Sharing Information About Your Organization

Sharing Information About Your Organization is, in fact, one of the SLII® micro skills—the fourteen directive and supportive leader behaviors I’ve been discussing in my last several blogs.

I’ve always been a big believer in sharing information. As a college professor, I used to give out the final exam on the first day of class—and spend the rest of the semester teaching students the answers. Why did I do this? I shared this information so that my students could master the material and get an A. After all, the point of education is to give people knowledge, not to sort them into some normal distribution curve.

The Benefits of Sharing Information

Business leaders should also strive to give people knowledge. Just as giving my students the final exam and teaching them the answers allowed them to master the course material, giving employees the information they need empowers them to find solutions and make informed business decisions.

Today’s most successful leaders know how to create a partnership with the people they lead. They view people as working with them rather than for them. Managers skilled in SLII® don’t just tell people what to do; they actually provide resources and information to help people do their jobs.

When employees learn more about the organization, they can see where their individual work fits into a larger context. They work faster and smarter, because now they have access to organizational resources and knowledge. Knowing that their tasks have meaning and connect to a larger purpose boosts people’s motivation and increases their job satisfaction.

Transparency Creates Trust

Being transparent with information about your organization—even information on sensitive topics such as future business plans and strategies, financial data, industry issues, or problem areas—communicates a sense of “we’re in this together.” This kind of information sharing builds trust and improves morale. It also encourages people to act like owners of the organization, which ultimately improves the bottom line.

More and more organizations are realizing the benefits of sharing sensitive information. A study from Robert Half Management Resources found that 56% of private organizations provide at least some employees with regular updates on the company’s financial performance—a 32% increase over 2012.

Sharing sensitive information has benefitted our own organization. When the events of September 11, 2001 created a crisis in our company’s bottom line, the leadership team opened the books to show everyone how much the company was bleeding, and from where. This open-book policy unleashed a torrent and ideas and commitment to increase revenues and cut costs—and the company emerged from the crisis stronger than ever.

Information Sharing in the Age of COVID-19

Fast-forward to 2020, as organizations around the world adapt to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our new president, my son Scott Blanchard, has been living his value of forthrightness by writing weekly updates to the entire company about how COVID-19 is impacting our business. Scott candidly shares information about our company’s finances and survival strategies—and the news often isn’t pretty. “It is a cruel irony that the values I cherish are not only being tested but pushed to the limit,” he wrote in an all-company e-mail. “While I can’t foresee what will happen ultimately, I remain committed to these values and to the values we have leaned on in the business during the most trying of times.”

When leaders share information about the organization, they multiply the number of intelligent minds working to solve problems. In our own company, this has led to a revolutionary transformation from classroom to digital learning. As Scott puts it, we’ve shifted from surviving to thriving—and it wouldn’t have happened without the commitment and brainpower of our associates.

That’s why I so often say: “No one of us is as smart as all of us.”

All Good Performance Starts with Clear Goals—and Clear Roles

One of the key directive leadership behaviors for SLII® leaders centers around the leader working closely with each direct report until the person is able to effectively perform the responsibilities required of their individual role. This SLII® micro skill is called Clarifying Roles.

Clear roles go hand in hand with clear goals. You already may know that one of my favorite sayings is “All good performance starts with clear goals.” In effect, that quote could be changed to read “All good performance starts with clear goals and clear roles.” High performers are not only able to clearly describe their goals, they are also committed to learning how to master specific aspects of their role—daily functions that may include upholding standards of communication, recognizing their level of authority, directing the work of others, making decisions, etc. The SLII® leader takes an active part in this process, leading the way in determining the person’s development level in each area and providing the right amount of direction and support to help the person win—achieve their goals.  

Want an example of how a manager might work with a direct report to help them learn and understand their role? Let’s take a look at a clip of a conversation from Leadership and The One Minute Manager, a book I coauthored with my friends Pat Zigarmi and Drea Zigarmi, two of our company’s cofounders.

Here’s the context: An entrepreneur wanted to learn how the One Minute Manager could flex his leadership style for people depending on their needs. So, the One Minute Manager asked the entrepreneur to visit with a few people on his team and get their perspectives. The first person the entrepreneur met with was Larry McKenzie, who recently had been promoted to the role of vice president for people and talent development.

