mushroom management

The Tragedy of Mushroom Management and Keeping Employees in the Dark

To stay relevant in today’s business, you have to cherish the ability to quickly change the course. Achieving that promptly and effectively is only possible when the workforce is on the same page with its management. Effectively communicating the information to employees is critical for innovation, customer service, skilled workforce retention, and, ultimately, change. This kind of communication needs to be second nature.

It’s Never Too Much of Communication

Notably, when employees are anonymously asked about what their executives could have been doing better, in up to 70% of the cases the answer is “Communicating”. Considering the broad selection of available communication means like cell-phones, emails, assistants, voice & video messaging — such a drastic decline in communication seems almost ironic. It would have been funny if it wasn’t so sad really as, somehow, with the number of communication tools increasing, the quality of communication is going down.

Take a look at the fate of UPS in 1998. As a result of the employee strike, the company lost $700 million in revenue. Its trust, credibility, and reputation among employees also took a hit. Atlanta HR Director later argued that UPS could have done a better job communicating its goals, especially during negotiations; he followed up with a conclusion that no one came out as a winner. Two lessons can be drawn from the UPS employee strike situation.

First, employees did not have the full understanding of the benefits they’ve already had. This only intensified the confusion and resulted in employee strike. If the company was better at communicating, the confusion could have been eliminated.

Second, communication cannot be underestimated during the negotiation process. In an attempt to prevent even more confusion, UPS chose to keep the info on a tight leash. Big mistake. This led to a loyal workforce feeling betrayed and unappreciated, which ultimately resulted in them walking away from the job. The lack of information had an opposite effect — betrayal, resentment, disappointment, confusion, legal action and a blow to revenues.

Lesson learned. Never assume people know what you expect them to know. You will be better off over-communicating.

The Two Types of Access in Organizations

Great communication is the main ingredient for the creation of a high-retention environment in an organization. However, when you break it down, at the core, it is all about access. Based on that, you can really divide all organizations into two basic types — they are either low or high access.

A low-access organization is characterized by restricted access to information. The flow of communication is clogged and obstructed. Typically, people in organizations like these are left in the dark — like mushrooms — overly-secured and strained by the harsh job descriptions, ranking, and hierarchical position. With this kind of environment in place, it is no wonder that low-access organizations have much greater difficulty responding to change, being flexible with their customers, or generally adopting the characteristics of a modern workplace.

On the other end of the spectrum, organizations with high-access are characterized by the attainability of information which is being shared to the maximum extent. Having more insight enables employees to better adapt to change in customer needs and respond to the ever-changing environment. High-access organizations are easily distinguished by their commitment to open communication.

Spotting Low-Access Organizations

  • Low-access organizations are rules-heavy. Such organizations have their focus shifted from the people culture to a regulatory-based system stacked full of rules, policies, and regulations.
  • In low-access organizations the decision-making process is centralized.
  • The way reward systems are designed leaves area for little to no change or initiative. And as already mentioned, decisions are made top-down, which makes approving changes even more difficult. As a result, mistakes become extremely difficult to fix.
  • Change is unwelcome. Such organizations do their best to resist any change. In cases with low-access organizations only a crisis, a threat, or any other disaster can force a change to happen.
  • Everything is “compartmentalized”. Organizations with a strong hierarchical structure often have an expert for everything.
  • The worst trait of low-access organizations is the fact that most of them are an embodiment of a caste system. They are a hierarchy, everything is top-down, roles are dictated, and communication is layered with restrictions in place. Ranks and positions are of paramount importance here.