Business information has traditionally been kept hush-hush. Typically it is only trusted to upper management and the finance department. Sharing such information was once an unspeakable sin. Today, things are quite different in the workplace. With authority and decision making being redistributed across the organization, employees at all levels find themselves deeply involved in the day-today running of the business. This increased involvement creates a need for more information.
Teams need good information in order to function effectively. A key role of today’s management is to make sure the team gets adequate business information in order to function effectively. Getting business information to the team that is timely, credible, relevant, and understandable presents a number of challenges. These challenges maybe internal to the team or external to the team. The benefits outweigh the challenges. Many organizations now have a practice of regularly sharing business information with all of their employees. Advantages include:
– Sharing business information will help employees to understand business fundamentals.
– Sharing business information helps employees see how their work contributes to the goals and objectives of the organization.
– Employees are better able to think beyond their job, department, or division.
The numbers can have a dramatic impact on the employees feeling of ownership.
These advantages help improve the teams’ problem-solving and decision-making skills. Managing the information needs of the team is a critical function of the team leader..
Sharing business information with an entire team requires asking some difficult, self-reflective questions. Taking the time to answer those questions will create the proper environment for the team. Successful team leaders know how to make the information meaningful for their team. They give meaning to the numbers so the team can answer the question, “How does this affect us?” Team leaders must think very carefully about what they want to do and why. They should consult some of the many books, articles, seminars, that are available on the topic of sharing business information.
The team leader must decide precisely what should be shared with the team. Team involvement is critical at this point. Take the time to introduce the topic at a meeting and explain why it is important. Allow people the opportunity to ask questions or raise concerns. Next, ask the team members what kinds of business information they need. Be prepared for a lot of silence at this point. Since few team members may have had access to business information in the past, they may not know how to answer the right questions.
As a minimum, most teams need the type of business information that allows them to monitor and adjust how they are performing. These teams also need information on the goals of the larger organization so that they will be in sync with the company’s strategies. Above all, the team must have information that will help it understand the business in order to make good day-to-day decisions. If receiving business information is new to the team, the team leader must start with basic information and slowly work up to a broader understanding of the numbers. This is an educational process and the intention must be to create a foundation of business literacy within the team.
Only when the foundation has been created, can the team leader help the team think about its ongoing business information needs. Quality, cost, delivery,safety, and employee morale, are examples of typical indicators. – What are the primary indicators of how the team’s business is performing?
– What type of information will help the team track these indicators?
– What is the source of the information?
– How often should the team receive this information to be timely in its decisions?
– Who is responsible for obtaining this information?
It is simply not enough to bring business information to the team. The team leader must also understand the principles that underly the effective management of business information so that it feeds good team performance.
Planning about how to sustain the business information effort is just as important as implementation. Without continued attention to maintaining adequate business information on the day-to-day operations, the effort will simply fade away and become another “Flavor of the Month”. It is crucial to design a business information system that will function independently of the team leader. This is especially important if the organization is not totally committed to sharing the business information or if there is a turnover in team leadership. In these instances, it is best to leave behind a sustainable system.
The road to sharing business information with the team has a number of ups and downs. The team leader must be persistent. It is essential to not allow the team to get discouraged by a few setbacks. Obtaining the type of information that creates energy and drives excellence take work. Remember, you must maintain a reasonable pace. It may require a little time for team members begin to trust the numbers, let alone use them!
Expect that you will face obstacles as you plan and implement the business information sharing strategy within the team. Some of the obstacles will be external to the team while others will come from within the team. The assumption in sharing business information is that authority is redistributed within the team. Rather than the organization sharing information on a need-to-know basis, it is treating employees more like partners. The team leader no longer holds information as a form of power, he/she is responsible for sharing the knowledge and training the team about the business.
This gives the employees a chance to gain more control over the day-to-day business by understanding business fundamentals. This will enhance employability and give a sense of pride and ownership that stems from being more actively involved in the business
Brice Alvord has over thirty years experience as an internal and external performance improvement consultant. He holds a BA in Sociology/Psychology from Central Washington University and an MBA degree from City University of Seattle. He is the author of over two dozen books on continuous improvement and training.