Sunday, April 13, 2008

Who Else Needs to Know?

As a trainer at the Army's National Training Center, I would experience this more times than I can remember: Information that could change the course of a battle would be reported to someone in the command post (the nerve center for a military unit). But instead of sharing this information with the commander or anyone else who might do something with this information, it was simply logged in, posted on a map, or otherwise disregarded by the recipient (usually some junior radioman with only a few months in the unit!). This information could have changed the course of the battle...if only someone else knew about it.

Walk into many command posts in the Army and you will see the following sign posted over the map, near the radio, and over the computers: "Who Else Needs To Know?" It is a reminder that someone, somewhere likely can find an advantage from knowing what you know. Perhaps the commander, an adjacent unit, or your higher headquarters would benefit from this information. Perhaps one of the subordinate units conducting missions would be able to do something with this piece of data. But it does no one any good simply entered into a log or sitting in an inbox. Telling just one person can be the difference between victory and defeat. Who else needs to know?

I have encouraged my own team to post this on the top of their computer monitors. It is a good reminder that we need to constantly be reminded of the importance of sharing information.

As I think about times where I have really had my butt chewed (usually rightly was the case recently...ouch!), it is for this shortcoming. We take action and fail to coordinate. We don't tell our partners, stakeholders, or higher headquarters what we are doing -- and it comes back to bite us. We fail to report, provide late or incomplete information, or miss a suspense without letting someone know -- and it may cost us the battle (or at least a couple of pounds off the backside)!

-- Airplanes not meeting inspection schedules? Who else needs to know?
-- Having problems with a supplier? Who else needs to know?
-- Not going to meet a quarterly goal? Who else needs to know?
-- Getting ready to make a major announcement or take an initiative? Who else needs to know?
-- Sitting on some bad news that may have impacts beyond just your project, or your little piece of the company? Who else needs to know?

As I indicated, I was reminded of this critical leadership lesson quite recently. It's probably worth sharing. This simple statement is the key to open, transparent, consistent communication and it produces the common operational picture that enables successful decision making. Who else needs to know? Up, down, left, right? This is how battles are won. This is Leader Business.
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Mark Cowin said...

Hi Tom, great post.

Choosing which pieces of information to pass can be a tough decision. I'm a military air traffic controller and we usually err on the side of caution - a little too much info is better than not enough! It's like intelligence gathering - lots of little pieces can actually show you the big picture.


Tom Magness said...

I usually find that people hold onto information and try to solve problems on their own...until it is too late to get help! Sharing those little pieces of information -- early and often -- enable problem solving while there's still time. Thanks Mark!

James T. Parsons said...

Hey Tom,

I think at least one reason that people may hold the information is that they think they will get in trouble for passing it along, particularly if it is bad news. "Did I have something to do with this situation?.. Will it show my error?.. Maybe I should have caught it earlier and it will reflect badly on me?" Something to that effect. However, I have found in my older years that often it is MUCH better telling as soon as you know it is important, rather than getting caught holding the "hot potato." It always is worse if they find you holding it - then it is not just the problem but your credibility, as well.

The other common problem is not knowing it was important, or second guessing your own judgment it is important. Often the problem isn't visible to only one set of eyes, but must be viewed by the team. It is only when the individual pieces filter up top that the whole picture/puzzle becomes visible. Often asking questions such as "I don't think this is important but thought you ought to know ..."

As always, jtp.

Tom Magness said...

Great point, James. Nothing is worse than a subordinate bringing a problem to me when it is too late to do something about it. And sometimes it is the unshared piece of seemingly unimportant information that can mean the difference between winning and losing. Hooah!