By Tim Hayes

So much happening across the country and around the world recently that fairly screams out the central, fundamental, core critical importance of communications – and the need to respect the people with whom one communicates.

Take the budget impasse in Wisconsin, for instance.  On one side, the Governor wants to rein in spending and close his state’s multi-billion dollar budget deficit by moving the public employee unions to cover more of their retirement and health care benefits themselves.  On the other side, those unionized state workers have resisted many (but not all) of those demands, have occupied the state capitol to demonstrate, and have attracted the involvement of major national labor unions.

The issue from my perspective, though, is that both sides have collapsed to an unfortunate fallback communications strategy of overly simplistic messages – which pushes the debate to a lowest-common denominator level of win-lose.  “Mean governor vs. greedy unions.”  Somebody has to win and somebody has to lose in that scenario.  Thinking people know, however, that there’s a lot more to this issue than such a stark, all-or-nothing choice. 

Each side has ideas and principles and pragmatic steps to resolve the budget crisis and protect the rights of workers, but we’ll never hear about those on the news.  Just as with a political campaign, we get “Hope” vs. “America First.”  What kind of a choice is that?  What are we, back in kindergarten?  Hey, we’re not stupid out here.  We can think and reason and discuss and debate big, complicated ideas.  How about a little respect for our intellectual capabilities?

McKinsey & Company issued a report last October called, “How centered leaders achieve extraordinary results,” and one anecdote in the document proves my point. Avon Products CEO Andrea Jung faced a downturn in her company’s performance after years of rapid growth.  By respecting the intelligence and understanding of the people within her company, things changed. 

The report reads:

Andrea’s personal challenge was acute because some key sources of her passion—creating a bold vision for growth and inspiring others to dream big, being a member of a close-knit community, and achieving extraordinary results—were deeply connected with her work at Avon. Suddenly, it became harder for her to see where her momentum would come from. What’s more, she had to streamline her cherished community.

To remain true to her personal values, Andrea rejected the “more efficient” approach of delegating to managers the responsibility for communicating with employees about the restructuring and of sharing information only on a need-to-know basis. Instead, she traveled the world to offer her teams a vision for restoring growth and to share the difficult decisions that would be required to secure the company’s future.

The result? Employees felt that Andrea treated them with honesty and humanity, making the harsh reality of job reductions easier to accept and giving them more time to prepare. They also experienced her love for the company firsthand and recognized that both she and Avon were doing all they could. By instilling greater resilience throughout the organization, Avon rebuilt its community and resumed growth within 18 months.

Respect the people with whom you’re trying to communicate.  We can take it.  Hey, we’re not stupid.

Copyright 2011 Transverse Park Productions LLC