The Perils of Asking Employees to Serve Two Masters

Imagine growing up in a household where your parents had completely different parenting styles—a household where your parents bickered about what the family was going to do for the day and one where each was always trying to trump the other just to make a point while you, the child, were always caught in the middle, wondering what you were supposed to do. I’ll assume that your head would have been spinning every day in confusion and frustration.authority leaders anxiety leadership employeeNow think about what it would be like to work in an environment where two or more leaders whom you perceive to have equal authority, each give you different instructions, directions, goals, and tasks–an environment where you were always in fear of being accused of not working on the right project or not following proper instruction. I’ll assume that you would be in a state of constant confusion and anxiety, and that you would quickly reach your boiling point and quit.

However, there are other times when employees receive incomplete or competing information, and it’s not necessarily intentional. This typically occurs when there is a breakdown of communication between ownership, managers, leaders and colleagues who simply fail to communicate with each other. This is more chronic in larger organizations where information must travel through multiple layers of people or departments and critical details are lost along the way.

The consequences of inconsistent and poor communication can be dire:

  • Employees do not know what the “goal” of what they are working on is or if one even exists.
  • People don’t know or understand why they are doing what they are doing. This makes it nearly impossible for them to have pride in their job or to produce quality work.
  • It’s impossible to create a team atmosphere when people don’t even know what sport they should be playing.
  • When people are redirected too many times by different managers or are unintentionally misguided by colleagues, they start crashing into each other and production freezes, or worse, retreats.
  • It creates an environment where mistakes are almost guaranteed and one where there is constant conflict about what to do, who to listen to and what process to follow.
  • It creates epic frustration with everyone.
  • Employees lose respect for their leaders and for the entire company.
  • Good employees eventually throw up their hands and leave.

If this sounds disturbingly familiar to you, take a moment to consider the untenable position your employees are being faced with every day, and the decisions they are being forced to make: listening to one leader  instead of the other – a lose-lose situation no matter how you frame it. It’s common for business partners and managers to disagree with one another and it’s critical that those differences get resolved behind closed doors, away from employees. It’s also critical in a partnership to agree on who will communicate directives to the staff – so they are clear about both the company’s goals and what is expected of them.

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