The myth of “need to know”
Is your management team one secret handshake away from being a street gang? Does the expression “need to know” come up regularly in your communication plan? When faced with a challenge or a major decision, upper management often huddles behind closed doors, waiting days and sometimes months before admitting a change is coming. The law of unintended consequences states that for every action (and not keeping people in the loop is definitely an action) there are at least two consequences you didn’t expect/want. Here are some of the consequences of hoarding information about change:
Culture of Distrust – You might as well start your meetings with “since we don’t trust you…” – your actions are saying it anyway. A culture of secrets goes both ways – if you can’t be honest with your team, you can bet they will start hiding things from you.
Rumor Fiesta – Your job is your livelihood – it’s how you feed your family and pay your bills. If your team members think something’s up which might impact their ability to keep the lights on at home, you can bet they will be relentless in trying to figure out what it is. At best rumors waste time. At worst they lead to consequence #3.
Flight of the High Performers – Instability makes people nervous, and your best people are also the ones with the most options for finding employment elsewhere. In the best of times it’s a challenge to make sure your key individual contributors are not headed for greener pastures – add a dash of poor communication about change and you might as well help them clean out their desks yourself.
So the next time your management team is faced with a big decision, try something radical – announce it. Have a quick huddle to define the problem or the change, gather the troops and let them know that there’s an issue, you’re working on a resolution, and that you will share more information as soon as you have it. If you want to truly be radical (and maybe work your company up a few notches on the “best places to work” list), suggest that if anyone has ideas or input that they would like the management team to consider, they should share it with their manager.
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