SAN FRANCISCO — Why would you want to share information with employees? When times are tough, you keep the bad news, tight cash flow and potential layoffs all to yourself. When times are good, you want more of the money for yourself, repay your own debts, make up for the tight times and then think about growing and reinvesting again. On the other hand, we’ve all heard that sharing information with employees is a good idea. What’s the scoop?
There may be times when growth is spectacular or, alternatively, sales drop dramatically, but neither of those conditions dominates right now. The more common situation today is to have a few days or weeks that are better than the last two years because of your sales efforts. If those efforts fall off, volume falls off a bit.
This may, in fact, be the best time to share information with employees. Consumer confidence is low and falling (although it changes as frequently as your sales trend, and they may be related). In any case, this confidence is similar to the opinions and attitudes of your staff. They may go from feeling a little better one day to being depressed the next.
Why should they be any different from the rest of the public? They feel lucky to have a job, but not confident enough to look for a new position elsewhere. They struggle to pay their bills each month or might be upside-down on their mortgages. They feel uneasy about your business because they read about everyone else having difficulties. These are the people servicing your customers. You hope they provide your target quality and customer-service levels while coping with their personal worries and daily challenges in mind.
Sharing is not all bad, but it is also not an all-or-nothing condition. Sharing every bit of detail is a daunting task. There are not only details you don’t want to share, but a lot of information is irrelevant to your staff. It’s a lot like listening to the evening news for 30 minutes when you are only interested in the weather or sports. You wait for the information that is relevant to you and really don’t hear anything else until that point.
Sharing no information leads to fear of the unknown, to the continued uncertainty that employees bring to their work and can’t help but share directly or indirectly with your customers. Neither condition is the best.
Sharing information that is relevant to each individual gives them a sense of involvement, control and, hopefully, enjoyment as they see the positive impact it can have on the business and their own financial condition. Is this a bit of a dream? Sometimes. Does it work? Sometimes. Is there a guarantee? Never.
What is considered relevant to an employee? Whatever is within their control. A customer service manager has control over hours worked by each counter staff employee and over the staff’s pricing accuracy. These two areas can have more impact on profitability than anything else. It can also be argued that they have some control over sales volume, but a lot of other factors affect that particular item. The economy is one, combined with quality and on-time performance by the production department. It’s also good to report this piece of information to them as well.
A production manager has control over pieces per operator hour, on-time performance and quality before delivery. Again, these items have a direct and significant impact on the profitability of the business. Reporting these pieces of information to the people in this position is relevant, understandable and controllable by them. They can see progress, and the results can be quantifiable.
As companies implement these types of reporting systems, it becomes obvious that nothing is simple or perfect. On-time performance, for instance, is dependent on the store’s pricing and its ability to quickly tag the garments. It is important that promised times given to the customer are consistent with the capabilities of the plant (particularly noticeable for difficult-to-clean garments or households or alterations). These nuances start to build interdepartmental conversations and solve real problems in the business.
Now, the bigger benefits of sharing information begin to emerge, such as solving long-standing problems and generating conversations among people who generally don’t see each other and think their responsibilities are not dependent upon others. It’s hard to put a price, value or cost on these types of returns, but when they have occurred, the positive results are significant.
Employees fear what they do not understand, and owners are no different. This fear leads to a lack of movement toward something new. In this situation, you can take little steps by providing just a few pieces of information to key employees. Make a commitment to consistently provide this information to them, no matter if it is good news or bad. Make it relevant to them, i.e., within their control. Review the information with them weekly, no more frequently.
“Why did the results get better or worse for the week? What would you have done differently last week? What will you do differently this week? What tools do you need to improve the results? What training would you like to help you improve?”
These are only a list of starting questions. The rest will evolve naturally into providing more information and greater communication within the business.