Employee communicators who have questioned the importance of their own work or suffered the slings and arrows of others who do—which is to say all of us—should have the following laminated for our cubicle walls.
These excerpts come from the third chapter of Sharing Information with Employees, the first book ever written on employee communication. Written in answer to author Alexander Heron's plaintive question, "Why not tell them?" these words amount to an employee communication manifesto whose truth I've long understood but never seen put this strongly.
In the next chapter in our series, we'll get into what good employee communication looks like according to Heron, and I'll take an increasing role in the conversation. But I'd like you to read and react to this section without any more intrusion from me. If we can get agreement on this, we're working from a strong intellectual foundation.
Heron begins by acknowledging that there are "honest objections to sharing information with employees." The first is that "in spite of the fact that most executives in American enterprises have risen from the ranks, many of them secretly believe that there is a difference between their own mentalities and those of the men today who are in the ranks. They feel vaguely, and sometimes say definitely, that the rank and file cannot understand the information which management can give them."
Heron, from here on:
Are some people just born without the ability to understand? Some people? All of us were born that way. We were also born without the ability to walk; but we learned by trying. We were born without the ability to talk, or read, or write; but we learned, by trying as we were given the chance. So did the employees who now work for us. Incidentally, they were born without the ability to do the work for which we now hire them; but they learned that as they were given the opportunity. …
… in addition to those who believe it true but regrettable that employees cannot understand such information as we are discussing, there are others who believe it true but not regrettable. They say that some people are just born that way, and they will go on to imply that this is in accordance with some divine plan. It seems to them inevitable that human society be classified and stratified, in the same manner as a hive of bees: If all bees were workers, there would be no organization under qualified leadership. If all were queens, there would be no honey. If all human beings were endowed by nature with keen, alert, understanding minds, none of us would be satisfied to work for wages or at manual tasks; we would all want to be bosses.
This attitude has a lot of history behind it. It is the idea of both ancient and modern tyrannies under which conquered enemies became the slaves of the conquerors. It is the idea of the medieval aristocracies with their ruling classes ….
Every social order in history which has been built on the foundation of such an idea has collapsed because its foundation refused to remain stable very long. The supposedly predestined working class has successively won the right to bear arms, to own land, and, finally, to rule its nation by votes. We have long since learned that the proper exercise of the right to rule by vote involves abundant opportunity to know the facts and conditions with which the ruling and the votes must deal. The deliberate effort to share business information with the great majority who work for wages corresponds closely to the deliberate plan to make education, basic and continued education, freely available to the people.
… we have all of us, every adult citizen, been jointly and equally entrusted with the government of our nation, state, and city. That government is increasingly engaged in the protection and regulation of the economic interests of all of us. It is inconceivable that the forty millions of us who work for wages can do a good job, or even a safe job, of governing by votes, without knowing more and more about our economic interests.
The American idea has no place for a class predestined to be wage earners incapable of understanding a world beyond the workbench, no place for a class which is denied the opportunity to reason its conclusions on facts which it helps to create, no place for a class which is happier because ignorant of anything beyond the daily task. And those whose sense of superiority leads them to believe in either the necessity or the desirability of such classes are themselves enemies of the American idea or ignorant of its genius.