Involve, not just inform

by | Sep 3, 2013 | Blog | 0 comments

3 people involved in conference roomThe manager information cascade.

Oldie but not goodie.

That was my reaction when seeing a blog post and a forgotten folder of articles about helping managers cascade information to employees.

Thanks to technology, for many knowledge workers, self-service has replaced the manager cascade.

(In traditional cascades, the top of the organization gave the go-ahead for senior managers to share information down the organization level-by-level until the front-line managers had communicated with their employees. Cascades were often slow and inconsistent.)  

Compared to the old days, knowledge workers don’t have to rely on their managers to open the spigot to get important information to do their job. Knowledge workers can now access a wide array of information on their own, except for sensitive items—which is a different topic.

In fact, unless you and your colleagues suffer from information deprivation paranoia (IDP), information overload has become more of a problem than information scarcity.

Yet, drowning in information presents its own set of challenges. For example:

  • Signal to noise ratio. Just because you can access data, doesn’t mean it will be interesting and useful. Both criteria need to be met in a work situation.
  • Data disguised as information. The data may need interpretation or translation to be understood.
  • Random rather than connected dots. Only part of the story may be here. You may need more of the plot or at least the context to feel confident in your ability to decide and act.    

Nonetheless, the goal is not information collection and comprehension, but decision-making and action.

In the work setting, information without action is clutter. Most of us don’t need more information overload.

How do you avoid the clutter, especially if you’re leading a strategic initiative and needing employees to be well-informed?

Involve people instead.

When we inform, we often go into a “telling and selling” mode. One-way communication is an ineffective way to persuade and influence.

Instead, when we think “involvement,” we start “listening and engaging” and have two-way conversations. The dialogue helps everyone dissect and deliberate the topic, which improves understanding for all.

Even better than dialogue is more robust involvement. That includes getting others to help do the work, which also can entail influencing and persuading their peers. This means broader distribution of the work and better results, especially when individuals with different yet complementary skills are involved.

To maximize involvement for yourself and others, ask and answer these three questions:

  1. What do you want to achieve? In other words, what does success look like?
  2. Who can help me from the perspective of skills and relationships?
  3. How can I make their involvement interesting, rewarding and useful from their perspective?

All too often, I see leaders taking short cuts that short circuit the process and cause more problems. Even if individuals have the right information at their fingertips, it’s still too difficult to decide and act.

For example, leaders don’t take the time to explain the context and connect the dots so people don’t see the big picture.

They ask for volunteers to do activities without an outcome in mind so people are busy, not necessarily productive.

They delegate individuals to the initiative without checking their interest level so people may just go through the motions.

They ask the “usual suspects” who may not have the right skill set for this particular assignment, or who may not have the credibility with the rest of the organization so they don’t get good results or the support they need.

Don’t fall into these traps.

Involve, not just inform, others and act purposefully.

And remember, you can call me for help.


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