one does not have to deal with office distractions.
Choice gives direction
When the goal is strategy deployment, it’s all about making choices. The strategic choices that we make give direction to the organisation and help it to achieve its vision. It gives focus to employees and steers them to work on important tasks rather than waste time on trivial ones.
Choice drives self-motivation
If you use pressure to invite compliance, you will likely face resistance. When people are told the reason for a suggested action but given the choice of whether to follow it or not, they are more likely to engage in the desired behaviour. For example, you are more likely to stick to a diet if you believe in it rather than if your loved ones try to force you.
When choice debilitates
There are instances when choice can have detrimental effect.
9.Choice makes decision-making arduous
Sometimes facing a vast array of choices (such as in a large supermarket) can lead to a form of paralysis and you find it difficult to decide what to choose. Sometimes we even walk away from the purchase altogether. This is because when we have more than five options it’s cognitively difficult to choose the right product. It gets exhausting. Here’s an interesting nugget: President Obama always wore a gray or blue suit. This is because he did not want to waste his time and energy on deciding on what attire to wear.
Choice creates complexity
With an objective to please customers, companies often launch a large variety of the same product as they want to provide choice. However, not only do these create useless complexity but if you probe deep, you will see very few of them really contribute to business volumes. For example, in 2015, with an objective to reduce its losses and complexity Tesco scrapped 30,000 of the 90, 000 products from their shelves. It found that its competitors Aldi and Lidl were growing in market-share yet only offered between 2000 and 3000 lines. Apple has successfully addressed this challenge. Each of their products has limited range which makes it easy for customers to choose what they want.