In my series on Sharing Information with Employees, the first and best book ever written on employee communication, I've covered (and we've discussed): the purpose of employee communication for organizations, employees and society … what attitudes executives ought to have about communicating with employees … how to make sure what management has to say matches what employees want to hear.
In this installment, we get down to brass tacks. "How?" asks Heron. In his answer, he describes the character of a solid employee communication program and discusses when and how one might be launched. —DM
Like communication consultants today, Heron distinguishes between communication vehicles and a communication program. Unlike communication consultants today, he does not talk glibly of "behavior change" as the end-all, be-all of employee communication.
"Our objective is a lasting and continuing attitude, not an early and conclusive action. We are not seeking to persuade employees to buy something or to do something specific. We are not even interested in causing them to know some particular fact or to think any specific thought."
Long before employees can be reached on that level, an understanding must be reached, Heron writes.
Actually, it's not "incidental" at all when one is considering launching or dramatically retooling an employee communications operation. Heron goes on to ask and answer the question, "How can [management] avoid shocking employees and at the same lead them to recognize that they can know the facts about the enterprise which is a part of their lives?"
[Are you listening, Rueben?]
Answer: "There is no sudden way. There is no channel which can instantly make employees conscious of the new possibilities. Any pressing for sudden results, for sudden interest, greater confidence and general acceptance of information by employees is hopeless. The first rule must be that the process of sharing information with employees is a gradual one."
Heron goes on to describe the employee communication program in more detail:
It almost sounds as if Heron is banning communication vehicles and employee communication practitioners. Not quite. "Fully recognizing the popularity of many of these methods, and the fact that tens of millions of dollars are being spent every year on their use, I confess a prejudice against any or all of them as a complete program. I recognize immense value in some of them, an undeniable need for most of them. [But] the proposition to which I hope to lead is that the best of them, selected to fit the exact conditions of a single company, will do the most that they can do when they have invited the flow of information through the natural, functional line organization, the supervisory personnel of that company."
All right, Heron—employee communication practitioners and our programs have to be broad-minded, patient and unobtrusive.
When can we start?
"When our employees want to know whether the plant will run full after Christmas, it is almost certain that they will not 'receive' our bulletin-board 'propaganda' about the burden of our social security taxes for the year."
Employees are deeply suspicious of organizations that,
The mind of the average American is a naturally sensitive receiving instrument. Through the years of growth of mass employment, the instrument has not been invited to "tune in" on basic information from which understanding of the free-enterprise system can grow. It has not been invited to "tune in" on facts about industry and business, particularly about the business in which it is engaged.
So companies who have seen the light about the need to communicate aggressively with employees must wait for the current recession to recede the way Depression was doing by the beginning of U.S. involvement in WW II, in 1942. "While they are worried about curtailed and unstable earnings, employees are not willing to 'tune in' on messages about anything else."
But just afterward—that's when they will.
Will we, in the next phase of U.S. economic history, be ready for the moment?