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The blind leading the blind?


The story

I'm writing this at London City Airport. I should be on a flight to Amsterdam on the way to deliver a training session to a client out there on a team day. We can't get hold of the client (they're busy on their team day).

The flight said 'wait in lounge' up until 2 minutes before it was due to take off. Strange, so I asked 'customer services' (and the inverted commas have a point) what was happening. Bad weather in Amsterdam apparently, all flights to and from there are delayed. We think it'll leave about an hour and 15 minutes late. Ok.

45 minutes later, the screen has gone from showing a much longer delay, to back to wait in lounge. And we still can't get hold of the client. I have no idea what's happening – will the client want me to go anyway and do the session later? Will the flight ever leave and if so, when? 'Customer services' have disappeared. Ah, the screen says it's delayed again (the longer time still). Ah no, 15 minutes earlier. Right – I give up.

The thinking

It's a common situation (especially with travelling) that we put a huge amount of trust in the system; the information screens, the drivers, pilots, technicians and everyone else associated with it. We trust that the system (and people) will do what it says it will do. And, when it doesn't – we're completely in limbo.

What can the people representing the system do in this situation, when it's out of their control? The biggest thing is let people know what's going on. Don't leave it up to them to wonder, to guess, to assume, to get angry. Explain clearly what's happened, and what the next steps are. If we, on the receiving end, feel as 'in the loop' as you, we'll be much more comfortable, and much less suspicious.

A similar thing happens in organisations. Communication is often cited as a big bug-bear for employees. They want to know what's going on, at all times, and with all background information - has this issue come up in your employee survey? I bet it has. Now, senior leaders know that sharing everything is not always possible. It's even harder nowadays with generation Y, who are used to having all information at the touch of a button, getting more and more agitated by being kept in the dark. A web company I worked with once told me this: "90% of our staff are in their 20s, and they expect to know everything as soon as we know it. The 10% left are the leadership team, and they're used to a more traditional corporate structure of a need-to-know basis. It's hard, our team are constantly frustrated by this."

Where can leaders strike the right balance between complete transparency and what's safe (not to mention legal?).

My tip is authenticity. The more honest leaders (and indeed customer service representatives) can be, or at the very least seem, the better. If you don't know the answer, say so – it makes you human. There can't be too many updates – just keep them clear, show you care about informing people, and they probably won't question you.

If you're ever unsure how it feels for your team, just remember that time you were stuck in an airport lounge...



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