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Secret manager meetings

March 1, 2016

By Cheryl Kuch, courtesy of SBAM Approved Partner ASE

In a survey of 40,000 employees by TinyPulse, researchers identified management transparency as the top factor in determining employee happiness.  Additionally, in his book, Transparency: Creating a Culture of Candor, Warren Bennis notes that companies with a high rate of transparency outperform those without it. Are secret manager meetings impacting employee happiness and overall company performance?  

Secret manager meetings?
Does your organization hold secret manager meetings?  You likely do and don’t even know it.   I am not talking about those rare occasions when leaders meet and discuss confidential (for leaders only) topics.  I sometimes like to call regular (daily, weekly, monthly perhaps) manager or leader “update” meetings, “secret meetings” because that is what I hear so often from my class participants. Not called secret meetings, you say?  In the minds of those not attending they are.  This lack of transparency can have a great impact on the business.

Why are they called secret meetings? 
Non-managers often describe “secret meetings” as events in which managers convene regularly, behind closed doors, to discuss agenda items. Afterward, they don’t share the contents of the meeting with those not in attendance.   Managers often defend this label rigorously, stating that the meetings aren’t secret even though they aren’t sharing information.  When I ask why they don’t share, I most often hear:

  • “I don’t have time to share.”   It could be the most impactful 15 minutes of the day.
  • “The topics covered are likely not of interest to employees.”   If it has to do with the business it is of interest to the employees.
  • “The topics discussed often don’t affect them.” – If they are about the business it affects them.
  • “They don’t need to know that stuff.”  Why not?  What do they need to know, then?  Employees who can connect their work to the mission of the company are more engaged. 

What impact does this lack of transparency have? 
First, employees perceive your unwillingness to share information as hiding something from them. When you are hiding something from them (their perception) it means you don’t trust them.  Lack of trust can have a dramatic impact on business.  A Watson Wyatt Worldwide study of 12,750 U.S. workers in all major industries found that companies with high trust levels outperform their low-trust counterparts by 186 percent. 

What can managers do? 
Creating trust through transparency by sharing secret meeting information can have a great impact, not just on business outcomes but on overall team morale as well. It isn’t difficult to achieve and it costs nothing.   For instance, a brief 10 minute “stand up” meeting with the team following a secret meeting, providing the high points, starts the process.  Be sure to honor confidentiality requirements from your meeting, and if unsure, ask.  This need not take hours of time.  Eventually, according to Forbes, managers should experience the following benefits of transparency:

  • Better Team Morale: Trust breeds feelings of value and value drives engagement and morale. 
  • Better Team Building:   Open dialog and team contribution are increased, and fear of the unknown is reduced.
  • Better Overall Relationships:  Trust developed by transparency helps reduce feelings of bad intentions and misunderstandings (they won’t have to make up information any more).
  • Better Problem Solving: Teams can help leaders solve problems if they know what the problems are.
  • Better Promotion of Leader: If teams trust their leader they will advocate for them.
  • Better Overall Performance as bullets 1-5 above are achieved.
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