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The hard truth by 'Z': Who Belongs in the Loop?

Messages can spread in mysterious ways

by on
in Leaders & Managers,Office Management,Office Technology,Workplace Communication

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, my managers 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 my 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 had declared a “freeze on temps,” thus turning me into a bean-counting ogre.

Drafting a plan

To make sure that messages cascade 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 discussed to the outside world. I ask each participant to review the steps they’re going to take to talk to their staff. I want to know how they’ll communicate (i.e, face-to-face meetings, e-mails, written memos). Then I have them rehearse for a minute or two.

This exercise forces everyone in the room (me included) to think through the right way to tell others what we’ve decided. If someone says something that’s not quite right, we rectify that right then and there—before he accidentally misleads others by sending out the wrong signals.

I also leave the managers with an “assignment”:

1.List 10 individuals in your unit who maintain the lowest profile.

2.List all the individuals in your unit who have complained about feeling left out in the past.

3.List all the consultants, contract workers, vendors and suppliers who need to be kept in the loop about this matter.

By leaving them with these issues to mull over, I remind them not to overlook the quiet but influential people who tend to fade into the woodwork.

For your eyes only

What’s even tougher is controlling the spread of confidential information. Here’s what I do. Sometimes it’s a bit dishonest, but it works.

If I have a delicate piece of information to tell someone—and I need to ensure that it’s kept secret—I’ll say to them, “You’re the only one who knows about this right now, so if word spreads, I’ll know it’s you who’s talking.” 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 like making an announcement over a loudspeaker in the company cafeteria. In my experience, once a half-dozen managers know about something like a pending reorganization or a big personnel move, leaks occur. I plan it that way, so that I’m not disappointed when the rumor mill starts churning.

“Z” offers insights into what it really takes to get ahead. This 20-year veteran of the corporate battlefield has climbed the ranks to head a $10 million information services company. We have agreed to protect Z’s identity in return for his promise to hold nothing back.

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