One of the most important lifelines for a CIO or any executive is the communication from their people. That is why the best leaders go out of the way to meet and talk with their employees (as well as their customers, suppliers, partners, and other stakeholders).
Only when armed with good information from the people who know best—usually those on the front lines—can an executive make strategic plans and sound decisions to move the organization forward responsibly.
The best leaders regularly and genuinely connect with their people. Without this employer-employee connection, there are not only basic communication problems, but also trust and ultimately leadership issues. These issues present themselves for example, when employees are either afraid to communicate with their leadership or just feel it’s futile to do so.
Harvard Business Review, June 2010, has an article called “Debunking Four Myths About Employee Silence,” asserts that many employees actually hold back or “self-censure” and do not provide their bosses the information they really need. Further, futility, not fear is the predominant obstacle—holding back information is primarily due not to the commonly held belief that people are afraid of retribution for what they say, but rather because they feel a sense of futility in speaking their minds and so they just don’t.
Some interesting statistics from the annual Cornell National Social Survey on when employees hold back:
1) Withholding information is common across the board—“There is no statistically significant differences between workers of different genders, educations levels, or income levels in the likelihood of holding back because of fear or assumptions of futility.”
2) Speaking does not preclude withholding information—“Fully 42% of respondents report periodically speaking up but also withholding information when they feel they have nothing to gain—or something to lose.”
3) Employees hold back on information for day-to-day issues—“About 20% say a fear of consequences has led them to withhold suggestions for addressing ordinary problems and making improvements” (not just on more serious issues of illegal or unethical conduct).
The point is, listening to employees is not just a nice thing to do, but the intelligent way to run an organization.
Therefore, the way we treat our people is one of the most important determinants of our success as leaders.
As leaders, when it comes to communication and collaboration, we must ensure that feelings of fear and futility are banished from the organizations’ culture, so that employees feel it is worth it to tell us what’s going on. Ignorance is not bliss!
The way we do this is not by just paying lip service to “open door” policies and the like, but to listen thoroughly, communicate profusely, and work as a team taking all input as valuable to the final outcome.
People have got to feel that they can communicate openly and honestly and that they will be taken seriously—as long as it is done professionally and respectfully.
Of course, employees also have to understand that there is a time for input and debate and a time for decision-making and that the boss (as “the boss”) ultimately has the final say. But with a leader that is open to hearing from their people, and working with all input, there will be a better decision at the end of the deliberation for everyone.
And then, what separates the exceptional leaders from the ordinary is the follow through and results.