“I’m interested in finding out how the One Minute Manager works with you,” said the entrepreneur. “Would you call him a collaborative manager? I’ve been reading a lot about collaborative leadership.”

“He’s far from being collaborative with me,” said Larry. “In fact, he is very directive with me. People development is his baby. So, my job is essentially to follow his direction.”

“But why doesn’t he just assign you the projects he needs you to do and then just let you figure them out?” asked the entrepreneur. “He must trust you if he put you in this job.”

“I think he trusts that I’ll develop in this role, but he’s the expert,” said Larry. “So, he assigns me projects and then works very closely with me on almost every aspect of them. This role is a big stretch for me. I’m just learning about several of the responsibilities that come with this job.”

“Don’t you resent that?” asked the entrepreneur. “It sounds pretty controlling to me.”

“Not at all,” said Larry. “I was in comp and benefits before I got this position three months ago. I jumped at the opportunity to move into the people and talent group. Working with the One Minute Manager would give me a chance to learn the whole area of talent development from the ground up. He’s considered a real pro when it comes to developing people. So apart from comp and benefits—where he leaves me alone when he works with me—in almost every other area, he’s very clear about what he wants me to do and how he wants me to do it. I always know where I stand because of the frequent meetings we have and the ongoing feedback he gives me.”

“Do you think he will ever let you make any decisions on your own?” asked the entrepreneur.

“As I learn the ropes,” said Larry. “But it’s hard to make good decisions when I don’t know a lot about what it takes to accomplish my goals. Right now I’m glad the One Minute Manager wants to be involved. I’m excited about my job, and as I gain experience, I’m sure I’ll assume more responsibility.”

This passage makes clear that no matter how elevated a direct report’s role, the SLII® leader uses a directive style on the job functions that are new to that person. Note how Larry mentions that the One Minute Manager uses a delegating style on the comp and benefits areas where Larry already has expertise. However, in other areas where Larry has little expertise, the One Minute Manager uses a directing style where he shows and tells Larry exactly how those tasks should be done. As time goes by and Larry learns and improves, the responsibilities of his role become crystal clear. An SLII® leader’s job is to flex their leadership style to meet the direct report’s development level on a given task or goal. Helping each person clarify their role is an important part of that process.

Acknowledging and Encouraging

Most leaders genuinely intend to manage people well. Unfortunately, many of them fail to engage and motivate others. Why? I believe it’s because you can’t just hope to be a good leader; you have to consistently practice proven leader behaviors.

As I’ve been discussing in my last several blogs, there are a set of directive and supportive behaviors leaders can employ to help both people and their organization thrive.  We call these leader behaviors SLII® micro skills.

Of all the supportive SLII® behaviors, my favorite is Acknowledging and Encouraging. If I could only use one management tool for the rest of my life, it would be this:  Catch People Doing Things Right.

Acknowledging Is a Learned Skill

Too often people feel they are working in a vacuum, because no matter how well they perform, nobody notices. Or, if their manager notices, they make overly general comments, such as, “I appreciate your efforts” or “thanks for the good job.” While that’s better than saying nothing, it doesn’t do a whole lot to motivate the person or help that person feel valued.

Do it quickly and in detail. For acknowledgment to be effective, it needs to be immediate and specific. When you notice a job well done, tell the person as soon as possible exactly what they did right. For example:

“When I was called away last week and couldn’t lead the department meeting, you stepped up, asked me for the agenda, and led the team through each item.”

State your feelings. Next, tell the person how what they did impacted you. Don’t intellectualize. State your gut feelings:

“We didn’t miss a single deliverable. I felt so relieved and supported. You made me and the whole department look good. Thank you!”

Notice how much more effective that is than merely saying, “Thanks. Good job.”

To Encourage, Try Praising People

I ask audiences all the time: “How many of you are sick and tired of all the praisings you get at work?” Everybody laughs, because to most of us, praising does not come naturally. Thousands of years of evolution have wired our brains to search for what isn’t right: Is that a stick on the trail or a venomous snake? Is the wind moving that bush or is it a bear? Our tendency to focus on what isn’t right is a protective mechanism. Unfortunately, it makes us more likely to catch each other doing things wrong.

