They Can Handle the Truth

Posted 03.17.2010

When I’m conducting feedback for a client one of the things I really like to hear from the direct reports is something like, “My manager shares information with us that other managers don’t share with their teams.  That helps us make better decisions and do better work.” The flip side of what makes me happy is that every direct report should be singing the praises of their manager sharing information with them. When you treat people like adults, they usually respond like adults. Most people can handle the truth and resent it when they feel like they’re being played.

Sharing information and telling the truth came to mind in reading a couple of interviews over the past few days.  The first was in the New York Times with the CEO of the Container Store, Kip Tindell. If you’re looking for a leader who believes in treating people like human beings, read the whole interview. For the purposes of this post on the benefits of sharing the truth and the information that people need to do their jobs, read this passage:

The way we create a place where people do want to come to work is primarily through two key points. One of our foundation principles is that leadership and communication are the same thing. Communication is leadership. So we believe in just relentlessly trying to communicate everything to every single employee at all times, and we’re very open. We share everything. We believe in complete transparency. There’s never a reason, we believe, to keep the information from an employee, except for individual salaries.

I always make it a point to give the same presentation I give at the board meeting to the staff, and then that trickles down to everybody in the company. I know that occasionally some of that information falls into the wrong hands, but that’s a small price to pay for having employees who know they know just about everything.

That quote tells you a lot about why the Container Store is consistently near the top of the list of Fortune’s list of the Best Companies to Work For. In scanning the 2010 list, I don’t see any airlines which is not that surprising given the challenges facing that industry. Still, I admire what I read in a profile on in the Financial Times on the new CEO of Continental Airlines, Jeff Smisek

Here’s how Smisek, a 15 year veteran of Continental describes his communication approach:

I never pat staff on the back and tell them everything is going to be OK if it is not. You could say I am a little blunt but . . . it comes with integrity and honesty… I am a huge believer in the work culture here. We call it 'working together' but what I like to say is that we treat people 'like your momma taught you to' – as we would like to be treated. I understand [workers] want more out of life here and they deserve more out of life here. But no matter what you want and deserve, unless there is money to pay you, there is no money to pay you.

No sugar coating there. It’s a much different tone than the Container Store’s CEO but it’s a much different business and situation. There is one thing that both of these leaders seem to have in common, however.  They respect their people enough to share the truth with them. When people have enough information to fully understand the business, they can make better decisions and produce better results.

What could you do this week to raise the level of knowledge and understanding in your organization?  Is there information you haven’t shared yet that would raise the overall level of business literacy?