Consistently, “being in the know” ranks near the top of employee satisfaction surveys. People want to know what’s going on around here. They want to know what their part is. They want to know how events, both good and bad, are impacting the company. And why shouldn’t they? After all, it’s their company and their job. Management should hope that employees are taking an interest in what’s going on. Think what it would say about a company if its work force didn’t know and didn’t care where the company was going. Therefore, it’s an essential leadership function to make sure communication throughout the company is timely, accurate, and honest.
Imagine an assembly line worker at an automobile plant. His job is to insert the same size bolt into the same hole for each part that comes down the line. He doesn’t know what the part is, doesn’t know why it needs to be in the car, and doesn’t know how the car would perform without it. All he knows is that he’s supposed to put the same size bolt into each and every part that comes down the assembly line.
Now let’s assume our worker knows that the part coming down the assembly line is part of the braking system. He also knows if he inserts the bolt incorrectly, the braking system could fail and cause a collision. And let’s assume he understands that the company wants to position itself as making the safest car on the road. Doesn’t it stand to reason that under these circumstances, our worker would be more careful and more diligent in doing his job?
Your employees will help you reach your goals, but only if they know what they are. They need to know what the company is trying to do and where it’s trying to go. They need to know why their job is important and how it fits into the overall company objectives. So if the job of leadership is to get everyone efficiently and effectively pulling in the same direction, then good communication is key.
Good communication is accurate, complete, and truthful. It’s frequent and sends a consistent message. It invites feedback. And it’s offered in a variety of formats . . . newsletters, memos, all-company meetings, departmental brown bag lunches, individual 1-to-1 meetings. Longer term issues such as the company’s annual goals or its overall direction need to be constantly and consistently repeated, not only to make sure new employees get the message, but also to make sure the message is top-of-mind for existing employees. If we’re exceeding our goals, tell me so I can help celebrate. If we’re falling short of our goals, tell me that too and tell me how I can help get us back on track. If the company’s direction needs to change, tell me what the change will be, why it’s necessary, and how the change may affect my job.
There’s a temptation to withhold bad news or worse, to sugar-coat it. Always a bad idea. When you’ve got bad news to deliver, deliver it straight up. Don’t over-dramatize it, don’t dress it up. Just tell it like it is and describe how the company intends to respond. Invite suggestions and feedback. Your people can’t help you if they don’t know what’s going on.
It’s all about building trust. Employees need to know that you trust them with important company information. They also need to know that they can trust the information they are getting. If you nurture, protect, and validate that trust, you will have created a powerful leadership resource. If you have their trust, your employees will follow you almost anywhere.