How Much You Should Share About Your Company With Your Team

Ever since I took my first company public in 1996, I have been a firm believer in sharing company information internally, and keeping team members informed.

Before this event, I did the opposite. I kept everything on a “need to know” basis, because that’s what I thought was best for the company. It wasn’t until I was a bit further along in my career that my philosophy changed. Quite frankly, one complaint I heard time and time again when observing other companies and speaking with managers and team members was, “I don’t know what’s going on here.”

People didn’t know if the company they worked for was moving in a good direction, or if their work was laddering up to some sort of success metric. Even worse, I found entire teams unsure of the long-term company vision, and how their role contributed to that vision being brought to life.

Today, I believe internal company communication to be one of the most important parts of building a successful organization. It’s something I tried to ingrain in each of my ventures after exiting Wilmar, including my most recent business, LendingOne. 

Unfortunately, effective communication is easier said than done. It’s one of those things in business everyone talks about at a high level, but struggles to make actionable.

So, here are three key ways to successfully keep your team informed while building and scaling a company:

1. As long as it’s not confidential or harmful information, share it.

Some companies, like Apple or Google, have strict confidentiality protocols–both internally and externally. Their projects are so big, and so prone to market competition, that certain information is safeguarded only for the people working on these sensitive projects.

While certain competitive information is absolutely worth keeping on a “need to know” basis, those circumstances are few and far between. There is a huge difference between keeping your largest initiatives under wraps, and employees not knowing the mission of the company. The former is acceptable. The latter is not.

This is a topic I speak about in my book, All In. My rule of thumb in this department is, as long as it’s not confidential or harmful, then share it. But when it comes to speaking about other employees, or discussing something like potentially letting someone go with people who are not directly involved in the decision, those are pieces of information that should remain on a “need-to-know” basis.

What’s more important to share is information related to company goals–both short and long term. Some companies do this by holding weekly standup meetings on Monday mornings, and doing a follow-up meeting on Fridays to see if goals for the week were met.

Larger organizations work by having executive team members send out updates to the entire staff, keeping everyone in the loop on how things are progressing for the company as a whole. What’s important is that your efforts are genuine–and that means taking the time to ensure all departments and employees feel informed.

When in doubt, sit down with someone one on one. Nothing will tell you more about your company’s communication than speaking with people directly.

2. Inform with the goal of connecting, not separating team members.

When company managers or executives don’t share what’s going on, people feel disconnected. And when people feel disconnected, they struggle to know how to collaborate well–which makes them less effective, less productive, and less motivated.

In some cases, middle managers communicate so poorly that they end up separating people in the process. They share how great the sales team is doing, without simultaneously sharing how, say, operations staff members can be more effective to reach their own similar success metrics. By not balancing out the wins with helpful insight into how to improve, people end up feeling taken for granted or even betrayed.

Instead, I encourage managers and even executive peers to share with the intention of improving the current situation–not putting people down.

3. Share what will empower others, not feed your ego.

Building off the above, here are some founders, executives, and even middle managers that love to over-share with the sole purpose of letting everyone else know how great of a job they’re doing.

What’s unfortunate is this breeds a very envious company culture. Instead of feeling good about the work they’re doing, employees are constantly reminded about the gap between their “lowly” tasks and the “big wins” being achieved by those above them. And that’s not the goal of communicating throughout an organization.

As a manager, executive, or founder, your goal should be to inform those around you in a way that empowers them to do even better work–and see how valuable they are to the company as a whole. If what you’re sharing achieves that goal, then you’re in business. And if what you’re sharing doesn’t achieve that goal, then don’t be surprised when people quit later down the road.

Carol Humphreys