Information Sharing


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Productivity Benefits of Information Sharing

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Information Sharing

  1. 1. Information Sharing For Workplace Effectiveness 2010 Information Sharing For Workplace Effectiveness1 Wali Memon Managers have an enormous impact upon workplace culture and effectiveness. From hiring new employees, organizing work groups and setting deliverables, managers have a direct influence upon the manner and environment in which individual or group contributions are made and how work is completed. One direct way in which a manager influences his or her organization and its culture is in the ways and degrees in which information is shared and used. Simply put, in virtually all workplaces, culture and effectiveness are directly shaped by the ways and frequency in which managers receive, share and use critical information about employees as well as the procedures, policies and processes related to the work of actually running that organization. For instance, managers who choose to share information freely and frequently can contribute to an open and transparent work environment that supports creativity, risk taking and innovation. Those who choose to dole data out more restrictively can inadvertently support environments that create overly cautious employees who are unsure of the organization’s direction or strategy. At the other end of the spectrum are managers who choose to restrict information flow altogether. They can contribute to a workplace culture that is distrustful and ineffective in managing risks or making decisions. Additionally worth noting is that information sharing that influences organizational culture and effectiveness is not necessarily top down. Managers who rely upon or even use gossip, hearsay or second hand complaints from other employees can create an environment of low morale and distrust with limited teamwork or collegiality. Finally, supervisors who support or tolerate gossip or rumor mongering can do irreparable damage to workplace effectiveness since these information sharing tactics inevitably produce negative feelings like fear, distrust, anger and frustration. Wali Memon
  2. 2. Information Sharing For Workplace Effectiveness 2010 It might be useful to ask yourself the following questions in order to determine whether or not you are sharing information in ways that positively influence organization culture and workplace effectiveness in your library: • Do you routinely solicit information from employees about one another? • Is there one employee or direct report that you spend more time info-sharing than others?2 • Do you rely upon one ‘trusted’ source from which you gather significant information about the library’s effectiveness, front line processes, and employee performance? • Have you had conversations with employees who simply wish to complain about their co-workers to you? • Have you gone for days or even weeks without taking the time to casually check in with any employees? • Do you avoid any employees when walking through the library? • Have you ever held back in terms of relaying useful information simply because it related to an unpleasant topic? • Do you recall demonstrating frustration or exasperation when sharing data about budgets or resource allocation? • Do you postpone difficult conversations in the hope that things will work themselves out? If you are a library manager who answered yes to any of these questions it might be helpful to take some time to consider the ways in which information is shared with and among employees at your library. Some introspection and self-inventory could uncover potentially negative information sharing tactics and attributes that might actually undermine the library’s effectiveness in everything from delivering a satisfying patron experience to creating the right collection to say nothing of the impact upon professional work environment and morale. Below are some easily identifiable problems related to information sharing along with some strategies for mitigating or eliminating them altogether. The first four (retrench, isolate, patronize and over share) are manager-driven information sharing choices that can have severe negative consequences. The remaining four (gossips, undermining, rumormongers and snitches/tattlers) Wali Memon
  3. 3. Information Sharing For Workplace Effectiveness 2010 reflects negative ways that all employees, including managers, can share information with one another, oftentimes with highly damaging consequences. While the list is hardly exhaustive, some analysis and thought about behaviors and actions related to information dissemination could be the first step towards fixing problems related to communication in the workplace. As a result, recognizing yourself or your library in some of the traits below could lead to the creation of a productive, enjoyable work environment that is highlighted by respect, candor, openness and increased effectiveness.3 Retrench Times are tough. And sometimes the temptation to get going…and going and going and keep going, is strong. Pulling back on, or avoiding certain topics completely, is usually related to specific difficult issues like budget cuts or an employee’s performance. A manager that chooses to retrench or pull-back in term of frank, open discussion is typically avoiding difficult conversations like sharing candid and honest performance assessments or sharing information about an employee’s negative traits that may be impacting workgroup effectiveness. The trouble with retrenchment or avoidance as a communication choice is that the problem remains until it is actually confronted. The best way to get past this negative trait is to adopt a policy of directly confronting difficult conversations at the earliest possible time. Allow no room for procrastination when it comes to having a tough conversation. Share information regularly with employees regarding difficult budget scenarios, performance and more. The difficulty implied here is not lost and the fact that these kinds of conversations are difficult speaks to a manager’s humanity and kindness. But sometimes it is kindest to be direct and honest. And while the traits that draw people to the library profession (service, people pleasing, and sharing) are sometimes directly at odds with those required to speak candidly about difficult and unpleasant topics, the reality is that an organization cannot function without information sharing on tough topics. If such conversations are really challenging to you try to practice them beforehand either in front of a mirror or with a friend outside of work. As difficult as it may be to develop this skill, with practice and time it will become easier. Wali Memon
