Too many CEOs seem to believe they are in charge of an espionage operation instead of running a company. Having spent my first four years out of college teaching at the Naval Nuclear Power School, I understand the need for secrecy in some cases. Obviously, the information we taught was quite sensitive, including details about the operation of the reactors that powered Navy submarines. But instead of marking a few specific documents secret, the Navy considered almost every document secret, including things that could have been found in any high school or college textbook on the subject.
The military also has the concept of “need to know.” Need to know means that even if you have the clearance level necessary to know something, you will not be informed of the information unless it is necessary for you to perform your job.
Similarly, many civilian executives keep their employees in the dark on even most basic facts about the operations of the business. These “CIA CEOs” seem to believe that even though they don’t tell people much about the company’s goals, employees should be able to perform their jobs and not ask any questions. For knowledge workers especially, this “need to know” type of operation is terribly demoralizing.
As Dan Pink discusses in his book Drive, to achieve true employee engagement and motivation require the three elements of autonomy, mastery, and purpose. It is impossible for employees to act autonomously when they don’t know enough of the big picture to understand what it is they should do. In addition, they can’t feel that they are part of some bigger purpose if the boss doesn’t tell them what the purpose of the business is.
Are You a CIA CEO?
1. Do you keep basic information about the business away from employees?
2. If you surveyed your employees as to the key goals of the organization, would their answers agree with yours?
3. Do you intentionally only tell people information if they “need to know”?
4. Are you afraid that if basic information about your business leaked out, it would significantly harm your business?