Lately I’ve been thinking about the whole idea of communication in the workplace. While we hear a lot about the importance of open flow communication, that just isn’t the way for many bosses. And when a boss keeps secrets or is stingy with communication, much can go wrong.
All people basically want is some clue as to what’s going on that affects them — and affects those around them. And they also want to know that someone remembers they are human and have feelings. You know … good old-fashioned respect in a world that too easily minimizes the human part of us.
But the business world often turns feelings into weaknesses (“girly” stuff). And instead winds up creating workplace processes that overlook essential human-centered management techniques. Ones that would build employee loyalty and encourage above-and-beyond participation.
And one of the biggest management errors, IMHO, is using the need-to-know-basis management style. Meaning “I’ll tell you when you absolutely need to know!” But until then, don’t ask and I won’t tell.
What happens if boss keeps secrets?
When a company brings me in as a consultant to help them solve a problem – almost any problem – no matter what else is going on, the answer usually involves improved communication. And one of the biggest offenders is when management holds back information from employee. Often until the last minute when they’ll find out anyway.
Some managers just can’t connect the dots between an employee who is not immediately and the end result. Here are some of management’s reasons:
- It would get the staff agitated.
- If we tell them too much too soon, they might interfere with our plans.
- They’ll ask all kinds of questions and just waste my time.
- Loose lips sink ships.
- They might start to expect this kind of open communication all the time.
- It’s not their business. We’re in charge.
Some reasons this is bogus thinking:
- Your employees might just add something important to the thinking you never considered.
- You are losing a chance to gain loyalty and show respect.
- You’re showing them they don’t really matter, except in a very limited sense.
- Good workplace communication can increase morale — as well as productivity and innovation.
- There often is a need to know even if a manager can’t see why until he actually establishes good communication.’
- You can turn off employees and lose their loyalty by leaving them out in the cold.
- Without good communication, you’re not building the kind of workplace where folks go the extra mile for YOU.
Human nature in business matters
Over 50 years ago, W. Edwards Deming helped revolutionize the auto industry and gave birth to Japanese dominance of the industry for many years. How? By recognizing and implementing some very basic principles of human nature:
- People at all levels of an organization have valuable ideas.
- People want to feel sense of ownership and be part of the solution.
- You gain more by breaking down barriers rather than building walls.
- People work best and contribute more value when they have a sense of pride of workmanship.
And all this is maximized when communication flows freely. Not when a boss keeps secrets. And not just when managers think employees NEED to know. But all along. Keeping people informed of organizational plans and goals strengthens an organizations. And so does actively involving them in the thinking that leads up to creating those plans.
Does it take more time? Yes. At least .initially. But as Deming — and history — showed us, the results far outweigh the up-front efforts. Good communication along with a recognition of basic human feelings and needs can make all the difference between so-so results and full-blown success. And, as far as I’m concerned, this is something managers really do need to know!
[Article updated in 2020]
About the author…
Ronnie Ann, founder of Work To the Wise and Work Coach Cafe, bases her real-world advice on her many years as an organizational consultant where she helped interview and hire people, added to a certificate from NYU in Career Planning & Development, as well as her many adventures as a serial job seeker.
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