Not sharing in a team setting is destructive.
I vividly remember an executive who ‘managed up’ and ‘forgot’ to share what was going on with his leadership and his extended team, all the while the organization was in a spin. Needless to state that it did not take long for the team to literally abandon the so called leader, drop the support to an ongoing re-organization and ‘announce’ the beginning of the end of that leadership era. The individual misinterpreted that making decisions as a senior leader, included being liked by superiors and telling people what to do, would create a cohesive and successful team.
Leaders need to be continuously aware of how much they communicate and share. My personal philosophy has always been, unless legally forbidden, i.e. for example company merger/sale plans, as required by SEC laws, there is no information you should withhold first of all from your leadership team. With your leadership team, you can then decide upon the best time and channel to disseminate the information to all team members. I have seen rare occasions where during a discussion about disseminating information, a leadership team member would decide against sharing the information with the team. However, at the end, in all cases the leadership team as a whole calculated the risk and took the decision to share the information with the extended team.
In my professional past I have never heard an employee complain: “I am over-communicated with and I receive too much information from leadership”. Employees, team members, for that matter, are smart individuals. Remember, that was the reason you hired them in the first place. Team members will appreciate transparency and will share in kind. It will improve innovation capability development, inter-departmental cooperation, reduce and eliminate internal ‘warfare’ and will display error and incompetence near immediately and appropriately, thus avoiding a negative gossip and rumor mill.
The challenge many organizations and leaders face head on at this time, is how to move from a state of (mostly) distrust, to a state of trust, all the while innovation, productivity and profitability need to be guarded and improved. Leaders must make the decision that in their organization, starting at day one, the employee is hired into a trusting organization. The leader shows this to any one in the company by being genuine, using a “it is what it is” message and always setting the first step in communicating and enhancing the level of trust and transparency.
Often you hear leaders say that they are transparent, yet their actions speak loudly in opposition. They are often ‘selective’ in what they share and are often publicly embarrassed when, as it happens nearly always, it is later revealed that earlier presented data is not in line with the later presented time line and message shared.
Leaders are wise to opt a personal and leadership team communication policy, which:
- Communicates the good and the bad
- Excludes blame at all cost
- Is continuous – a continuous flow of bi-directional information throughout the organization
- Includes double-loop learning – there is always leadership follow-up to shared communication
- Is measured through team members’ continuous and direct response at all levels
- Acts upon comments in a transparent manner – even when this appears to be ‘painful’ and ‘long overdue’
- Dispels surveys, unless all collected data is fully shared with the survey responders and not ‘massaged’ in any way or form
- Sets expectations at all levels (including leadership and governance board)
- Has the positive output effect necessary to propel the organization to the next level
- Supports your leadership vision
- Voices you are on the team members’ side – all the time
In addition to the above, as a leader you can set aside a half-hour (if possible an hour) per day blocked in your calendar, where your assistant will schedule time to allow for “walk ins” (for example 8AM-9AM, or 4PM-5PM). This time is much related to transparency and to ‘human resources’ and your organization’s performance. From personal global experience in multiple organizations, the openness you create by doing this, will do wonders to building trust.
Your request for active feedback will break with the often used traditional way of leadership thinking; leadership censures what the employees need to know and the employee knows exactly what leadership wants to hear and tells them accordingly. When something goes wrong, leadership has a hard time to understand why the employee did not speak up and channel the information through the ‘appropriate channel’. Employees know that what is not wished for, either explicitly or implicitly stated, is not supposed to happen. After all, people adapt quickly to what they see “pays off” in an organization. Transparency and response mechanisms remain essential ingredients for a great organization (this includes human resources), like the one you’re creating.
Leadership can make once again all the difference by setting the communication standard. You know when communication is free flowing, people will easily come up to you, to share, to comment, to provide ideas, etc. They are not afraid.
As an organization moving into, what in my view will turn out to be one of the most competitive markets since decades, you need an active communicating work force at all levels.
Remember, you can wait a long time before an employee will come up to you and tell you that he/she is receiving too much communication. It simply won’t happen.
Communicate, communicate, communicate. In turn you will receive communication. Fair deal – people are people and they communicate as people.
Johan F. Reinhoudt
CEO/owner Top-Coach and Certified Master Executive Coach
This article was originally published in Leadership Matters on September 10, 2009.