How Keeping Knowledge from Your Subordinates May Be Hurting the Company

Have you ever worked in a highly secretive environment? I’m referring to the don’t-let-your-people-know-any-thing secretive kind of environment – created by managers who, for any number of reasons, don’t seem to want anyone else to know anything of consequence about what is going on. It’s little wonder that people in these organizations tell you.

Certainly the owner of a small privately held company may not want to disclose the exact amount of profit earned each year. But the withholding of information can go far beyond the understandable attempts of business owners to maintain some degree of privacy regarding the earnings of their companies.

Many dynamic entrepreneurs reveal only bits and pieces of information to their key subordinates. One in particular was a master at this game. Since he was the only one with the whole picture, he was constantly sought out for even small decisions. How comforting it was for him to be needed so obviously – and to have so many opportunities to demonstrate his decisiveness. And how confusing and frustrating it was for his subordinates to try to perform effectively in the information vacuum!

Entrepreneurs aren’t the only ones who have this problem. Many supervisors carefully protect data that may be of substantial interest, and perhaps of some help, to their subordinates. They consciously or unconsciously subscribe to the adage that knowledge is power. By withholding knowledge from their subordinates, they believe that they enhance their own status.

In many organizations, key executives decide against producing organization charts. They generally argue that they want to stay flexible and not be tied down to a fixed structure. This logic, however, doesn’t hold up to objective review: If operating relationships change, the manager simply changes the charts.

Many of these same executives avoid job descriptions like the plague. “I don’t want my people to have such clearly defined responsibilities that they can say something I want them to do isn’t part of their jobs,” these executives complain. But they could easily avoid this potential problem by including the statement Performs other duties as required as the last item on each job description. A more open-ended final statement is performs other duties as requested or as deemed appropriate.

The challenges faced by an employee who doesn’t understand the authority and responsibilities of his or her job are horrendous. How can the employee perform effectively if they don’t understand clearly what they are supposed to do? Under these circumstances, how can they fulfill your desires for achievement?

Keeping Your Employees Informed

Make certain that each staff member has the information needed to get the job done. A significant challenge for you as a manager is to help each of your people obtain the information that he or she needs to get the job done. The information should satisfy at least three criteria: accuracy, interpretability, and timeliness.

Facilitating this process calls for empathy: You must be able to put yourself in the place of each of your people and help determine the information needs of each. Then, do whatever is reasonably possible to help meet these information needs.

Let your people know what is expected of them. Employees want to know about the job requirements, job standards, and policies and procedures. Tell them. Don’t keep them guessing. Through effective face-to-face communication, you should let your people know what is expected.

In addition, this oral communication should be supplemented by at least three forms of written communication: a job description, performance objectives (which should be developed with the employee), and the organization’s policies and procedures.



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