  4. 4. Information Sharing For Workplace Effectiveness 2010 Isolate Isolating oneself is permanent retrenchment highlighted by full time avoidance. Manages who choose isolation are simply disengaged and non-present to their employees. They take evasion to the level of master class. Isolation can result from a number of things but normally can be traced back to some highly negative environments like a recession or more specific distasteful events where a manager might have been burned or taken advantage of by direct reports. But here’s the thing: Bad times and bad things can happen at anytime and it is hardly viable to deal with4 challenges or employee misconduct by avoidance since it creates an environment that actually perpetuates bad deeds and further dysfunction. When a manager makes the choice to detach and cease information sharing, employees are pretty much left with the impression that those above don’t care about them, their performance, their contributions or their talent. They are, after all, left rudderless with little or no leadership or managerial engagement. The end result is never pretty and rarely effective. Unless your employees are extreme self-starters with a keen sense of intrinsic motivation, isolationism is a poor choice. Remember, librarians are, for the most part, people pleasers who derive immense satisfaction from a job well done. Normally, that requires a nod of approval from their manager as well as the organization’s top leader. Taking the time to get involved in a productive way and acknowledge contributions from top performers is a first step towards ending the isolation. In other words, pick the low hanging fruit first, and then move on to the highest such as things like managing performance or sharing information about organizational wide challenges. The key here is to end the isolation and re-engage in a meaningful way. Patronize No one likes to be patronized, so think carefully about the ways in which you communicate and ensure that you steer clear of anything that could be considered talking down to someone or not acknowledging their expertise in an area that may go well beyond yours. Always remember that while you may be the manager, a direct report’s contributions are required and vital to make you look good. Think about the level of autonomy and trust you give to solid performers who are experienced and possibly, more senior than those who manage them. Make certain that your communication takes into consideration their long history or deep knowledge of an organization, its processes, procedures and policies. Take the time to thank them, genuinely, for their guidance Wali Memon
  5. 5. Information Sharing For Workplace Effectiveness 2010 and input when appropriate. Sometimes humility goes a long way when communicating with those who are more knowledgeable and possibly more qualified than you. And if you are the most highly qualified, credentialed and knowledgeable person in the room and you just happen to be the boss as well, there is no need to remind people of that or hit them over the head with it. It just looks insecure. Over Share5 Good managers know how much and how detailed the information they share with direct reports should be. The choice can range from none in instances like private employee matters to significant for things like organizational challenges and budget issues to “the sky’s the limit” when it comes to discussing performance. Being sensitive to the degree and intensity of information sharing can be more art than science but normally comes with experience and a healthy amount of trial and error. If in doubt, solicit questions during meetings and group interactions and follow up with individual question solicitation for those who process things more slowly or are unsure about asking in a group. One final though on over-sharing: Consider your non-verbal communication when speaking about difficult or challenging topics. Facial expressions or closed off body language could lead to an unintentional message that may contradict your intended one. Remember than not all communication is verbal. Take some time to ensure that expressions and body language appropriately mirror verbal messages. Undermine One of the sad truths managers learn early in their career is that some employees are more focused on making others look bad than actually doing good work. Listening to any employee, even a trusted one, speak about another is a danger area where all kinds of red flags and alarm bells should be going off. Your best strategy is to nip these types of conversations in the bud. Do this by conveying a clear message that evaluating work habits, contributions and work intensity are exclusively your domain as a manager and employees need only worry about their own performance. Additionally, do not solicit feedback about one employee from another. Ever. It sends a terrible message that, even if based in concern, has an element of gossip that undermines your own credibility as a manager. If you have questions about an employee ask the employee directly. And if another employee offers feedback that is negative in any way, end the Wali Memon
