Why you must burst the bigwig communication bubble

Workers and bosses often inhabit different worlds, which can lead to serious dysfunction. Execs should make sure employees are informed, empowered and heard.

Company leadership can be a closed system.

Executives and bigwigs tend to spend their days rubbing elbows, rarely deigning to mix with rank-and-file workers. Without a strong effort to create channels of communication between top management and employees, information will not flow freely. That’s a recipe for confusion, conflict and misunderstandings.

Leaders often assume employees know things, such as a company’s vision, mission, strategic plans and values. How can they know unless you communicate clearly and consistently?

Toward the end of the Great Recession, we conducted research on companywide communication. First, we spoke with leaders about their plans for managing and surviving amid the economic downturn.

Without exception, leaders said they had a clear vision. When we asked whether their employees understood this vision, they all said some variation of, “Yes, absolutely, we talk about it all the time.”

Then we asked the same questions to employees at those companies. What we heard was:

  • “I don’t think they have any idea how to get us through this.”
  • “There’s no plan—not that I know of.”
  • “I don’t think there’s a vision, and it scares me.”

Why would executives think employees know these things when they clearly did not? It’s because honchos hear about the vision and objectives every day. Company leaders are all sitting in the same meetings, seeing the same Powerpoints and having the same discussions that others are not privy to. The top brass understand the vision, and they know how their department is expected to contribute.

In short, bigshots are talking exclusively to each other. They’re not hearing the views of employees outside the leadership bubble, which means missing out on suggestions, ideas, complaints and concerns.

To avoid this communication breakdown, it’s crucial to consistently convey top management’s strategic direction to people at all levels. To accomplish this, establish two-way communication channels as much as possible.

Every voice should be heard, and each person deserves to be informed—no matter their place in the pecking order. More egalitarian communication will do wonders for your internal culture.

A version of this post first appeared on the Tribe Good Company blog.


Ragan.com Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive the latest articles from Ragan.com directly in your inbox.