President of Fulcrum ConsultingWorks, Inc.
The Fourth Estate was trusted for years to tell us the truth. Edward R Murrow and Walter Cronkite were our rocks. Now the Internet funnels so many opinions and sources that it is difficult to know who and what to trust. More fundamentally, it has become difficult to agree on the facts.
Your company is likely steeped in fake news too. It may be coming from the leadership team, from informal leaders, or from external influences. The confusing part is that those same groups can be the source of factual news. Who should people believe? It's extremely hard to be 'aligned' or 'operationally excellent' or 'world class' if we can't even agree on the basics.
My colleague Steven Gaffney is an expert on honest communications. He points out "a big problem is not what people say but what they don't say." Maintaining radio silence until you know all the answers is not only ineffective, it's dangerous.
Instead tell people what you do know. At critical junctures that may well be "we don't know what's going to happen, but as soon as we do we'll share it with you." Ask people what they want to know and get answers for them when you do have facts to share.
Common human conditions that impact fake news in every organization:
- What we don't know we make up, and we never make up good things.
• To counter that, focus on the basics. Communicate clearly, consistently, and completely.
• Many a manager has walked through a door deep in thought and that facial expression was turned into a rumor of upcoming layoffs. Listen for what people believe to be true, no matter how far out it may seem to you.
- Seek bias confirmation: decide whom to trust and listen only to those sources.
• To counter, facilitate professional disagreement and truly open discussion filled with respect.
• Provide visible accurate and timely data. But data may be interpreted differently by those with different opinions. Wherever possible, make sure the meaning is direct and unequivocal.
- Reject input from others. This is also known as breathing your own exhaust.
• To overcome, actively listen to all perceptions. Do not assume silence is agreement. It's usually not.
• Leaders should speak last in meetings, listening to the thoughts of others first.
- Conversation and professional disagreement are underdeveloped skills.
• To correct, build executive competence in these arts as you develop a culture of independent thinkers.
• A culture can be “too nice.” Challenge and disagreement are required ingredients of a culture of excellence.
Nature abhors a vacuum; so too organizational conjecture. Don't let fake news fill the vacuum within your business.
Becky Morgan is an operations strategist working with leaders of mid-sized manufacturing companies. Her video series Manufacturing Greatness is a great tool to use in developing your leaders.