The ugly truth behind having secrets

Information is power. What information should you share with your team? What are the things that are better kept secret? And how does leadership fit into the picture? What secrets should you have as a leader and what things should you never hide? Being strong believer in transparency and honesty I don’t think there are many things that should be kept hidden. I can imagine there can be things that if shared would have legal implications but that’s it. Anything that doesn’t have legal impact should be in the open. Let me make my case.

Reasons to hide information?

I have often heard from managers that some information shouldn’t be shared as they would have negative impact on motivation of the team. The team would question some of the decisions, and people wouldn’t understand why something was necessary. Sometimes there is this fear that when you share information it can be used against you. Let me debunk some of these myths.

Sharing negative information will demotivate the team – why should it? Explaining the situation as it is will be seen as a show of respect and trust. After all, we are dealing with mature adults who know that life is complicated. And if you can follow up with a vision of the future you may even create a sense of urgency and make people act to change things for the best

Things can change – so sharing proposals that are not approved will create friction. People hate uncertainty. And people from most cultures also hate not being included in decisions that impact their lives. Keeping your team in the loop even during a decision making process will allow them to contribute and will create a feeling that their opinion matters. When you share the final decision it will be much easier to accept by the team.

People would question my decision if I share too much information – why should they? I assume you based your decision on a certain set of data points, information, values and beliefs. It is exactly the other way around. People will be more likely to accept the decision if they understand how and why it was made.

If I share this proposal someone may steal it finish and take credit – great! That would free your hands to do other stuff. Getting someone to take your idea and execute it is the best thing that can happen to you as I mentioned in Leave your ego at the door article.

If I share information with others I won’t have advantage over them – why should you have advantage over anyone? You work with the team towards a common goal. The moment you start playing office politics and trying to get advantage over others you no longer work towards that goal and will destroy your reputation as a leader in the nick of time.

I’m the boss, the team doesn’t need to know the details – you are right, they don’t need to know. But again, if you want them to follow you and work towards the common goal the more information you provide the bigger likelihood that they will have the sense of ownership and work to the best of their abilities to achieve the goal.

I’m shielding the team from too much information so they don’t get distracted – why did you hire bunch of legally insane people? And if you hired smart and adult individuals why do you believe you need to filter information for them? It is their responsibility to filter things they need and don’t need. By giving them the opportunity to decide what is important you treat them with respect and it is more likely they will follow you. I love this quote by Ricardo Semler “Workers are adults, but once they walk through the plant gate companies transform them into children.” Or something similar said by Jason Fried in his book Rework – “When you treat people like children, you get children’s work. Yet that’s exactly how a lot of companies and managers treat their employees.”

Why to share information?

And to share one more quote. Some time ago I heard this (not sure about its origin) “In absence of a good story someone else can make up a story of his own.” People love to speculate and imagine things, the less information they have the more wild things they will come up with and the more damaging these speculations will be. Being open and transparent pretty much prevents unwanted speculations and gossip and creates a culture of mutual trust and sense of ownership of the common goal and future of the company. Let us look at a manager who shares information and creates environment of transparency, inclusion and trust.

Transparency and trust – by being transparent you show a great deal of trust that your team will be able to handle the information like reasonable adults. When you trust people they will trust you back.

Inclusion and sense of ownership – by including people in decisions and sharing information with them you are making them part of the decision and you create a sense of ownership.

Honesty and human face – by being open and honest even at times when you are lost and unsure about the correct course of action and if you freely admit mistakes you put a human face on you and will be more acceptable for others. They will follow you because they will know that you won’t lie to safe your face.

Sharing and empowerment – sharing information, sharing responsibility and sharing the means to get things done leads to empowerment. Empowered teams will accomplish the goals, will stay together and will love their work without much external stimuli

What about compensation?

The ultimate test of open environment is sharing information about compensation of the members of the team or at least that of management. Compensation is one of the most emotional topics in the business environment and figuring out a way to get it out of the table can have a really positive effect on productivity and motivation of the team. If you hide the information, you have unclear rules on how are individuals compensated, you don’t communicate openly decisions why someone got increase of salary and why this particular number you create an opportunity for guessing, gossip and false beliefs. People are curious so they will try to estimate salaries of others, their own worth and will most likely create picture that is very far from the reality. Most of us have the tendency of overestimating our own value. At the same time we tend to believe that we are not compensated well enough and the others must make whole bunch more. Why else would they look so happy? Wouldn’t it make sense to introduce as much clarity and transparency so you align better the expectations and the reality?

