State the Obvious: The Key to Employee Communications

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Here’s the deal: Employees always know what’s going on in the organization so why not tell them? State the obvious.

After listening to thousands of employees in focus groups and surveys, two simple truths emerge: 1. Employees always know what is really going on; and, 2. Employees always want more communication from leadership. Then why do organizations go through the charade of trying to withhold information that people already know about? Some examples…

  • When there is a “major” restructuring but all senior team members keep their jobs, employees know that nothing much will change regardless of declarations to the contrary. One smart employee said about such a change, “It’s like rotating bald tires.” Another said, “Same old horses, same old glue.” It’s obvious that change won’t happen.
  • When there is a salary freeze or cuts in corporate travel or bonuses are not paid, the signals are that all is not well on the business front. Any communication to the contrary will be seen as pabulum. It’s obvious the financial performance is going in the wrong direction.
  • When teams are put together to come up with cost saving ideas it is a signal that people are about to lose their jobs because revenue and cost are not what they should be. It’s obvious that employees not engaged on those teams may lose their jobs.
  • When the holiday party is an extravaganza with big bands and lots of celebration, it means the sales team met their year-end goals and it was a good year. This is usually an easy thing to say. It’s obvious that hard work will be rewarded.
  • When the bankers and the lawyers are with the senior team in closed-door meetings all the time, either something good (like an IPO) is going to happen or something bad (like going out of business) is about to happen. State the obvious.

These are just a few common examples of activities that broadcast what is going on in the organization and what people see and believe. Employees are never clueless. In fact they can pick up on clues no matter how hard management tries to be obscure things. 

Telling the truth is always a good place to start and end. Stating the obvious is the first step for truth seekers. Being totally transparent all the time might be too big a step since there are times when total confidentiality is required and respected like in the case of mergers and acquisitions. Employees don’t expect that level of openness. But when something is happening right in front of them and they can see what is happening, don’t try to fool them with happy talk.

“Telling it like it is” will always command more respect and credibility than trying to gloss over any bad news. And credibility is always that one trait of leadership that is valued above all others. Being on a team means there are wins and losses and team members are entitled to know what is happening. My experience is that people can take bad news if there is some line of sight as to how we are going to get out of this mess. 

Try stating the obvious. Even though you may be telling people something they already know, they will appreciate it.

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