The Right Balance of Communication

Newsletter 52

The senior leadership team was in the midst of a heated debate. “We need to protect the rank and file from this bad economic news we’re facing; it will only scare them and lessen their motivation if they know what we know,” said one leader. “The less they know about this situation, the better it will be for the company.”

“I disagree strongly,” said another leader. “I think it will be more damaging to morale and motivation if we don’t give them some realistic idea of what our future looks like. We owe it to our people to come clean with them about everything we know.”

What is your call? Do you communicate the bad news to the troops, or do you protect them from it? What will get you the best organizational morale, motivation, and performance? If you were to poll a group of leaders, you likely would get responses ranging from the “command and control/need to know” school of thought at one extreme and the “everybody should know everything/open book management” school at the other.

The Greeks said “All things in moderation.” Like a lot of other things, my experience has been that for this issue an approach in the moderate range (like risk/reward, assertiveness, etc.) often yields the best results.

If bad news is looming on the horizon and you don’t keep your team informed, then you can damage their trust in you and your future credibility in their eyes. Besides, there is hardly any way to keep this kind of information secret in organizational life. You are probably being overly optimistic if you think that the troops don’t already have some kind of idea about what’s going on.

Furthermore, in the ambiguity vacuum created by no information at all, people will tend to imagine the worst. They can completely freak themselves out and waste a lot of potentially productive energy worrying themselves and others about an unrealistic catastrophic future.

On the other hand, while folks love to spend more time communicating with senior management (e.g., see every employee satisfaction survey ever conducted), to reveal every daily financial victory and defeat of the organization is more information than is useful for most people. Of course they need to understand the organizational vision, their role in achieving it, and some basic measures of their individual success and of overall organizational success. This gives people a sense of ownership and pride in their contribution to the organization.

However, sharing day-to-day fluctuations in organizational performance with an accountant’s precision only creates unnecessary stress and worry for most of your team members. Too much information about a situation over which they have little control can lead to the same type of worrying as too little information and can result in the same loss of organizational performance. Besides, many of the teams I work with are drowning in useless information anyhow. It’s similar to checking your stock holdings in the stock market several times a day; it’s a waste of your time and a formula for needless stress.

Therefore, consider the level of authority and accountability of the members of your team that you will be informing, then give them the appropriate level of information that will help them and help your organization. Think moderation and balance.

TECHNIQUES

Technique #1: Insure that ambiguity and lack of information don’t drive worry and unproductive behavior in your organization.

Technique #2: Conversely, insure that your team isn’t burdened with “information overload” that can lead to the same kinds of unproductive behavior.

Technique #3: To achieve top morale, motivation, and organizational performance insure that your team knows your organizational mission and vision, their roles in achieving it, and how individual and organizational success are measured.

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