What Need-To-Know-Basis Managers Need To Know

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the whole idea of communication not just during the during the hiring process (lord knows it’s needed there) but in the workplace, after you get the job.  All people basically want is some clue as to what’s going on that affects them and affects those around them. And they want to know that someone remembers they are human and have feelings. You know…good old-fashioned respect in a world that too easily minimizes the human part of us.

But the business world all-too-often turns feelings into weaknesses (“girly” stuff) and instead winds up creating workplace processes that overlook essential management techniques that build employee loyalty and encourage above-and-beyond participation. And one of the biggest management errors, IMHO, is using the need-to-know-basis management style.

What is this management style?

If a company brings me in as a consultant to help them solve a problem – almost any problem – no matter what else is going on, the answer usually involves improved communication. And one of the biggest offenders is when management holds back information from employees – maybe until the last minute when they’ll find out anyway – since management can’t see how the employee could possibly need to know. Some of management’s reasons are:

  • It would get them agitated.
  • If we tell them too much too soon, they might interfere with our plans.
  • They’ll ask all kinds of questions and just waste my time.
  • They might start to expect this all the time.
  • It’s not their business – we’re in charge.

But some of the reasons this is bogus thinking are:

  • Your employees might just add something important to the thinking you never considered.
  • You are losing a chance to gain loyalty and show respect.
  • You’re showing them they don’t really matter except in a very limited sense.
  • Good workplace communication can increase morale – as well as productivity and innovation.
  • There often is a need to know even if a manager can’t know why until he actually establishes good communication.’
  • You can turn off employees and lose their loyalty by leaving them out in the cold.
  • Without good communication, you’re not building the kind of workplace where folks go the extra mile – for YOU.

Over 50 years ago, W. Edwards Deming helped revolutionize the auto industry – and give birth to Japanese dominance of the industry for many years – by recognizing and implementing some very basic principles of human nature:

  • People at all levels of an organization have valuable ideas.
  • People want to feel  sense of ownership and be part of the solution.
  • You gain more by breaking down rather than building barriers.
  • People work best and contribute more value when they have a sense of pride of workmanship.

And all this is maximized when communication flows freely…not when managers think employees NEED to know, but all along, keeping people informed of organizational plans and goals as well as actively involving them in the thinking that leads up to creating those plans.

Does it take more time? Yes…initially. But as Deming – and history – showed us, the results far outweigh the up-front efforts. Good communication along with a recognition of basic human feelings and needs can make all the difference between so-so results and full-blown success. And, as far as I’m concerned, this is something managers really do need to know!

~ Ronnie Ann

What are your thoughts?


About the author…

Ronnie Ann, founder of Work Coach Cafe, bases her real-world advice on her many years as an organizational consultant where she helped interview and hire people, added to a certificate from NYU in Career Planning & Development and her own adventures as a serial job seeker. She can also be found on her new blog, and on Google+.


  1. Hi Ronnie,
    Great post – right up my alley – so to speak. As that consultant you referred to, I can say it’s ALL about communication in one form or another. What’s always fascinating is how much people think they know and think they have done to “improve” it. One major problem is that it is mostly crisis-driven. Very little work is done routinely or upfront to build conscious and open communication patterns into the system.
    Great that you cited Deming, whose work I still use. His work deserves “rediscovery.” My favorite of his principles is “to drive fear out of the workplace.” Just imagine.
    Thanks for a worthwhile piece, which I am about to tweet!

    • Thank you so much Louise for the great comment and tweet. It especially means a lot to me coming from you since organizational communications is your business. And so true about crisis so often driving change of any kind. What a way to run a business!

  2. I’m afraid that our small staff is being managed in the ‘need to know’ management style. I am a long term employee (35+ years) and asked a fellow staff member (8 year employee) a question about our future intern program and what the new program would involve. His snarky answer was ‘You don’t need to know, it has already been taken care of’! Needless to say, I was not happy.

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