Business owners often agonize over the decision to share news with employees, especially when it may have a negative impact on the company. Believing it is their duty to protect the team, managers may try to act as a buffer against information that can discourage productivity. Yet rampant rumors, whether they are true or false, always do more damage than the candid truth because trust is born out of honesty. As a result, transparency is critical if team members are to feel valued and remain invested in the future of the company.
While managers may not want to jeopardize the future of the business, it is important to realize the livelihood of each employee is in your hands. Employees have a right to know about sensitive situations that may affect their employment status. An impending problem may be just the motivation employees need to work more intensely, purposefully and productively, which can dig a company out of a temporary hole. As a recruiter, I hear employees frequently say that "the company is doing so great, but I am seeing none of those rewards" or the flip side of "I sense that they aren't telling us everything and I need to prepare for the worst".
Although frequent, open and honest communication with employees is essential to success, managers must be careful about oversharing. They can become trapped by expectations that every detail will be shared with each breaking development. Unless specifically seeking feedback on how to move forward, information should only be disclosed once a documented plan of action is devised.
When information is released, it must be tailored to the audience. Top management will necessarily receive a detailed report outlining the problem, while employees may only get a condensed summary. C-level executives will be involved in crafting the strategic plan, while middle managers may lead team brainstorming sessions to identify supporting goals for the new corporate objectives.
Realize that not all employees handle information the same. Age, personality, family status and culture play enormous roles in how news is received. Although most employees appreciate open communication, some can interpret good news to mean they are not receiving their due share. Others may decide bad news means it is time to update their resumes. This may cause the company to lose talent at a crucial time when everyone is needed to save the company.
Strong businesses are created through honest communication, which means telling the truth is the best policy. When details are not shared, the company looks like it is hiding something. Yet negative news has the power to derail productivity. Striking the right balance is critical to keeping a team motivated and empowered. I contend that in 2012, being intentional about the way we communicate will help us lead through what is going to be a strong uptick and retain our best and brightest employees.