Alexander Heron's 1942 book Sharing Information with Employees is the first ever written on employee communication, and I'm arguing it's also the best. But it's not perfect. As I tried to imagine this scene, I had to laugh. —DM
"One of the best jobs I ever knew of making 'company investment' take on a life meaning is done by a manager of a small plant employing about five hundred," Heron says. "This manager systematically plans to see each new employee soon after he joins the organization. He plans the conversation so that he can ask the new employee why he prefers to work for wages rather than to work for himself. Of course, the answer is almost always, 'I have no capital. You gotta have capital to work for yourself.'"
And here is where the trouble begins:
We can see the new employee wiping the sweat off the back of his neck and trying to appear befuddled: "Gee, boss, I never thought of it that way!" And meanwhile wishing fondly to quickly get to work digging clinkers out of the furnace. But the boss isn't finished.
Do you think that figures on a company investment are going to be merely dry and factual to an employee who has been introduced to them in this way?
No, Heron: An employee who has been condescended to in this way—and at the very moment he is most powerless to argue with the chief, perhaps by pointing out that if he's to "pay for the investment he uses" maybe he ought to receive some of the fruits of that investment—will be forever hostile to everything management ever tries to get him to understand about company finances.
And readers, you'll be even more gobsmacked at Heron's foolishness here when you read the next installment of this series, which explains with sensitivity and insight when and under what circumstances an organization can get employees to receive information about economic "reality."
One wants to hope that Heron is simply an unwitting victim of that unfortunate, and outdated idea that “we, as ‘management’ in our oh, so impressive wisdom, know best, and we will use said wisdom for the common good by enlightening our dedicated, but not as smart as us, employees.”
The rest of what you’ve shared with us has been so right on, he has to have done something dumb at some point, right? Otherwise we’d have had to hate him simply for for being so damned smart – and what fun would THAT be! (Fish in a barrel, and all that!)
David Murray says
Yes, and the idea may be unfortunate and outdated but it’s far from extinct, as we know.