How And When To Inform Your Team Of Major Developments In Your Business
As I continue to mature both as an individual and as a leader, I’m increasingly amazed by the fact that the most straightforward advice is often the most difficult to follow.
Take the idea of transparency, for example. Virtually every thought leader in the world today, myself included, espouses the virtue of openness in business. Nearly everyone readily accepts this sentiment without question.
However, when challenging circumstances arise in the course of business, this commitment to transparency is tested.
I’ve learned that transparency is a spectrum. Leaders must remain committed to the truth, while also respecting the fact that the truth isn’t always what it seems. This nuanced understanding is vital when it comes to determining just how and when to communicate with your team.
This idea has weighed on my mind quite a bit as of late. In reflecting upon my handling of the recent changes taking place here at my company, BodeTree, I’ve identified three key lessons about organizational transparency that I think can be helpful to leaders from all walks of life.
Avoid sharing information in real-time
The first and arguably most important lesson I’ve learned is to never share information in real-time.
If you’re anything like me, you tend to jump to logically defensible conclusions despite having relatively little verified information. Sometimes, you end up being right. More often, however, you find that the facts and circumstances tend to evolve changing your initial assessment.
Some days I feel as though I’m locked in constant battle with myself, with my more experienced and cautious side struggling against my more optimistic and excitable feelings. Until recently, my excitable side won more often that it lost.
Building anything, let alone a sustainable business, is incredibly difficult. Positive news is often scant, and when it does pop up, you want to shout it from the rooftop.
I used to rush out of my office after receiving even a hint of exciting news, eagerly sharing it with the team. With their hopes raised, my team developed expectations based on incomplete information, only to have them dashed when reality proved to be different.
This happened more often than I care to admit while negotiating the sale of our original line of business. I was so excited that I’d share everything I knew with the team.
Unfortunately, the pace of the deal was not in line with my cadence of internal communication. As a result, it looked to outsiders as though we were operating in a state of utter chaos. Understandably, this leads to an emotional roller coaster for everyone involved.
After enduring several of these team-wide emotional crashes, I realized that I was to blame. In my eagerness to share, I lost control of both the facts and the narrative and allowed emotions to run wild in my organization.
Eventually, I learned to allow news, conversations, and ideas to age a bit before I shared them. More often than not, the underlying facts changed quite a bit during this period of waiting.
The simple act of holding my tongue until the facts had a chance to settle modulated some of the emotional swings the team experienced.
Don’t let the rumor mill run wild
Of course, you can’t sit on news forever. Despite your best efforts, conversations are overheard, things slip out, and rumors start to spread.
I wish there were a magic formula for knowing exactly how long to wait before sharing information with your team, but there isn’t. Instead, it comes down to experience.
Waiting too long to share information with the team can be catastrophic. Less experienced leaders may convince themselves that teams aren’t entitled to know everything going on behind the scene. Whether right or wrong, this sentiment is folly.
The reason comes down to the fact that secrets get out and people form their theories about what is happening. It does no good to deny this fact. The only way to control it and prevent the rumor mill from running wild is to share the right information at the right time.
I’ve found that the key to this is to share two things: facts and intention.
In the case of BodeTree, after letting things settle for a few weeks, I shared with the team the fact that we were exploring a possible sale of one line of business and our intention to see it through.
Were there more details behind on those two statements? Of course. However, they weren’t relevant to the conversation at that time and, more importantly, were mostly speculation. Including them in my statement to the team would serve only to muddy the water.
Instead, I stuck to the most important and established truths. I also promised to share more information once the facts and intent had been further developed.
This simple act of honesty shut down most of the rumors circulating throughout the company and gave people confidence that they were in the know.
Fall back on fact-based transparency
I often tell people that if they knew how the proverbial sausage is made in business, they’d lose their minds. The world is full of non-sequiturs, illogical behavior, emotional negotiations, and an ever-evolving understanding of facts.
Early on in my career, I loved to throw stones at leaders who I thought were utterly clueless. Their lack of clear direction, transparency, and action was a sign of incompetence, I reasoned.
It was only once I became a leader myself that I realized just how complicated the world was. Sharing every detail of my experience in real-time did no one any favors. In fact, it served only to fuel the fires of chaos.
It was only after learning things the hard way that I came to understand the value of a nuanced approach to transparency. The lesson was simple: fall back on the most well-established facts and intentions. Everything else will fall into place in due time.