Avoid undersharing at work

by | May 20, 2013 | Blog | 0 comments

Oversharing—especially on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube —is an epidemic, if you believe some of the pundits.

Undersharing, however, continues to be an insidious practice in the corporate world.

Just consider these 7 habits:

  • Sharing information “on a need-to-know basis” to protect corporate secrets.
  • Withholding information as a way to maintain efficiency.
  • Avoiding saying anything so as not to worry people.
  • Staying silent to avoid acknowledging a problem that doesn’t yet have a solution.
  • Sugarcoating information to try to put a positive spin on negative situations.
  • Saving time (especially leaders’ time) by staying quiet.
  • Keeping information under wraps as a power play.

All of these practices are old school, unsuitable for the VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world in which we, including a growing number of knowledge workers, now live and work.

When knowledge workers lack access to up-to-date, actionable information, they can’t perform their jobs, much less be as creative and innovative as their leaders desire.  They’re operating in a black hole.

For example, one of my clients expressed frustration with the situation at one of their plants.

Most of the managers there are ex-military Baby Boomers who have worked almost all of their careers under the “need-to-know” principle, which restricts access to information. These managers are comfortable with the status-quo.

Need-to-know is outdated and causing problems on a number of levels.

From a daily work perspective, employees at all levels are interacting with business partners outside the four walls of the plant.

These partners, who include company co-workers, clients and suppliers, assume the employees know what’s going on in their own organization.

Furthermore, the partners expect the employees to use their brains, not their brawn, to help them solve problems and get things done.

From a strategic perspective, smart employees aren’t able to contribute as much because they don’t have the context or the details to make educated decisions.

From a mutual respect point of view, the tension is increasing between the employees, the younger ones especially, and the managers.

Employees are complaining to each other and co-workers at other company locations about being left in the dark. They say they resent not being trusted by senior staff, and in turn they have less respect for their managers.

The status quo is untenable, especially when leaders—and shareholders—value high-quality outcomes, speed and cost efficiencies. And don’t forget strong customer relations too.

Employees can’t do their jobs much less perform at their best if they’re working like one of the three “wise” monkeys: see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil.

These managers—and you too, if you’re an information undersharer—have got to start working differently and share more information.

To combat the situation, I’m working with the client to address the “will, skill and hill” simultaneously.

From the “will” perspective—the motivation—we’re explaining to managers that they have the power and the autonomy to be the go-to people for making sure their employees have the tools of their trade. These tools are information, not the hammers and nails that their parents and grandparents counted on to do their work.

And in order for managers to share information, they must be well-informed themselves and have clarity about the company’s plans, their plans and actions.  In that regard, the organization’s leaders are taking responsibility for supporting managers, including improving their business literacy, which is a new way to work.

As for “skill”—the ability—we’re providing communication training for managers.

And last but certainly not least, to help managers get over the “hill”—that is overcome barriers in their way—we’re giving them support. This includes agendas for team meetings, talking points, frequently-asked questions and answers and tips for conducting meetings.

With these actions, we’re supporting managers as they adopt new ways to work. We know we’ll need to reward and reinforce managers as the old ways are well ingrained.

At the same time, we’re being explicit with managers and employees about the value of practicing open communication now. That signals the rules have changed about the need-to-know communication.

The transformation won’t happen overnight, yet small steps that create new habits will add up to big change over time.

How do you know if you’re sharing the right amount of information to get the outcomes you want? You can count on me to guide you.


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