Friday, March 09, 2007

Going to Silence is Costly to an Organization

In these days of less financial support in the form of tax monies, higher education institutions are scrambling to deal with an ever shrinking pool of available funds. The bottom line is that there have to be cuts in the budget in order to remain solvent. The question is just where the cuts will be.
For institutions that follow a Top Down management style, many costly mistakes will be made. Top down managment is one in which those higher up in the chain of command only listen or speak to their own supervisor or the one/s directly below them. The problem is that this style, while making it easier for the one in charge, fosters silence. Silence or the inability of those lower managers and employees to get critical information to the right person. Information that might not otherwise be relayed any other way. New research says 90% of employees know far in advance when projects are doomed but feel incapable of speaking up. According to the survey, only 10 percent feel they can effectively speak up about the problems. More than 71 percent say they try to speak up to key decision makers but don't feel they are heard, and 19 percent don't even attempt to have the conversation. (For more information click on the link: "Silence and Project Failure" in the right bar.)

No open doors, no communication.
A culture of silence can also be felt in the morale of employees. If a manager will not listen or talk to anyone except their direct reports it gives the clear message of "What you have to say is not important". Some good employees may try and circumvent the problem by speaking with another person higher up in the organization, but this is a very risky move. The person they speak to must be someone they trust..If that person does not either care, or keep confidences, it can spell disaster for an employees career. Silence breeds dysfunction in an organization. After a while under top down management, employees just won't care. They adopt a "If they don't ask me, they are on their own" attitude.

Silence keeps the power of collectively and intelligently solving problems from taking place. Upper management is left with information that direct reports give them, however erroneous. Valuable programs and people will be lost and their importance will not be realized until it is too late. In the long run the task of rebuilding programs and finding talented and dedicated staff costs more in terms of time and financial resources.

The destructive phase is when something goes terribly wrong. Upper management wonders why they weren't apprised of problems and now face a crisis. It could result in damage to the university's image, downsizing, reorganization, or at worst the collapse of an institution. All of which could have been avoided by actively listening to all involved and practicing good communication.

One would think that those institutions that survive a crisis caused by a culture of silence would recognize the problem and make changes in the management style. Unfortunatly unless the people who are in places of power adopt this style, model it and ingrain it into the culture, the dysfunction of silence will again take root.

University managment that practice the healthy skills of listening and communication will find that in times of budget cuts a greater spirit of cooperation will be demonstrated and more effective ways of saving money will be found as there can be a collective discussion on the proper course of action.

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