Keeping Quiet: Why Complete Confidentiality Might Not Be a Smart Strategic Move

Keep quiet

Businesses commonly keep their organizational strategy close to the chest, but are there instances where maintaining complete confidentiality in this area can actually do more harm than good?

We believe that the answer is a resounding, “Yes!”

Although calling up your business rivals to inform them of your five-year plan for the business is certainly a foolish (and unlikely) move, failing to inform the people who work inside the business of your plans—particularly employees who lack visibility, prominence, or positional authority within the company hierarchy—may result in unanticipated negative consequences for the organization, including:

  1. Lack of strategic alignment across departments in the business.
  2. Inability to engage the hearts and minds of employees due to a lack of understanding or ownership of the business’ overarching business strategy.
  3. Failure to capitalize on the creative ideas and differing perspectives that all employees bring to the business, regardless of title or position.

CMOE believes that strategy is everyone’s job, not something that only elite members of the senior-leadership team should be able to touch. Using the strategic capabilities of all of the organization’s team members to the business’ advantage results in a business environment where everybody “owns” a piece of the strategy, and everybody is committed to making that strategy work.

Leaders and team members feel personally responsible for the business’ strategic success because the strategy of their own department or business unit is linked to the strategy of the business overall.

Approaching strategy in this way can often be difficult for leaders who are responsible for corporate-strategy creation and implementation, in part because it requires them to let go of some control.

Cascading strategy down through the organization asks leaders to trust their team members to preserve the promise of the business’ brand, value proposition, and strategic approach to and relationship with the market and its customers.

And in order to fulfill those responsibilities in the very best way possible, it’s imperative for leaders at all levels (senior, mid-level, and front-line) to have enough information about the organization’s overall strategy to formulate their own, aligning strategies for their pieces of the business.

Business leaders often argue the need for confidentiality in regards to business strategy because they believe that if a company’s strategy is common knowledge, its ability to compete with its rivals in the open market may be harmed.

While this may be true, sharing your business strategy with others need not be a proposition that is altogether off limits—you just need to be smart about where, when, and with whom you share your strategy, as well as the level of detail you provide.

Openly communicating the organization’s strategic direction can be a scary prospect initially, but the positive outcomes of creating a culture where all levels of the business are strategically aligned and committed to the organization’s vision and long-term success will make the benefits well worth the risks.

Tip

If you’re concerned about proprietary information being leaked to a large and/or potentially hostile audience in the public sector, you may want to consider having all employees sign a non-disclosure, non-compete agreement. This will allow you recourse if detailed information about your company’s strategic pursuits becomes public knowledge without your consent.

Asking employees to sign NDA/NCAs is a common business practice that protects your company’s interests, intellectual property, and solvency. The vast majority of employees will be neither surprised nor offended by being asked to sign these types of documents.

 

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About the Author

Emily Hodgeson-Soule

Emily Hodgson-Soule has worked with CMOE since 2009 and is the Director of Program Design and Development. She holds a Master of Professional Communication (MPC) degree with dual emphasis in writing and multimedia. Emily works closely with CMOE’s client organizations to assess their internal training and development needs and provide learning solutions that fulfill the requirements and the strategic goals of each organization.