Saturday, September 12, 2009


Here's a simple question: Do you like to be kept in the dark? People walking around you know what’s going on while you have no idea? People stop doing one thing and start doing another and you don’t know why? People moving from one job to another and no one is telling you?
It stinks, doesn’t it?

There is no more disturbing a situation then to be ‘outside the huddle.’ But, the fact is that many organizations operate like that on a daily basis and don’t even recognize it.

To make it clear, I am not talking about either real government or corporate secrets. There are obviously many situations where certain information needs to be protected. Everyone knows about soft drink companies that keep their formulas within a small group of people, as an example. And there are some issues that management can’t discuss by law, except within well-defined parameters, such as efforts to acquire a publicly traded company. And certainly, there are many cases within the federal government and the military where safety demands that only certain people know certain things.*

What I am talking about are those situations where upper management simply stops talking. A number of years ago I was working on amending a particular strategic plan and one of the folks I was working with noted – in private - that “we’re not actually doing this,” that is, the organization wasn’t really following the existing plan. He then went on to complain that the organization didn’t have a plan. I corrected him at that point. The organization clearly had a plan, it just wasn’t the one we had labeled as ‘the plan.’ They – the senior leadership - had a plan, but they weren’t sharing it with the rest of us.

In short, all of us were being kept in the dark. The plan we were working on was pretty much useless, and the goals we were working towards – or thought we were – weren’t the ones the boss was working towards. We never found out for certain what those goals were.

The net result of all that type of behavior is an organization that simply repeats what it has been doing, but isn’t making any progress towards ANY goal – because the goal of the boss is not what the ‘rank and file’ are working towards.

If you really want to, you can run your organization that way. It is inefficient and ineffective, it destroys morale and team cohesion, and it wastes your people on unproductive activity. It also guarantees that you will never achieve anything approaching excellence in your endeavors.

Or, you can choose to include your people in your decision-making and in your planning. You can agree to keep as few secrets as possible and work as hard as possible to communicate with your people. There are those who will object that you need to keep this or that secret. I saw a poster recently that said something to the effect that companies that aren’t interested in keeping secrets aren’t really interested in competing. I suppose that that might be true in one or two very narrow, high technology industries, but the most competitive industries in the world keep few secrets. In fact, the free movement of information has become a hallmark of most of these industries.

The fact is that clear communication is necessary for excellence in execution. Watch a few football games on a Saturday in Fall and you will see this: good teams will very quickly learn to read the other teams; among evenly matched teams more plays will fail because a player was in the wrong place, doing the wrong thing then will fail because the other team ‘read’ the offense. And why was the player in the wrong place, doing the wrong thing? Because he didn’t get the play. It may be his fault, maybe he wasn’t listening, but communication failed.

* Though, having lived in that world for many years, many times people got ‘carried away’ and restricted distribution of various pieces of information to such a degree that it negatively affected the situation.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home