  6. 6. Information Sharing For Workplace Effectiveness 2010 conversation and let them know why. Finally, this bright line rule should applies to all employees across the board. Even a trusted inner circle can steer managers wrong with their biases or prejudices that may or may not even be know to them. It’s fine to trust someone with some things but no manager should ever trust an employee or colleague enough to let them shape their opinion about another employee’s performance or contributions. Gossip6 Gossip, even the most innocent kind, has no place in a professional work environment. If you hear it, end it. If you engage in it, don’t. Employees that gossip, just like those that undermine each other are doing immense damage to the team structure and cooperative environment of your workplace. This kind of negative information sharing creates factions that breed distrust and strongly inhibits teamwork and cooperation at a time when most organizations are relying on cooperative work environments as a means of doing more with less due to budget cuts. Remember, as a manager you set the tone for your organization and drive its culture including its values. The best option is to choose not to engage in gossip and in fact show no tolerance for it. Direct reports will fall in line when they see you mean business. And if you have to undertake difficult discussions about an employee engaging in this type of behavior be specific in terms of incidents, negative impact and the consequences of subsequent transgressions of the same kind. Rumormonger Every workplace has one, that person who is in the know and has the scoop who is always willing to share just enough information to keep the rumor alive or worse, just passes it along without even considering the hurt or damage it could create. Either way, rumor and innuendo are negative forms of information that have no place in a functioning workplace since they are not attributable, defensible, credible or authoritative. Something that is unsubstantiated or not grounded in reality is not worth sharing and not worth passing along. If you see employees engaging in this kind of activity the best strategy is to take away the power of the rumor in a public way such as a meeting. By acknowledging it as rumor and the potential negative that can come from accepting it as fact and debunking it you are taking away all of it’s power. Rumors can hurt people significantly. Unless information can be verified and authenticated, it should simply be jettisoned from your mind as if you never heard it. Wali Memon
  7. 7. Information Sharing For Workplace Effectiveness 2010 Snitch/Tattler By far one of the most negative and damaging information sharers are the snitches and tattlers. This is a moral issue that should have been addressed in the sand-box of childhood and not the workplace but unfortunately that isn’t always the case. The difficulty with snitching is related to the potential value of the information for a manager. Resist the impulse and the negative aura surrounding information gained in this way. It really is the ‘fruit of the poisonous tree’ and has7 little value when discussing issues of performance since it was gained in such an ill-gotten way. Oftentimes, snitching combines gossip, rumor and the efforts to undermine in one neat little destructive package, especially when an employee relays information about work style, perceived work ethic or co-worker transgressions to their manager. The damage here is the equivalent of a verbal carpet bomb and no one is left unscathed as the employee sabotaged, the tattler and the hearer are all diminished by the act. Your best option when confronted with a scenario like this is to simply end the conversation with a forceful statement that indicates that as a manager it is your role and responsibility to worry about such things. Not a co-workers. And if you choose to use the information at all use it to ask yourself why is the information being offered? To what end? In other words, tattling should damage one person only: The tattler. Ultimately, there should be no room for such discussions in a functioning, effective workplace since the aura of backstabbing and nastiness implicit to it can reap more negative than any benefit that comes from the information conveyed. With that said it’s not snitching if an employee comes to you with information about harassment, discrimination or an illegal activity as well as evidence of a patron complaint. While hardly the last word on the role managerial choices regarding information sharing plays in shaping culture and workplace effectiveness, the above can ideally help as a thought- starter on the process of cleaning up communication practices with an eye towards increasing morale and shaping a more effective and positive work environment. Take some time to think about the ways in which your library’s managers and employees gather, share and use critical data related to running the library. You may or may not be surprised by what you discover. The key is to use your position as a manager to effect changes in communication and information sharing that have a positive impact upon workplace effectiveness. Wali Memon
  8. 8. Information Sharing For Workplace Effectiveness 2010 For Further Reading (2006). Full Team Ahead. Marketing Week. 29(50), 25-26. Chapman, S. (2009). 5 Tips to a Healthy Work Environment. Baseline, (101), 15.8 Daley, J. (2009). Anatomy of a Rumor. Entrepreneur, 37(9), 18. Falcone, P. (2007). Tattletales Spell Trouble. HRMagazine, 52(11), 91-94. Fisher, L. (2010). Beware the Toxic Workplace. BRW, 32(10), 43. Keefe, L. (2007). Are your Employees Giving You the Silent Treatment? Nonprofit World, 25(5), 28-29. Mtanga, N., Nancy, F., Chalumporn, N., & MacCallum, I. (2010). How does Low Employee Morale affect an Organization, and what can a Communicator do to overcome it? Communication World, 27(2), 13. Mathis, R. (2007). Building Bridges through Effective Communication. Supervision, 68(10), 3-4. Nefer, B. (2009). Neutralizing the Power of Workplace Gossip. Supervision, 70(4), 14-16. Smerd, J. (2010). Gossip’s Toll on the Workplace. Workforce Management, 89(3), 3. Whitson, S. (2010). Checking Passive Aggression. HRMagazine, 55(6), 115-116. Wali Memon