Alan Mulally, the former CEO of Boeing and Ford, tells a story about his first week as CEO of Ford that I never forgot.
He asked every leader to share their top metrics and label each as green (on target), yellow (off target, plan in place) or red (off target, no plan yet). One executive after another presented their key metrics and every single one was a green.
At the same time, in 2006, Ford was near bankruptcy and losing close to $17 billion. The notion that every metric was green was clearly absurd. Yet, Ford execs had been trained that “sharing the bad was followed by getting fired.”
Finally, one brave executive shared a “red.” Alan stood up, called the executive out and gave him a standing ovation. It was through the honest and broad sharing of data that Ford began to shift their culture and begin the long process of emerging out of their financial debacle.
In three years as the CEO of Investopedia, I came to understand that smart decisions are made based on data and that the greatest reason for disagreement in organisations is the asymmetrical access to reports. The sales leader knows her information and the product leader knows his data. Because of access to siloed data, when there is disagreement, it is often due to a lack of comprehensive information.
For that reason, we instituted specific measures to give every employee the information they need.
This includes every weekly report, monthly report, financial analysis, every key performance indicator, sales or traffic report, the whole enchilada. No one could complain about not being in the loop, no one could wield power because of greater access and with access to the same reports, employees could support their points with objective and fully shared information.
The sole exception to transparent reporting is human resource-related reports. I do not believe that if an employee is on a performance plan that should be public knowledge. I don’t believe that compensation information should be shared across the organisation.
The reason for this is that an open policy around employee performance and rewards will inevitably engender resentment, anger, embarrassment and discord between employees. The subtleties in human dynamics are simply too complex to include in a report without verbal explanations. All other business strategies and metrics should however be broadly shared and ideally in weekly metrics meetings.
Most Investopedia leaders hold weekly metrics meetings that are designed to drill down in the metrics and figure out what's working and more importantly, what's not. The whole team is invited. The team debates why things aren't working, brainstorms solutions and then prioritises those solutions as part of the product road map. Everyone, every week, is aware of the metrics.
Together, the team feels the joys of success and the pain of challenges. Because it is weekly, there's no hiding from it. The weekly metrics meeting drives deep buy-in, facilitates creative solutions, bridges the gap between manager imperatives and employee realities and ensures that the best ideas win.
On the sales team and want to know what product is working on? Join their distribution list. On editorial and wondering what the developers are working on? You know what to do.
I have had fierce arguments with other CEOs about whether to broadly email detailed data to all employee or to have them opt into receiving the reports. The argument for sending is that employees may not sign up for a distribution list but once they start receiving the emails, they are glad they are receiving them. I don’t agree. Psychologically, a behaviour is fundamentally more internalised when it is initiated by an individual. We push hard for employees to take the proactive action themselves to join distribution lists of interest and it is this choice that significantly increases the likelihood they will read the report.
Transparent reports, open access to email lists, and a blurring of the silos that too frequently exist in organisations enable smart decision-making. So the next time you may share your analysis or report on a “need to know” basis, instead focus on the “need to align” and share abundantly. Your employees will thank you for the transparency and better business decisions will be made throughout the company.
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