Were you surprised at the intensity of the passions expressed at last summer’s town hall meetings on health care? Regardless of what side you come down on, there’s a critical three-part leadership lesson to be culled from this unique, tumultuous glimpse into the American psyche:
Some of the people who screamed at their legislators were ignorant of the reality of the proposed health care bills. So they were reacting vehemently to a “reality” they were imagining, or had been told. Sound familiar?
For leaders, here’s the point: the less your people know what’s going on, the more breakdowns you can expect in the workplace. And conversely, the more clued in they are, the fewer the breakdowns.
Surveys show the #1 problem in many organizations is communication. Or, more specifically, the lack thereof. The morale-trashing conversations going on at the water cooler (or the virtual water cooler) are likely the result of inadequate communication. People kept in the dark naturally feel like mushrooms — and they’re hungry for fertilizer, no matter how toxic.
And know this for certain: if those conversations are morale-trashing, they’re motivation-trashing, and thus effectiveness-trashing.
In training Boeing managers — folks responsible for building airplanes — I’ve often asked them if rumors ever fly in the shop. The answer invariably is raucous laughter. No duh! The challenge of coping with the rumor mill is a major source of irritation to leaders everywhere. It erodes your organization’s mission — and it’s unnecessary.
It’s simple, and it’s not: keep your people informed. Err on the side of too much, rather than too little communication — and make sure the avenue of communication is a two-way street. Your organization’s existence might depend on it. The badly-needed reform of our healthcare system obviously does.
YOUR PATH FORWARD: Have a conversation with a few random employees. Ask them what rumors are flying. Ask them what they’d like to know that they feel kept in the dark about. Ask them what’s missing in your organization’s communications. Then don’t just ask; do something about what you hear.