Communication Salmonella – Tips to Avoid Serving Undercooked Information

Why is it that we know we shouldn’t serve up undercooked meat, but we struggle with serving up undercooked information?

This past weekend, my family came into the house and were welcomed with the delectable aroma of something baking in the oven. It wasn’t anything fancy – a nice little baked chicken recipe I was trying out. For the next 20 minutes – although it seemed much longer than that – I had to answer the “what’s for dinner?” and “can we eat now?” questions. As much as I would’ve liked to pull that chicken out as soon as everyone got home – I knew it wasn’t ready. The magic number for chicken is 165 degrees – thanks for the clarity FDA. If not careful, I could serve up a houseful of salmonella.

Now, replace me and my wonderfully prepared chicken in the oven with a leadership team squirreled away in a conference room for a few days working on an organizational redesign or some other key initiative. For clarification, the leadership team isn’t the chicken in the oven – that’s the initiative they’re working on. The employees are the rest of the family who know something is baking in the oven. They know this because the leadership team cleared their calendars for something, so it must be important. Of course, they will want to know what the leadership team has been working on and the details. They want to eat the chicken now.

This is where it gets tricky from a leadership perspective. Transparency in organizations has a lot of merit with respect to building trust and is changing the way many businesses interact with employees. In fact, the potential benefits of transparency in organizations have been widely discussed and written about in recent years. But transparency isn’t about serving up plates of undercooked decisions – it’s about sharing the right information at the right time.

Here are a few tips to avoid Communication Salmonella (sharing of undercooked information):

  1. Ensure Team Alignment: At the end of a meeting/design session, confirm that all members will stick to agreed-upon talking points. The ripple effect of one person going rogue and sharing more details than others will take much more effort to mitigate and likely force a more aggressive and early communication strategy than planned.
  2. Draft Talking Points: Make this an agenda item to ensure it gets done. A common mistake is making the assumption that everyone will know what to say when they leave the meeting – don’t leave this to chance. At the end of each session, take the time to develop clear talking points. These don’t have to be nicely crafted statements, but rather explicit points that can be shared outside of the meeting. This is an effective way to set boundaries on what is communicated and ensure alignment across the team.
  3. Share Judiciously: When developing talking points, be careful with the information you intend to share more broadly.
    • Share Information about the Process: It’s beneficial to share information about the process the team is using to make decisions. At AlignOrg Solutions, for example, our process for organization alignment is very thorough and deliberate. We’ve found over the years that executives are eager to share this experience – and employees appreciate getting a better understanding of the effort and process used in making decisions.
    • Don’t Share Information about the Details: There will be an appropriate time to share specifics – and that is when decisions are finalized and a clear plan to communicate is formulated. Another common mistake made by well-meaning participants coming out of early meetings is using language like “We are thinking about…” or “We are considering…”.

There are no hard and fast rules on what information should be shared and when in organizations – we can’t check it for 165 degrees. We do, however, have a good sense when information is still cooking. Ensuring alignment across those involved in making decisions on what to say and when is critical for healthy transparency.