How Honest Are You With Employees?

If your company is undergoing challenges, do you share it with employees?  This is a very very hard question to answer.  In some places, the competition for talent is so intense if you are too honest you will see everyone walk out the door.  Sometimes just a high-profile funding will cause entire teams to leave.

The CEO walks a very fine line.

Brad Feld has talked about some CEO’s who share a cleaned up version of the board deck with their employees.  If this is done the right way, it can build culture.

You might have heard how in the military platoon leaders often say there were fighting for the people next to them, not the overall military.  While the stakes are different, the emotions can be similar with startups.  Teams fight for each other and pull together if the culture is right.

The trick for a CEO is to think about which thing they can rally behind that will move employees on an emotional basis, not intellectual basis.  That emotion cannot be based on fear either.

When a company is undergoing some challenges sharing some of them with the team can bring people together.  Being a little bit vulnerable can bring you strength.  I don’t think you have to say, “If we don’t do this we are going to go out of business”.  That’s leading from a fearful place and anyone that works for a startup knows that’s a possibility at all times.

I do think you talk about the mission of the company, and articulate some short-term objectives for survival.  That’s a positive way to approach adversity.

  • awaldstein

    So if you were the CEO of Whole Foods you would handle communications to the thousands of employees how when so much is not known.

    All this is easy when the company is small.

    Almost impossible when not.

    I’ve been there many times.

  • Dan Kunze

    I did this when my company lost it’s founder last year (my dad). I did a lot of being transparent, but also a lot of faking it ’till I made it since I really had no clue on how things were going to end up. I wanted to avoid a mass exodus at all costs and I did surprisingly well. While the hurricane was churning in my head, I was all smiles and positive on the outside. It worked.