Have you ever been in a meeting with your company’s leaders or very high influencers in your organization? Have you ever questioned their decisions? Maybe you disagreed silently or complained about it to a peer, but did you ever speak up?

Most of us don’t speak up directly to the CEO, owner or board chairman because we don’t think it’s our place; we don’t have that role. Whether consciously or subconsciously, we suppress our views. In some forward-thinking organizations, this concept is going away, allowing room for dissent, as we discuss in in this issue of Promotional Consultant Today.

Our natural tendency to maintain silence and not rock the boat can result in bad—sometimes deadly—decisions, as author Gary Emmons points out in his article, “Encouraging Dissent in Decision-Making.” For example, in 1961, President John F. Kennedy ordered the invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs without consulting advisors, and it resulted in one of the most disastrous political moves of the century. Emmons also uses the example of an expedition to the summit of Mt. Everest. During the expedition, several climbers, including two of the world’s most experienced professionals, died in part because junior team members didn’t speak up when their expert leaders ignored their own core operating principles surrounding safety. These are examples where dissent was not allowed to occur, resulting in negative outcomes.

And there are many more examples. Coca-Cola ignored evidence that “New Coke” would fizzle and launched it anyway. There were some experts who questioned the foam tiles on the space shuttle program, which ultimately was the cause of the Columbia explosion.

We have all experienced situations in which challenging the conventional wisdom can upset individuals and bad political moves can be deadly if you want to keep your job. But dissent can play an important role in checks and balances.

The consulting firm McKinsey shares with its employees a value known as the “obligation of dissent.” In a 2013 blog post, “Working With McKinsey,” a former McKinsey employee describes it this way:

“The firm believes that every consultant—even the least-tenured, greenest business analyst and associate-is intelligent and has valuable insights to offer. In our McKinsey engagement teams everyone is supposed to have an equal voice and is expected to contribute to discussions—that includes exercising the obligation to dissent.”

Why does the company feel so strongly about dissent that employees are obligated to practice this? Because it allows for an additional perspective; it allows problems to rise to the top and drives good decision-making. For example, obligation of dissent allows for questions to be asked, and problems to be shared openly and realistically, not presented in a falsely positive light (due to political pressures).

An important element to this culture of dissent is to acknowledge the value of it. In his article, Emmons shares a quote from Medtronic CEO Bill George who states, “You must acknowledge and thank those who disagree by telling them that they made the discussion, and hence the ultimate decision, much better.”

Do you allow for a culture of dissent in your organization? Creating an atmosphere in which junior employees are encouraged to ask questions and drive a challenging discussion will ultimately lead to better decision-making.

Read PCT tomorrow for more ways to drive more value to your business.

Source: Gary Emmons is senior associate editor for the HBS Bulletin.