In this final installment of our series on Sharing Information with Employees, the first and best book ever written on employee communication, we let author Alexander Heron speak for himself, first on how we know when we've created a successful program of employee communication, and second, on the result of such a program. —DM
If our program of sharing information with employees, through all the channels and methods named above, is completely successful, the result—and the evidence of success—will be questions!
The supplement we must provide is an adequate plan for meeting these questions. Meeting them does not mean parrying them; it means answering them.
Some of the questions will be annoying or embarrassing. Some of these will drive us, the employers, into fields of thought which we have avoided. Some of them will test the completeness of our willingness to share information with employees; they will force us to ask ourselves if we have really meant it.
If there have been conscious or unconscious limitations in our willingness, we shall be in a most unfortunate position, much worse than if we had stayed with the narrow but consistent position that information about the business was none of the business of the employee. ...
The employer who supplies to his employees only those facts and figures which portray him as benefactor, or as an object of sympathy, is likely to get no good result from the beginning. The employer who enters a program of sharing information with employees and later admits that he meant it "within certain limits" has injured his relation with employees, probably seriously and permanently.
And the upside of embarking on a rigorous program of employee communication? A happy and meaningful return, for employees and for management of big, impersonal corporations, to the "understanding unit," the 19th-century furniture shop that Heron so vividly described near the outset of the book. This is the place where the workers understood the situation the boss was in and the boss knew where the workers were coming from and everyone appreciated the scope of the operation and intimately knew the customer they served:
I'm at once moved and reassured to find such a sturdy foundation for my belief that employee communication is a discipline that theoretically can make American work life—and thus the life's work of more Americans—more meaningful.
I'm also discouraged by the lack of progress we've made since 1942 and daunted by the job that lies ahead and the cloudiness of my own view from here to 2042.
But you know and I know that there's nobody but us—the students and practitioners of employee communication—who share Heron's viewpoint.
And so it's up to us to figure out how to make this theory real—organization by organization, understanding unit by understanding unit.
Let us begin, together.