On communicating in an organization

This is the beginning of the new financial year and every particle in the organization is abuzz with rumours. Of all kinds.
People are whispering about pay-cuts, lay-offs, teams getting dissolved, re-organizations, people being put on the bench (which is a pre-cursor to a lay-off) etc

Why is that ?
In Michael Lopp’s entertaining book Managing Humans, he talks about rumours.

We want to know what’s going on, and when we don’t, we’re likely to make stuff up using whatever facts are available to give the impression that we do. When you add opinions and biases to this information-creation process, you end up with a steady flow of compelling fiction crossing your desk.

So, there. The question is how do organizations quench this thirst for information? Add to this the fact that this lack of information brews insecurity amongst the people, and you understand the criticality of the situation.
A lot of times, unfortunately, executives do not care enough to keep the information flowing. It is frustrating for an employee to hear about impending pay-cuts and lay-offs from the CEO’s statement to the media. He is asking: “why couldn’t the moron just tell us before he went on and told the whole world ?”
It is a reasonable rant. However, for some vague reason, executives just don’t get it.
Most of the times, internal memos to the employees talk about “hard times” and “our ability as an organization to succeed when the odds are against us”. All this while the press releases are talking about cost-cutting and “unfortunate” lay-offs. Employees are a part of the organization and they deserve to be atleast given more information than is given to the media !

One of the challenges I have faced as a manager is information gathering and spreading. There are always questions about confidentiality, lack of information, people’ reactions to information, credibility of the information etc.
How much of the latest news can I share with my people ? How sure am I about the truth of the information I have just collected ? How will my team react when I give them the information ? Will they stop working ? Will it dampen their spirits to the extent of screwing up our next deliverable to the customer ?
These questions are hard, yes. But I have realized that hiding the truth is even more dangerous. Especially when people have alternative ways of digging it out. Even in large organizations, people have ears to the heart of the organization. These are the days when organizations have their own corporate versions of twitter, Yahoo IM, del.icio.us, blogs etc. Once your team starts digging out information without your help, you become redundant. We all know what happens with redundant managers, don’t we !
The next big problem is the accuracy of the information you are about to share. For instance, I have a member in my team who is looking to grab that new assignment overseas. I have a tip-off that the senior management has approved his travel and have given him the go-ahead. Now, before I gleefully share this bit with the team-member, I better double and triple check the accuracy of this tip-off and make sure the management is focussed on taking this through. Far too many times, I have seen the management turn the back on its own decisions when the heat was turned up a little. On the other hand, however, if I wait too long and the team-member gets this info from someone else, how will that impact my credibility ?

These questions are tough to handle. Manager’s get to make a lot of such calls everyday. And most of these do not involve bar graphs and Gantt Charts.


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