With so much uncertainty in the world around us, the question “What do we know?” is a constant in our organizations. The question is quickly followed by “What do we tell our people?” Is it better to keep a brave front and not worry them? Should you tell them everything no matter how dismal, or relevant, the information is? Different leaders have been responding to this dilemma in different ways and, as with most things, the sweet spot is somewhere in the middle.
Not telling your people what is going on may seem to be a good way to protect your people, keep them focused on their jobs while you worry about… everything else. If you’ve ever walked into a room where an argument was just had, you know that nothing needs to be said for you to know that something happened before you showed up, even if you don’t know what that something is. You instantly pick up on what is going on in the background. Your people can too. They will know that there is something you’re not telling them and often imaginations are worse than truth.
There is also the danger, though considerably less likely, that you tell your people too much, including things that have no bearing on their work. This can clutter the message and add confusion to uncertainty. Also, not a desired outcome.
So where is the balance? It starts with asking the question, “What do we need to accomplish in order to survive and thrive in this era and what do my people need to know in order to understand why that is the goal?”
During this Covid-19 era, the managing partners of a mid-size firm had a series of talks with their entire organization. During these talks, the managing partners outlined the status of the firm and the executive committee’s plan for maintaining operations. As part of this plan, they gave the firm objectives that had to be met in order for the current operating plan to be kept in place. The plan also included revisions to ways of operating that were in place inside of the old era.
The managing partners and the rest of the executive committee did not keep quiet about what the firm was facing, but they also didn’t share every painful detail of the situation. They gave a high-level overview of what was so and then gave their employees specific goals to have their attention on that, if met, would have a profound impact on the success of the firm.
These were not easy conversations. It was hard for the employees to hear that their jobs might be in peril, but it was better than no news at all. Everyone understanding what the situation was and that they could do something to change it created a sense of partnership and empowered the firm to action.