Change never sleeps around here. Every day brings new initiatives, new market developments, new personnel. Sometimes, I wish I could download every last bit of the latest news and e-mail everyone, so that no one feels left out.
But reality interferes. Events can unfold so rapidly that I don’t have time to alert all the people of what’s going on.
In theory, the managers who report to me are supposed to relay my messages to the troops. But they’re not mere conduits, of course. They add their own editorial comments.
Last month, I told managers to cut expenses by scaling back the use of temps when possible. I later found out that the managers passed along the more extreme message that I’d imposed a “freeze on temps,” turning me into a beancounting microleader.
Drafting a planTo make sure that a message cascades down accurately, I reserve about a half-hour at the end of every important meeting to go over exactly how we’re going to communicate what we’ve decided to the outside world. I ask each participant to review the steps he or she is going to take to inform his or her staff (face-to-face meetings, e-mails, etc.). Then, I have them rehearse the message for a minute or two.
This exercise forces everyone in the room (including me) to think through the right way to tell others what we’ve decided. If someone says something that’s not quite right, we rectify it then and there, before it has the chance to accidentally mislead anyone “on the outside.”
I also leave the managers with this assignment:
- List 10 people on your staff who maintain low profiles.
- List everyone on your staff who has complained about feeling left out of the loop.
- List all the consultants, contract workers, vendors and suppliers who need to know about this matter.
By leaving them with those issues to mull over, I remind them not to overlook the quiet but influential people who are important to the project’s success.
For your eyes only
Of course, controlling the spread of confidential information is even tougher. Here’s what I do:
If I have a delicate piece of information to tell someone—and I need to ensure that it stays secret—I’ll say: “You’re the only person besides me who knows about this right now, so if word spreads, I’ll know who spread it.” Even if I tell two or three people the same message, I issue the same warning.
If I need to let a lot of people in on the secret, I assume that the minute I reveal what’s up, it’s as if I’d announced it over a loudspeaker in the company breakroom. Then, I’m not surprised when the “rumors” work their way back to me.
Author: “Z” offers insights into what it really takes to lead an organization. This 30-year veteran of the corporate battlefield has climbed the ranks to lead a multi-million dollar information services company. We have agreed to protect Z’s identity in return for his promise to hold nothing back.
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