Sunday, September 20, 2020

Rumors, certainty, and inclusiveness

I received an email the other day. It stated that because rumors of change had made it to leadership and to ensure transparency this email is . . . 

The email went on to confirm that potentially significant change is being planned, but the details have not been worked out.

It struck me then that: 

Rumors are the evidence for lack of transparency. 

Now I have also read that in the absence of certainty, rumors flourish.

There must be a way to bring both of these concepts together. 

In the article, Transparency, Certainty and Rumors, Matt Reed, the author, makes the point that one can be transparent but that the lack of certainty becomes the real problem. He writes the following:

Truth is like water. Still water is transparent. Running water isn’t. Right now, we’re in the rapids; the water itself may be transparent, but it’s rushing so fast that it’s hard to see what’s next. Will warm weather hit before the virus explodes, or will the virus explode before warm weather hits? I don’t know.

In the absence of certainty, rumors flourish. Admittedly, some of them are fun; I liked the observation on Twitter that ever since Ted Cruz self-quarantined, there haven’t been any more Zodiac murders. It’s technically true, though perhaps a bit misleading.

I understand his point, but in the description of the situation which caused him to write about certainty I believe that he was not being totally transparent, despite his assertion to the contrary. By not actively providing the information about decisions surrounding closing the college to the workforce instead of having them contact him individually, he turned the running water into swirling rapids through lack of transparency. 

Rumors fill the gap between known and imagined. When leadership fails to keep the workforce, including the subordinate leaders, informed then the resulting rumors can make it hard to implement a great plan before it even gets off the ground. Rumors call into question the leadership intentions before they even get a chance to socialize the reasons for change.

The problem comes when leadership is certain there is going to be a significant change, but because they have not fully characterized the details of the change they withhold the information.

That brings up inclusiveness. Why is significant change planned without including the workforce? That goes against every current leadership principle and hearkens back to the draconian management days of the 60's. 

Including the workforce at the beginning of the change planning is much better for the organization than dropping change on them. Surprise change sows mistrust

And let me add a point--mistrust at the operational and tactical leadership levels of the organization could transform into buy-in through inclusiveness.

Rumors, then, are evidence for lack of transparency. There are additional symptoms to be considered, for instance lack of certainty and inclusiveness--but together with lack of transparency these all point to failed leadership. 

-- Bob Doan, Elkridge, MD

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