When it comes to internal business communications, it can be tempting to keep things locked down and run things on a need-to-know basis. After all, information equals power, and what employees don’t know, they can’t leak (whether accidentally or not).
However, there are some pretty big problems with this way of thinking. If you don’t trust people, and are staunchly unwilling to delegate authority, then you almost certainly have a deeply dysfunctional organisation. Not only will this make everyone miserable and incubate incompetence, but it will also make your business highly inefficient. Here’s why internal transparency is actually essential for your business.
The bigger picture
It’s been suggested by experts that there are three core drivers which are responsible for our motivation levels. These are: purpose (having a sense of meaning); mastery (getting better at what you do); and autonomy (being given the independence to do it). These factors fundamentally hinge on trust – that, if given freedom, staff have the skills and tools needed to complete their tasks and work towards the organisation’s aims. However, this is also coupled with a sense of the bigger picture: where does the employee sit in the grander scheme of things, and what are the company’s core values and objectives?
While the carrot and stick approach might have historically been viewed as being persuasive (cash and perks versus threats and firings), context and transparency can be far more inspiring. Indeed, having an appreciation of how your work contributes to something greater than yourself can be a powerful motivational force. This might mean doing good in the world (working at a hospital, a school or a charity, for example) or contributing to broader goals (for example, creating products that people love or driving effective business practices).
Having an understanding of an organisation’s basic ideology can also have a huge influence. Many companies today make efforts to communicate this via value statements available to staff and consumers (think Google’s “Don’t be evil” or Amazon’s ‘customer first’ mantra). Indeed, Amazon’s famous frugality might seem onerous to staff – but it makes sense as part of the company’s relentless drive to provide value for money for customers.
In these organisations, a core part of on-boarding new staff is to ensure that they are aligned with the business’s goals and identity, and that they understand what the company is setting out to do at a larger level.
The manager’s perspective
This then comes back down to the micro level. Do staff understand their workload, their deadlines and what is expected of them? Answering these questions is a core managerial responsibility, ensuring that employees are moving forward, that they are held accountable and praised for their work and that they have the tools that they need to complete it. Having a sense of what metrics they will be evaluated on and how their performance relates to broader organisational success will also direct how staff spend their time. Of course, if employees don’t have this basic level of understanding of their roles then they will almost certainly be doomed to failure.
This also ties into the idea of giving employees autonomy. For example, you don’t hire a marketing employee to complete a series of set, specific tasks – instead, you hire them to increase the reach of your brand, break into new markets or help release new products. Allowing staff to think out of the box – in order to get their jobs done more effectively – of course, requires both trust and for them to have an understanding of their responsibilities as well as the business’s wider objectives.
From the other side of the table, it’s also important for managers to explain their decision making. If the rationale behind their actions is mysterious then it can seem like decisions are made arbitrarily – ultimately sapping team morale and reducing confidence in the manager’s leadership. Conversely, having an expectation that managers will have to be able to explain themselves, and to withstand criticism, encourages a culture of strong leadership, in which choices are carefully weighed up and can subsequently be defended. And of course when viewed from the C-suite these processes add up to a positive organisational culture of accountability.
As an employee, it’s also important to know what others are doing around you. At Crugo, we hold Monday morning meetings for each department, including sales, marketing and development. At these three meetings, everyone in the respective team is present and we discuss everyone’s tasks and objectives for the coming week. This allows everyone to know what is going on and what part their tasks will play within the larger picture for that week’s sprint. Team leaders are hence kept aligned on the overall progress of the business, while all team members have the opportunity to ask questions and to raise concerns.
Aside from the weekly meetings, which give people the opportunity to jointly discuss new challenges and strategies, we also encourage constant communication between our teams. When we say questions are always welcome, we really mean it – whether verbally or via instant communication channels (such as video chat or instant messaging). By staying in contact, we can ensure that team members are able to deal with problems quickly, to raise issues and to get their work done as effectively as possible.
This also applies to how files and documents are stored. Are style guides and company manuals locked up in a central repository? Or are they hooked into communication channels and open to all staff? Making key items easily accessible makes them far more useful – as does allowing teams to share and interact with documents within communication platforms, ensuring that workflows are fast and seamless.
It’s also about being able to find information when necessary. When people have holidays booked or are out at meetings it’s extremely useful to have records and documents freely available to the team in order to prevent mix-ups and to answer questions as and when needed.
The remote team
This is of particular importance to employees who are off-site. Working in a different space to other staff comes with both figurative and literal distance, and it can be easy to feel that on-site staff are part of something that off-site staff are not.
Being based in a different environment, remote employees are much less likely to follow workplace discussions down tangents or to engage in small talk (as they would have to actively reach out to colleagues to do so, rather than merely looking at them over a desk). Because of this, it’s critical to provide off-site staff with both a sense of the company’s objectives as a whole (via value statements and documentation) and to ensure they are engaged on a personal level and in regular communication with their teams.
Of course, there are differences between internal and external communication. There will be sensitive details (such as financial information and product designs) that will cost the company significant amounts of money if they reach the outside world. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they should be locked up, though, just as long as the organisation trusts its staff to be sensible and discreet with the information.
In the meantime, having ready access to files and communication is crucial for employees to get their jobs done, while an understanding of the big picture can be a crucial factor to motivate the workforce. The hypothetical neurotic, secretive business, meanwhile, is likely on the path to failure – an organisation without trust is in all probability gradually falling apart, after all.