“The increasing availability of new information and communication technology is one of the key ingredients that make a high-involvement management approach possible.
This capability, more than any other, makes it possible for individuals to become self-managing, to be involved in the business, and to control processes and operations…” — Edward Lawler III, The Ultimate Advantage: Creating the High-Involvement Organization.
Shortly after Vanessa, our second daughter was born, my wife Heather was talking with six year old Chris, our only son, about how much she liked having a boy in the family. “If you like little boys so much, how come you brought home another girl?” Chris tearfully rebutted.
Chris and his sister Jenn had been hoping for a younger sibling of their own sex. When Vanessa was born, Chris felt like he’d lost. He didn’t understand the process. He assumed his Mom and Dad chose the sex of their kids. The less we know, the more we suspect. Like Chris, people in our organizations will make up their own explanations for events and actions they don’t understand. These can be fanned by the winds of rumor and innuendo into scary scenarios of impending doom. At times of dislocating change, those breezes quickly become blustery gales that create raging infernos if trust levels are low. Organizations abhor information vacuums. In the absence of information, people will make up their own explanations.
Managers routinely underestimate the amount and quality of education and communication required to make changes and improvements. They fall victim to our human tendency to judge others by their actions, but to judge ourselves by our intentions. Since most managers intend to make nothing but beneficial changes and improvements, they often fail to appreciate the explanations others are giving for their actions.
If people don’t buy into why changes or improvements are necessary, they will fight and resist them. Before people will want to improve, they need to agree with why they need to improve. Then they are ready to learn how to improve. That means treating everyone on our team and in our organizations as partners. Strong partnerships are built on keeping each other informed. Effective partners communicate frequently and clearly.
If we want people on our team or in our organizations to behave like business partners, we need to treat them that way. We need to treat them like responsible adults and give them a deep and continuous understanding of what’s going on in the business. They can’t become self-disciplined and self-managed without it. With little knowledge and scanty information people won’t — in fact they can’t — take responsibility. Since information is power, the only way of empowering or sharing power is by sharing information.
Organizational changes and improvements are very difficult to make happen if the people in the organization who’ll make it all work don’t understand what’s to be done and why. For example, having a clear Focus and Context (vision, values, and purpose) isn’t worth much if people don’t understand it. If the organization or team’s Focus and Context isn’t well communicated it will be dead, lifeless — and unfulfilled.
Commitment and understanding go hand-in-hand. Only by understanding (and feeling aligned with) the organization’s larger Focus and Context will people thrive and grow. Powerful leaders constantly clarify team or organization Focus and Context and keep people excited about working within it.
A constantly improving and highly effective team or organization is transparent. The why, who, what, and how of decisions made and actions taken are obvious to everyone. The culture is marked by openness and informality. Information is widely shared. That means lots of education combined with powerful communication systems, processes, and practices. It’s one of the keys to organizational learning and innovation.