Needed Right Now: Openness and Honesty

Posted 11.19.2008

While larger than most, Citibank’s announcement of a 52,000 person reduction in its workforce this week is one of many such moves with many more likely in the coming months.  You’re probably seeing it in your industry.  I’m certainly seeing it in a number of the organizations I work with.

If you’re a leader who has to lay people off, this is a moment of truth.  How you treat the people who are leaving will not only have an impact on them, it will have an even bigger impact on the people who are still with the company.  If you are open and honest and treat those leaving with dignity and respect, you send an enormous message that will have a positive impact on the morale and productivity of those who remain.  If you go in the other direction with how you handle the layoffs, the morale of the organization will follow that as well.

Probably not surprisingly, one of the top five characteristics of the high potential leaders highlighted in our new white paper, “Leaders Moving Up,” is that they create a communications environment where people feel comfortable being open and honest (see chart below on Rising Executive Strengths for the top 5 picture).  Unfortunately, this characteristic is not that common in the leadership population as a whole.  Washington Business Journal cites a survey of 150 executives who identify a lack of open and honest communications as the factor having the biggest negative impact on employee morale.

Picture 23

When you think about it, all of this really comes down to this question, “If it was me, how would I want to be treated?”  Most of us would answer with characteristics such as honesty, transparency, respect for our intellect, clarity, concern, etc.  In stressful times, it’s all too easy for those kinds of traits to go missing.  Whether you’re laying people off or not, stop and think a few times throughout the day about people want to be treated right now.  To help you along, my colleague Steve Arneson and fellow blogger Lynn Gaertner-Johnson have offered some great ideas lately on how to connect with your people.

What would you add to the list?