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Here’s how to empower and engage your entire organization

May 13, 2015 Mark Hannum

The key element of every organization’s culture is simple communication. And nothing is more critical to internal communication than an organization’s management information system, i.e. how management communicates with the organization. But many individuals who grow into leadership positions often assume that management information systems can’t be changed or altered.  Even worse, some assume that people don’t need to know key things about how the organization works or doesn’t work and they begin to limit information disseminated to their employees. And nothing breeds distrust (and failed leadership) quicker than lack of truth and transparency.

Instead of keeping people in the dark, leaders should always be looking to use their management information system to influence behavior to be more strategic, more effective, and more purposeful. The most successful leaders create a dialogue with their employees that empowers them to better serve their customers and each other. They communicate to foster engagement with their employees.

But this is often easier said than done. For baby boomers like myself, we have become accustomed to working in the dark. We have become grateful for, as well as frustrated by, the quarterly, company-wide town hall meeting. We watch as the CFO and/or appointed guardian rip through a modified P&L displayed in 6-pt. font as they tell the employees about the organization’s finances in cult-like finance-speak. And oh yes, done at breakneck speed as well. They highlight three to five data points, using archaic accounting or finance language that only accountants and finance professionals use, and obfuscate any issue that might be controversial or that they are uncomfortable discussing. We baby boomers sit quietly in these meetings and stew about the blatant assumption that leadership must think we’re bored with the numbers, or that we can’t be trusted with the information. But as baby boomers, we are grateful for what we do get, even if it leaves us with a lack of clarity, a sense of ambiguity, and the feeling that we can’t be trusted. And we press on and we do our jobs because that is what baby boomers do. And yes, we are ok with not hearing anything more for another three months.

Now regardless of what you call the current generation of 30-year-olds in the workforce, watch and listen to their response to the same meeting. Their conclusions about the presentation are completely different. They react by saying: “Management doesn’t know what it is doing. They are deliberately being ambiguous. They can’t be trusted. They’re so disrespectful. I don’t think they’re competent enough to say it simply and in plain language. They are hiding something. Is this the most recent information that they have, because that stuff is already a week old.”

The underlying truth is that both generations want the same thing: to be treated with dignity and respect, to be informed in a way that allows them to do their jobs more effectively, and to be able to trust that leadership, their strategies and plans, and their understanding of what is happening are headed in the right direction. Both generations want to be confident in their leaders and confident in their relationship with the leadership.

And to do that your management information system needs to do several different things. It must be designed to be honest, timely and to communicate the dynamics of your organization in simple, clear language. An effective management information system is transparent and clarifying. It provides a framework for dialogue about difficult issues, the dilemmas, and the realities of the business. It also communicates the opportunities and engenders the trust and confidence of your employees and stakeholders. And an effective management information system empowers, accelerates, and amplifies the impact employees can have. Communication fosters collaboration. It can also help accelerate innovation.

Now be honest. Does your management information system foster trust and engage everyone in your organization?

It should.

Learn more about designing one for your organization here.


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