Keep Employees in the Dark, and They'll Go Where It's Light
Excerpts from Love 'Em or Lose 'Em: Getting Good People to Stay
What's the big deal about information? You simply may not have time to share information with your
employees. So what if you don't? It's hard for you to do your best without information. The
same is true for your employees.
Information is power. Even as kids, we knew that having the inside scoop is cool , and we felt
important if we had information that others didn't have. If information is power, then being out of
the loop leaves you powerless. Research shows that people want a boss with influence in the
organization. Think about your own work experience, and you will probably agree that you would much
rather work for a boss who's in the loop than one who's clueless. Your employees are no different.
They want you to be in the loop and bring them in, too.
It's especially important to share information during times of dramatic change. We've seen dozens of
organizations undergoing major change where high-level managers withheld information (admittedly,
sometimes you cannot share), and middle managers hoarded it for fear of losing importance.
Check out what might happen when you withhold information about change:
SENIOR MANAGER THINKS
It's too early to tell them.
Silence must mean it's pretty bad.
This news is too frightening
we'd better wait.
They're moving the company to Panama.
I'm afraid if we tell them,
productivity will drop.
The company's going belly-up. Where else can I get a job?
The manager is trying to protect the employees and keep up productivity. This backfires. What happens
to productivity when anxious employees update their resumes? Where top leaders give information as
early and honestly as possible and hold managers accountable for passing the news down, the
productivity dip is minimized. Another good reason to share information in a crisis is that your
employees might be able to help with suggestions.
GETTING YOUR FAIR SHARE. What and how much should you share? That depends primarily on your
organization's culture. At one end of the openness continuum is Jack Stack, president and CEO of
Springfield Remanufacturing Company (SRC) in Springfield, Missouri. He wrote The Great Game of
Business, and espouses "open-book management." He says, "We are building a company in which
everyone tells the truth every day not because everyone is honest, but because everyone has access
to the same information: operating metrics, financial data, valuation estimates. The more people
understand what's really going on in their company, the more eager they are to help solve its
You may not work in such an open environment. Share as much as you can with your employees. The result
will be increased commitment and enhanced odds of keeping your best people.
As a manager in the new millennium, you are expected to help your team look to the future. Share what
you know about:
1. Your organization's strategic direction
2. Your profession, industry and organization's future
3. The emerging trends and new developments that may affect career possibilities
4. The cultural and political realities of your organization
Your team members will better understand the changing world of work; they will learn to look
broadly at their profession, industry and organization and see the trends and implications in each.
They will also feel more competent and confident in their future marketability.
Share information face to face, especially if it is difficult to deliver or will affect your employees
significantly. Tell people who report to you the news yourself, rather than having them learn it via
memo or from some other source.
Beware of sending critical information down through many layers. Double-check to be sure the message
is getting through. We all know what happens to a story when it has been repeated several times it
barely resembles the original.
Building an information-rich culture can be challenging. After all, there will be times when you are
privy to information that you simply cannot share with your employees. Here are a few simple
guidelines to help you handle the situation:
* Don't share no matter how tempting the information might be.
* Never use information-withholding as a power tool. If you are given proprietary or "secret"
information, do not tell people you have it unless they ask you.
* If people ask you if you have information, tell them that you are not at liberty to share it
and why. For example, "The information is sensitive or proprietary" or "I have been asked to keep it
confidential and I need to honor that request."
* Be prepared for the possibility that your responses may not please people. If you establish a
track record of early, honest information sharing, you will have more room to occasionally withhold
information when the situation dictates.
TWO-WAY STREET. So far we have focused on management sharing information and communicating
early and honestly. Getting information is also a way of keeping your employees. People want to be
heard. They want to have input regarding their jobs, the work at hand, and the goals and strategies of
the team and organization. As a manager, you need to ask for that input.
While most employees are expected to come to their managers if there is a problem, often they don't
because they feel uncomfortable or the manager doesn't offer the opportunity. As a manager, you must
make sure your employees feel comfortable talking to you. Set aside time just for this purpose by
scheduling regular meetings or casual weekly breakfasts or lunches with your group.
Stay in the loop. Keep your employees in the loop. It will help you keep your talent.
Beverly Kaye and Sharon Jordan-Evans are entrepreneurs and experts in employee
retention. Kaye is the president of Beverly Kaye &
Associates Inc. and Career Systems International of Scranton, Pa.(www.careersystemsintl.com). Jordan-Evans
is the president of Jordan Evans
Group, a leadership consulting business based in Woodland Hills, Calif. (www.jeg.org) For more on the authors' retention strategies, see
Adapted and excerpted from Love 'Em or Lose 'Em: Getting Good People to
Copyright 1999 by Beverly Kaye and Sharon Jordan-Evans
Reprinted and excerpted with permission of Berrett-Koehler Publishers Inc.
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