School Of The Week

Sharing information

Written By : SUNILA KARAN. Over and over, I have heard team leaders and members alike say, “Empowerment sounds great, but how do we do it?” When I tell them
23 Jan 2010 12:00

Written By : SUNILA KARAN. Over and over, I have heard team leaders and members alike say, “Empowerment sounds great, but how do we do it?”
When I tell them they need to start by sharing more information, the response from team leaders is often, “But we can’t do that all the time.”
And from team members, the response is, “What do you mean?
We’ve never had much information before; why should we expect it now?” Such responses lead us to the first question that must be addressed:
Why is information sharing a critical first step?
The answer is quite simple and profound. If we want people on the front lines of companies to be responsible for making good business decisions, they must have the same information that managers use to make good business decisions.
People without information cannot make good business decisions, nor are they motivated to risk making decisions in such a void.
On the other hand, people with information are almost compelled to take the risk of making business decisions to the best of their abilities.
The key point is that if we want people to take the risk of being accountable in making important decisions, they must feel they can trust management and the organisational systems. In hierarchical organisations, compliance is often rewarded more than is good judgment.
Unless this relationship changes, talk of empowerment will be perceived as just another corporate lie.
People will be wondering, What will happen if I make a bad decision but make it in good faith and with my best effort?
If people fear the consequences (that is, if they do not trust the leadership), then they will not be willing to take the risk to make business decisions.
It is safer not to act and just let someone else make those decisions – hence no empowerment occurs.
But stop for a moment to think about the best way to build trust in an organisation.
What I have learned from experience is that sharing information is one of the most effective and simplest way to kick-start the enhancement of trust.
If a leader is willing to share the power that information represents, people hear – most clearly than any words can express – that this leader is reducing the barriers and including people into the circle of influence and involvement.
This is especially true if sensitive information is shared.
Another factor that pushes information sharing to the forefront of the journey to empowerment is the need people have for direction, both individually and in teams, during the early stage of any change process.
When you ask people if they would like to work in an empowered work environment, they are usually quick to give an affirmative answer.
Then if you ask them how much experience they have had with empowerment, you will find out that they have had very little or none.
They are excited about the prospect of making responsible business decisions but lack knowledge, experience, or necessary information to do so.
They need a leadership style with high direction.
The same holds true for people working in teams.
If they are to become self-directed work teams, they will start the journey in the orientation stage of team development, where they need a high direction leadership style to provide the information and skills necessary to get the team started. Particularly they need the information to clarify the team’s relationship to the organisational vision, purpose, and values.
A final reason that information sharing is an important step relates to change.
In any organisational change effort – not just changing to empowerment – people initially have a variety of information concerns that need to be addressed. Information sharing at this time will help people answer these kinds of questions:
l What is the change and why is it needed?
l What is wrong with the current situation in our company?
l What exactly needs to be changed, and what outcomes must be expected?
l How much do we need to change and how fast must we change?
Addressing the information concerns that people have during this first stage of change can provide them with the direction they need to focus their energy in positive ways.
With this appreciation of why information sharing is so important, it is also important to understand questions that leaders have about using information sharing as they start the journey to empowerment.
How does information sharing address the questions people have when change starts?
Information sharing helps people understand the need for change.
And when people understand the need for change, they develop a willingness that helps drive the process of change.
Their attitude is no longer just ‘We need to change because someone said so.”
It becomes “We need to change because we have some problems that are affecting us all and that need to be fixed.”
With information, people will begin to understand where company, unit, and even personal performance need to improve for the company to become more competitive, and they will become motivated to use their knowledge and experience to work for improvement.
Do not make the mistake that many companies have made in trying to create empowerment.
In short, do not start by giving people the big picture vision of an empowered company that will be a better place to work. While their initial reaction may be positive, they will quickly lose focus because that vision will have no meaning to them.
Remember, people initially have information concerns.
They are not yet ready to hear about benefits and impacts of the change.
Initially, people want to understand what is wrong with the current situation and what must be changed to fix it – information sharing sets the stage for that to occur.
There is a caution – leaders must be careful to avoid misinformation.
The information that is shared must create a realistic picture of the organisation’s situation. To filter information will only decrease the trust and credibility that accurate information can provide.
In other words, tell it like it is.
Do not hold back the bad news or embellish the good news.

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