DURING a recent grocery store visit, I witnessed an exchange between a customer and several employees. The customer was looking for a particular product that she had purchased at the store many times in the past. But in recent months, every time she asked for the product, she was told something different.

One time she was told the store had ordered the product, but that the vendor had not fulfilled the order. She was also told on a different visit that the product had been discontinued. Another time she was told that the store didn’t carry it any longer.

During this particular visit, she lost it. Her biggest frustration, she said, was that she was being told something different every time.

As I watched this exchange, it reminded me that many organizations have similar issues.

One layer of the organization, or perhaps one person, knows something, but doesn’t share it with other people. And our customers—whether we call them patients, students or clients—are at a disadvantage when they need some information.

As a new dean many years ago, I ran into just this problem. My leadership team would meet biweekly. Information was shared and decisions were made that needed to be shared with the faculty and staff in the college. The expectation was that the members of the leadership team would go back to their departments and do so.

But after a year or so I figured out it wasn’t happening, at least not consistently. Some supervisors were sharing the information with all of their employees. At least one would tell only his “favorite” employees. Another was transparent with everyone, but only with some of the information. Employees ended up in my office wondering why Sam in the finance department knew about something important when they hadn’t been told anything. I finally figured out that everyone was not communicating equally.

So what do you do in that situation? Sometimes it’s hard to expect everyone to remember to tell everything to all of their people. I get that. But there were too many times when, even when the department heads were reminded to share, they didn’t.

I was talking with a former dean about this. He suggested I quit relying on the department heads. According to him, I should “go direct.” He suggested that I create a newsletter that would include the information that everyone needed to know and send it directly to the faculty and staff.

What a concept! I began doing this and the employees loved it! The only people who didn’t know what was going on in the college were the ones who chose not to read the newsletter (and yes, there were always a few who did not open it).

Some of you are shaking your heads. I hear you saying, “I would never have time to write a newsletter.” I continue to do it today—it’s a basic document and I keep it minimized on my computer. As I think of information that should be included, or as people send me tidbits, I add to the document. By Monday morning, I generally have at least one page to share.

I would argue that it’s worth any amount of time it would take to ensure all of your folks are on the same page in your organization.

I felt sorry for the grocery store employees, as the customer was pretty heated. But if everyone had been given the same information about the product months ago, the squabble could have been avoided. Communication is the key to successful relationships!

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Lynne Richardson is the dean of the College of Business at the University of Mary Washington.

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