Recently, I was coaching an employee who said they never really felt like part of the business they worked for, and often heard about changes within the company through other means than their manager.
So, what is the big deal about information? Ask yourself- are you the sort of manager that is always busy, works in a time-crunched environment and simply just don’t have the time to share information with your employees? If yes, read on!
It’s hard for you to do your best without information, and the same is true for your employees. You will lose your talent – maybe not today, but eventually those with choices will leave you.
Information is power. I think back to when I was a kid I knew that having the inside scoop was cool and I felt important if my Mum told me something she didn’t tell my sisters. If information is power, then being out of the loop – lacking information – might leave one powerless.
Research shows that people want a boss with influence and power in the organisation. If you think about your own work experience, you will probably agree that you would much rather work for a boss who is in ‘the loop’ rather than someone who doesn’t know what’s going on and has no chance of being clued in. Your employees are no different. They want to be in the loop and they want and need you to bring them in.
Remember, in the absence of information employees will make it up. Information sharing during times of dramatic change is even more critical than during stable times. I can give you lots of examples of businesses going through major change where managers have decided to withhold information (I do acknowledge that at times you simply cannot share). Managers haven’t spoken to staff out of fear of losing their power or importance.
If you don’t discuss with employees, think about what happens when you withhold information:
- Manager= It’s too early to tell them – Employee thinks= Silence must mean it’s pretty bad
- Manager= This news is too frightening , we’d better wait – Employee = They’re moving the company to the South Island
- Manager= I’m afraid if we tell them, productivity will drop – Employee= The Company’s going belly-up. Where else can I get a job?
The Manager is trying to protect the employees and prevent all the lunch room talk but the result of this may mean a huge dent in work productivity. Ironically, the silence and protection backfires. What do you suppose happens to productivity as employees worry about their jobs and update their resumes?
Where leaders provide information as early and honestly as possible and hold managers accountable for passing the news down, employees actually feel important and valued and the productivity dip is minimised.
Another good reason to share information is that your employees might be able to help!
So, how much to share? This is often the question I am asked. The answer is, it depends. It depends on your business’s culture and your philosophy. You may not work in an ‘open’ environment. Consider the consequences of your communication style and the culture in which you manage. Do what you can to share as much as you can with your employees. The result will be increased commitment and enhanced odds of keeping your best people.
Here are a few guidelines as you ponder your communication choices:
Share information face to face, especially if it is difficult to deliver or will affect your employees in significant ways. Tell your direct reports the news yourself, rather than having them learn it via email or from some other source. Research shows that people believe it and react more favourably when the news is delivered in this manner.
Beware of critical information flowing down through many layers. If it must flow down, double-check to be sure the message is getting through. We all know what happens to a story when it has been repeated several times – it barely resembles the original.
Get creative. The more creatively a message is sent, the greater the chance it will be noticed. Consider doing the unexpected. If people are used to hearing news via email, try face-to-face.
When the information must be held in confidence, my advice is:
- Don’t share, no matter how tempting the information might be
- Never use information-withholding as power. If you are given ‘secret’ information, do not tell people you have it unless they ask you
- If people ask you if you have information, be honest. Don’t tell them you don’t have information if you do.
- Tell them that you are not at liberty to share and tell them why, eg. I have been asked to keep it confidential and I need to honour that request.
Be prepared for the possibility that your responses may not please people and some may feel that you really should or could tell them if you wanted to. If you establish a track record of early, honest information sharing, you will have more room to occasionally withhold information when the situation dictates.
In the words of Sam Walton, Wal-Mart Founder:
I guess our greatest technique and our greatest accomplishment is the commitment to communicating with employees in every way that we possibly can, and listening to them constantly…you’ve got to put their interest first, and eventually it will come back to the company.
Stay in the loop. Keep your employees in the loop. It will help you keep your talent!