In a book “Maverick!” Ricardo Semler describes some of the inner workings of Brazilian manufacturing company Semco. It is a workplace where he created completely transparent environment with very flat organizational structure and without hidden agendas and office politics. It is a place run by democratic principles where employees are truly empowered. For example, each of the executives could set their own salaries without any need of someone approving it. Of course, everyone in the company would know their salary so that created environment where people would set salaries for themselves that would be seen as fair by others. Or another example from Semco, before people are hired or promoted to leadership positions, they are interviewed and approved by all who will be working for them. Every six months managers are evaluated by those who work under them. The results are posted for all to see thus pushing the manager to constantly improve and make sure their teams are willing to follow.

Twitter type summary: “Information is power! Give as much power as possible to the team and create a sense of ownership and desire to reach the common goal.”

What is your position? What sort of information do you believe should be hidden from your team and why?

Don’t manage. Empower!

One of the tenets of coaching approach to managing people is the idea that you don’t provide solutions, but you are a guide that helps the individuals to find the solutions by themselves. There is a very strong reason why to do it: sense of ownership. Employee with a sense of ownership will find the intrinsic motivation, will try hard and will deliver better results than someone who is just following orders.

There are essentially two ways how to do it: delegation and empowerment. In simplest terms, delegation is used to get person to do a task, but at the end of the day you are still the owner and thus accountable. Empowerment is used to transfer the ownership for the task completely. It consists of three parts: responsibility, power or means, and accountability.

A decision made by the person himself gives him bigger incentive and motivation to execute it well. It is his decision and his reputation on the line. You can decide the way you want it done, but then you are taking ownership, accountability and all the motivation out from the person. If you give him the power to decide on doing it the way that is close to his heart it will make it easy and fun for him. If he is the one who came up with the solution he is more likely to be motivated and will make sure it gets done. This is a powerful tool to get buy-in. You just define the goal, the target that needs to be achieved, but it shouldn’t be you who defines how to get there or what set of tasks needs to be accomplished. This is a very important aspect that needs some conscious effort as it is easy for senior person (or manager) to come to employee and tell him to do this and that, use these tools, do this thing first. Just remember, by providing too much detail on “how” to do something you are micromanaging. Your task as a leader is to provide “why” (vision) and not “how” (micromanagement) or even “what” (delegation).

Let me give you a very simple example. Let’s say you want your employee to visit a customer in different city. What will you do? Will you define when to go there, what to bring, how to get there and make the employee basically just follow a set of steps like a robot? What happens if something doesn’t go as planned? The employee will probably call you and asks what the next step is! What may also happen in situations like these is that you focus so much on execution that you don’t put enough emphasis on the goal itself. You forget to explain why this is important and what should be the outcome.

Wouldn’t it be better to define the goal first. For example: “We need to close one pending contract before the end of the month to meet our financial goal. Please, work with the customer during next week and get the contract. Feel free to travel to their offices if it helps. If you need help with anything feel free to come to me.” This way you have explained “what and why” and you are leaving all the tactical decisions on “how” on the employee. This is delegation. It is up to him to figure out when is the best time to go, whether it is better to take car or train. To have an alternative plan for cases when something goes wrong.

To get it to the next level you can empower the employee just by stating “The end of month is coming, please ensure we reach our target number. I talked with managers of other departments and they will provide you all the support you may require.” Taking this approach you empowered your employee to do what needs to be done in a way that works for him. You are keeping him engaged and motivated while saving some time on your part. And who knows, maybe this employee comes up with some ingenious way how to get the contract that wouldn’t occur to you.

Last but not least, it is your responsibility as a leader to ensure that the employee has the authority and the means to get the job done. As long as every single step needs to be approved by you it just won’t work. The same happens when you don’t announce it to the world so the employee is not getting the information and cooperation from others simply because no one is aware that you delegated this initiative to him or you gave him the power and responsibility to get it done. In case of our travelling sales person you need to make sure that others know that you have empowered this person to do whatever is necessary to reach the goal. So you may want to talk to travel department, accounting and rest of the sales team and announce that this account is now responsibility of this particular employee and they should provide all the support the same way they would provide it to you. He has the responsibility, power and accountability = he is empowered. And in fact, the others shouldn’t bother you at all. If they come for confirmation whether something is acceptable for you, push them away and reinforce the message that they need to get the confirmation from the employee you empowered.

This approach doesn’t mean you don’t know what’s going on. The employee may still need to provide an update to keep you informed on the progress. Just make sure that is how you present the request. When giving you the update he is not asking for your approval, or the direction, he is just letting you know how it goes and you shouldn’t unnecessarily step in adding your comments or suggestions unless the whole direction is wrong. Getting the update is a great time to reiterate your support and acknowledge the good work being done.

For both delegation and empowerment you need to ensure you are approachable and accessible when there are questions. And if there are questions you should always think whether you really need to provide the answer or whether it is better to coach the employee into finding the answer by himself.

What are your tips to prevent micromanaging? How do you ensure your team feels empowered to do what needs to be done? Is empowerment enough? It is still a form of control. What about creating environment where the employees are really autonomous and not just empowered?