Take marriage, for example. When you first fall in love, your partner can do no wrong. But after a time you notice what bugs you and you start saying things like, “I can’t believe you could make such a stupid mistake!” Far from motivating your partner, comments like these discourage and shut them down.

Praise, on the other hand, is inherently motivating. Research has shown that praise triggers the hypothalamus and releases dopamine, the feel-good chemical in our brains.

Being close counts. You don’t have to wait for exactly the right behavior before praising someone. Even if a person is doing something approximately right, it’s important to recognize their effort.

Suppose your child is just learning to speak and you want to teach him to say, “Give me a glass of water, please.” If you wait until he says the whole sentence before you give him any water, your kid is going to die of thirst! So you start off by saying, “Water! Water!” And when your kid says “waller,” you jump up and down, kiss the boy, and get Grandma on the phone so she can hear him say “waller.” It isn’t “water” but at this stage, you praise him anyway.

You don’t want your kid going into a restaurant at age 21 and asking for a glass of waller, so after a while you only accept the word “water” and then you start on “please.”

Think of encouragement in the same way. In the beginning, catch people doing things approximately right. As their skills develop, gradually move them toward higher levels of competence.

A Positive Cycle

The importance of acknowledging people’s efforts and encouraging their progress cannot be overstated. These leader behaviors set up a positive cycle: Your praise helps people feel good about themselves. People who feel good about themselves produce good results—and people who produce good results feel good about themselves.

So generate some positive energy and help people reach their full potential. Catch people doing things right!

Identifying Priorities

Concerned about someone whose performance is off track? Identifying Priorities, the next SLII® micro skill in our blog series, is a directive leadership behavior that helps learners stay focused on their goals.

If you have someone on your team who doesn’t seem to be performing at the level you expect, it’s possible the cause is not a lack of skill or motivation. Many times the reason people don’t meet performance expectations is because the order in which they prioritize their tasks is much different from the way their manager would have them do it. As a consequence, these individuals often are reprimanded for not doing what they didn’t know they were supposed to do. Unfortunately, this is a misunderstanding that happens all too often between people and their leaders.

Areas of Accountability

One of the biggest obstacles to high performance is the problem of unclear organizational expectations and accountability. If you and the person in question haven’t had a recent conversation about identifying and ranking priorities, give this activity a try.

Take a minute to identify and list the top ten priorities, in descending order of importance, that you hold this person accountable for. List the most important priority as #1, the second as #2, etc.

Now ask the person to make a list of the top ten priorities they feel they are held accountable for, also in descending order of importance. Don’t reveal your list until the other person is finished writing.

Now compare the two lists. How much do the lists match in terms of rank and content? If you are like most companies we work with, you’ll find only about 20% alignment between the two lists.

In many instances, managers are surprised to find they are holding someone accountable for results that are completely different from the priorities the person has on their list. Keep in mind that priorities can change rapidly depending on the person’s role and/or the pace of work in your department or organization.

For a more specific example, let’s take a look at an excerpt from Empowerment Takes More than a Minute, a book I coauthored with Alan Randolph and John P. Carlos.

“Have you ever had your employees list ten things they think you hold them accountable for?” asked Janet.

“Why would I do that?” replied Michael. “We tell them what’s expected of them, and they all get annual performance reviews.”

“You may have just diagnosed one of your biggest problems,” said Janet. “Tell me, when people leave their performance review sessions with you, do they feel validated or surprised?”

Michael reflected on the last three reviews he’d completed. “Come to think of it, they act surprised. Two of my last three reviews involved disagreements. The people said they didn’t know they were responsible for certain areas.”

“Since there is often a difference between what people think they’re supposed to be doing on a day-to-day basis and what their leader thinks they should be doing, I recommend that each of them make a list and compare the priority of things on the two lists. Let me give you an example of how [it] works.

“A couple who are friends of mine own a convenience store. They were constantly in a quandary as to why things they thought were important weren’t getting done around the store. So they asked their assistant to list the ten things she thought she was accountable for. This is the list the assistant produced.” She handed Michael a slip of paper.

