Withholding Information From Your Staff? Be Prepared To Lose Talent.
I recently coached an employee who said they never really felt like part of the business they worked for. They generally heard about changes within the company from just about every other source but their manager.
It’s hard for you to do your best without information, and the same is true for your employees. If you withhold information unnecessarily, you will lose your talent. Maybe not today; but eventually those with choices will leave you.
INFORMATION IS POWER.
If I think back to when I was a kid, I knew that having the inside scoop was cool, and I felt important if Mum told me something she didn’t tell my sisters. If information is power, then being out of the loop – lacking information – leaves a person feeling powerless.
Research shows that people want a boss with influence and power. If you think about your own experience, you’d probably agree you’d much rather work for a boss who’s in ‘the loop’ than someone who doesn’t know what’s going on. Your employees are no different. They want to be in the loop – and they need you to bring them in.
Remember, in the absence of information, some employees will simply make stuff up. Information sharing during times of change is even more critical than during stable times. I can give you many examples of businesses going through major change where managers withheld information out of fear of losing their power or importance, with dire results.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU WITHHOLD INFORMATION?
In the vacuum left by an absence of information, a divide opens up between manager and employer.
- It’s too early to tell them
- We’d better wait till the right time
- If we tell them, productivity will drop
- Silence must mean it’s pretty bad
- They’re moving the company offshore
- We’re definitely going bust. Better start job hunting
The manager is trying to protect the employees and prevent all the lunch room talk, but ironically, the silence and protection backfires. What do you suppose happens to productivity as employees worry about their jobs and start trawling the job boards?
Where leaders provide information as early and honestly as possible and hold managers accountable for passing the news down, employees actually feel important and valued and the productivity dip is minimised. Another good reason to share information is that your employees might be able to help!
HOW MUCH SHOULD YOU SHARE?
The short answer is; it depends. It depends on your company culture, and on the nature of the information.
Do whatever you can to share as much as you can with your employees. The result will be increased commitment and enhanced odds of keeping your best people.
SHARE INFORMATION FACE-TO-FACE.
Especially if it’s difficult to deliver or will affect your employees in significant ways.
Research shows that people believe they have the full picture and react more favourably when the news is delivered in person.
BEWARE OF CRITICAL INFORMATION FLOWING DOWN THROUGH MANY LAYERS.
If it must flow down, double-check to be sure the message is getting through accurately. We all know what happens to a story when it has been repeated several times; it barely resembles the original.
WHAT ABOUT INFORMATION THAT REALLY CAN’T BE SHARED?
Never use information-withholding as power. If you are given ‘secret’ information, don’t tell people you have it unless they ask you.
If people ask you if you have information, be honest. Don’t tell them you don’t have information if you do. Tell them that you are not at liberty to share, and tell them why, e.g. “I’ve been asked to keep it confidential and I need to honour that request.”
Be prepared for the possibility that your responses may not please people and some may feel that you really should or could tell them if you wanted to. If you establish a track record of early, honest information sharing, you will have more room to occasionally withhold information when the situation dictates.
In the words of Sam Walton, Wal-Mart Founder:
I guess our greatest technique and our greatest accomplishment is the commitment to communicating with employees in every way that we possibly can, and listening to them constantly…you’ve got to put their interest first, and eventually it will come back to the company.
Bottom line: Stay in the loop. Keep your employees in the loop. It will help you keep your talent!