Keeping employees informed Even bad news can be better than no news.

July 06, 1992|By Gerald Graham | Gerald Graham,Knight-Ridder News Service

"Is there anything you would not tell your subordinates?" I recently asked a midlevel manager.

"Oh, yes," she responded. "For example, we have recently decided to close one of our retail outlets. But it will be about four months before the actual closing, and we will not communicate this decision until three weeks prior to closing."

"Why?" I said.

"For some very good reasons," she said. "First we do not want any more rumors than necessary. Second, we want the people to stay as focused as they can on their tasks. And third, we do not want our competitors to find out."

Further discussion revealed, however, that rumors, employee morale and leaks had been serious problems for some time.

In my opinion, experience shows that attempts to "manage" communication in the way that the manager explained actually fosters the problems she was trying to prevent.

No employee likes to hear bad news. Uncertainty, though, is worse. If people get a decision, even though it may be unpopular, they can take steps to adjust to the decision. But when their conditions remain uncertain, rumors abound, morale drops and performance often suffers.

Effective communicators tend to follow three guidelines:

* They keep their employees well-informed about where the organization is going.

* Managers provide communication in a personal, warm and supportive manner.

* Employees receive few surprises.

When managers violate those communication guidelines, employees tend to lose focus and commitment.

Management quiz

Identify how your employees would rate you on the following by using the scale: 4 equals "strongly agree," 3 equals "agree," 2 equals "disagree," and 1 equals "strongly disagree."

My manager quickly communicates such things as ...

1. Discussions regarding strategic changes.

2. New promotional programs.

3. Layoff considerations.

4. Restructuring discussions.

5. Location discussions.

6. Discussions regarding reward structures.

7. Relocation considerations.

8. Discussions of technological changes.

9. New policy alternatives.

10. Evaluations of facilities.

Total your points. Thirty-five points or better suggests a very good communication program, 25 to 34 suggests average communication, 24 or less indicates a need to improve communication.

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