When a behind-the-scenes decision must be “downloaded” to employees, the way it is communicated has a lot to do with its acceptance and eventual success or failure.
Organizations often try to include as many people as possible in the decision-making process, but sometimes it’s just not possible to involve anyone beyond a small group. The need for confidentiality and speed are constraints, as is the sheer difficulty of polling an entire organization of thousands of employees regarding decisions that will affect the entire company. Managers or executives must sometimes “download” a decision to their people after the fact — and this is where many a decision crashes on rocky shoals. Mergers fail as key employees leave and others resist change; union contracts are rejected after months of negotiation; and changes in employee benefits meet with strident protest.
What’s behind these failures, and what can be done to avert them? The authors lay out reasons for ineffective downloading: a disconnect between the two sides as the negotiating party fails to see the negatives of a decision; a failure to clarify responsibilities that result in rumor and word of mouth being the primary channels of communication; a desire to inform people quickly — which often means superficially; and a paternalistic desire to protect members of an organization when people would prefer just to hear the truth.
Against this record of mistakes and misguided notions, the authors set their four-stage process for a robust decision downloading. Their process is informed by survey research of several hundred employees in a variety of organizations, as well as interviews with dozens of executives.