  1. Shrink (inventory loss)
  2. Cash over or short on the register
  3. Stock shelves
  4. Clean rest rooms
  5. Test gas tanks for water
  6. Fresh coffee at all times
  7. Clean parking lot
  8. Organize back room
  9. Rotate stock
  10. Ordering

“My friends, the owners, made a list of the ten things they held the assistant accountable for. It looked like this.” She gave him another slip of paper.

  1. Sales volume
  2. Profit
  3. Customer perception
  4. Quality of service
  5. Cash management
  6. Overall store appearance
  7. Just-in-time inventory
  8. Training employees
  9. Protecting assets (maintenance)
  10. Merchandise display

“When they compared lists, the problem became obvious. And as they told me about it they said, ‘The fault turned out to be ours as leaders. We tell people we’ll hold them accountable for end results such as sales, service, and so on. But the things we talk to them about day in and day out—the things that stick in their minds—are routine tasks.’ They told me they were sending mixed messages. The [prioritizing activity] really helped them to see what they were doing and to appreciate the pain they were causing their assistant as a result.”

The great news is that this exercise can be the beginning of a mutually beneficial conversation where you work together on identifying the person’s priorities in a way that sets them up for success—and confirms to them that you are there to help them achieve their goals.

An aligned purpose and clear expectations are the foundation of an effective work environment. Make sure that people’s priorities are on track and on target. Connect the dots between individual roles and the goals of the organization. When people see that connection, they will put more energy into their work and get more out of it. They will feel the importance, dignity, and meaning in their job. It’s good for them, for you, and for the organization.

Keep watch here for more SLII® micro skills!

Providing Rationale

As a leader, there’s a lot you can do to help people get things done while also boosting their motivation and confidence. We call these leader behaviors SLII® micro skills. Continuing our series about these leadership skills, in this post I’ll discuss Providing Rationale—a supportive behavior that too many busy leaders overlook.

Answering the Question “Why?”

Nobody wants to do meaningless tasks. Sometimes, without a bigger perspective, certain tasks may seem confusing—or worse, pointless. People who aren’t given reasons for a request are more likely to ignore or resist that request.

By Providing Rationale, leaders answer the question, “Why?” Take time to explain to people the reasoning behind a request, and how their work will help achieve larger goals. Give people a mental picture of what’s needed.  What will it look like if what you would like to see happens?

Creating an Environment of Mutual Respect

If you simply assign a task without giving a rationale, the person is left to guess at your reasons for making the request. That’s demotivating; they may wonder why they should bother to do it at all.

Also, assigning a task without providing a rationale doesn’t allow the person to apply their own knowledge and skills to analyze and solve problem. They’re not called to stretch and grow. Their creativity is stifled. Consequently, they aren’t invested in the result. Not only does this undervalue the individual, it also hurts the organization.

Providing Rationale creates an environment of mutual respect. When you explain your reasoning and the bigger picture, you show respect for the person’s intelligence and give them an opportunity to respect your thinking as well.

Equipping Future Leaders

In our book Helping People Win at Work, Garry Ridge writes about an experience from his teenage years that taught him the importance of providing rationale. He was working for a man named Jack Lambert, who used to repair tennis rackets:

“I remember one day watching him regut and restring a racket. It took him hours to do this one racket. I said to him, ‘Mr. Lambert, why do you spend so much time stringing one tennis racket?’ He said, ‘Garry, someone will play an important game with this racket. They’re depending on the quality of my work for the result they get.’

Garry learned early on that when you explain the reasons behind an assignment, you empower the person you’re leading to take ownership of the results. As a teen, Garry also worked for a hardware store owner, Warren Knox, who provided him with a rationale for keeping the store organized and clean: “If you expect people to come in and shop at your store,” he told Garry, “it’s got to be appealing and inviting. It’s got to provide a warm and attractive atmosphere.”

As Garry recounts: “I remember when Warren Knox’s father died. He left me alone to take charge of the store for two days. He just turned over the keys to me and said, ‘You know what to do.’ And I did. I ran the store for him during those two days. I opened the store. I made sure the product was out. I handled the money. When he came back and I gave him his keys, he didn’t question anything. He taught me how to get an A, and he knew I would be an A player when he was gone.”

So, when you assign a task or project, remember to provide a rationale, because when you answer the “why?” question, people will be better equipped to step up and make the organization a success.