Saturday. A hot summer Saturday morning. It was only 7:30 but the temperature was already in the upper eighties. This is normal for the area just outside of Garden City, Kansas. That’s where highway U.S. 70 stretches across the map like a line drawn with a ruler.
There is a unique aspect to this particular highway. If you were to stand on the dotted white line in the middle of this two lane tarmac and look west, the road would seem to disappear at a point near the horizon. Likewise, looking east would create almost the same picture.
On this particular morning, a three-and-one-half pound Rhode Island Red chicken was walking alongside a 35-pound China White pig, not hand in hand or hoof in wing, but side by side. While their conversation was continuous, it was not substantive.
They had been walking since sunrise and were getting hungry. In the distance they saw a small roadside diner, classically clad in once polished aluminum. The parking lot was empty; not a good sign. It was either too early for customers, which it wasn’t; closed, which it wasn’t; or lacking in the good food category.
As they came closer to the diner, the hen was all for stopping in and ordering breakfast. She had already started up the cinder block steps when the porker squealed and retreated to where a curb ought to have been. He did not appear to be afraid. He looked angry with the hen.
The clucker asked, “Why the tantrum?”
The now fuming China White pointed to a sign in the window of the diner and asked if she had read what was written there. It read No shirt, no shoes, no service.
“No, no, the sign next to it!” squealed the pig. Breakfast special: Ham, two eggs, toast and coffee $2.50 all day. The hen remarked that it was a great price and that she was getting hungrier by the minute.
The pig, now quite put out by the hen’s obvious lack of sensitivity, squealed again. “All they want from you is a contribution. From me they want a total commitment!”
If you are a senior manager in a large organization, your view of your company may be substantially different from those in middle management, and maybe profoundly different from your employees as a group.
That difference can be found in the quality and quantity of information available to you exclusively. A total commitment to both internal and external communications prepares your employees as well as your customers for who you are and what you stand for as a company.
If your people don’t understand why you are doing what you’re doing, they will create their own interpretations. Human nature being what it is, this is not good. The same is applicable to small manufacturing operations with 200 semi-skilled workers or international groups with 150,000 employees working in disciplines as diverse as consulting and fishing, automotive after-markets and healthcare. Your people will react as people first and professionals second. It does not have to be that way for them or your suppliers, and certainly not for your customers or shareholders.
Take the time, spend the money and communicate. If your people understand why this or that is happening, they can help. With understanding, they can act with knowledge. They can appreciate that they are part of the solution and can make a contribution to your mutual success. They need not see themselves as the only ones asked to make the total commitment, the total sacrifice, without reason or logic.
For those of you who think this level of commitment to communication will diminish your ability to manage sensitive issues or inhibit delicate negotiations, you’ve gone too far. It’s not an all-or-nothing proposition.
Take the time to share your vision of the company with the company. You may be pleasantly surprised how many others have a similar view. Even if they don’t, you can help them understand where you want your organization to go and how you plan to get there. Even if it’s just to get them on your side.
Don’t assume that they know what you know, and that they have your level of enthusiasm. Given the opportunity, even the most difficult of union shop stewards wants your company to succeed, because then they will succeed. They will work hard if only for their own self-interest.
Communication and the ability to do it effectively can be just as much a management tool as Harvard’s Management by Objectives, just-in-time delivery, team building and quality assurance incentives. The mutual trust and respect gained through aggressive communication will be returned in cooperation and productivity.