Amy Haran is Executive Director of Communications of USANA Health Sciences. Recently profiled in Utah Business magazine’s “Forty under 40,” she oversees communications for USANA’s 300,000 independent distributors and 1,300 employees around the world.
JATHAN JANOVE: American business leaders have been criticized for doing a poor job of sharing information with their employees. Why is this practice so prevalent?
AMY HARAN: I think there are two main reasons. Although some information needs to be kept confidential, many executives and managers go too far in this direction because they lack trust or fear the impact of the information on their employees. However, in keeping some information private, they create a vacuum which employees fill with gossip and speculation, which is usually wrong and worse than reality. It’s almost always better to make them part of the conversation.
A second and perhaps more common mistake is that leaders simply don’t think about sharing information. They’re so focused on their business goals that they overlook the importance of maintaining good information flow.
JJ: Can you give an example?
AH: Over the years, USANA has grown from a small company to a large international one. As we grew, we became highly focused on getting information out to our distributors, who essentially are our customers. We weren’t as focused on our employees. As a result, they were occasionally surprised by information they learned from customers about their own company. These experiences were frustrating for both employees and customers. As a result, we concentrated on correcting this imbalance so that, for example, if you’re a customer service representative, you will have as much or more information than the customer you’re assisting.
JJ: Why is sharing information with employees so important?
- As our experience shows, you’ll have better customer relations.
- When employees know not only what’s expected, but why it’s important, you get more buy-in, more of their discretionary effort, energy, and enthusiasm. If our president walks into my office on a Friday afternoon with an urgent need and I have to mobilize my staff, they’re going to feel better about the assignment and do a better job if they understand the reasons why they need to work late.
- Good information flow saves money. Think of how much time gets wasted when people hunt around for information or try to piece it together themselves.
- Your projects become stronger through employee discussions. When you withhold information on important initiatives, you miss out on a chance for valuable feedback from the people who know your business and customers best.
- When employees are kept in the loop, they feel trusted and respected, and become more engaged as part of the process. This connects directly to performance and retention.
JJ: What do you recommend to organization leaders who desire good information flow in their workplaces?
- Conduct an anonymous employee survey that includes questions about information flow. Do employees feel they have the information necessary to do their work effectively? Do they understand the reasons or “big picture” behind what they do? How comfortable are they with conveying information to management?
- When you launch major projects or initiatives maintain continual communication, sharing information about progress while actively seeking out and encouraging feedback. Keep your antenna up for signs of a communication breakdown.
- An expected core competency of managers should be their effectiveness in maintaining good information flow in the areas for which they are responsible. They should receive training in how to do so effectively.
JJ: Do you have a “best practice” to share?
AH: Yes. This idea originated with our communication manager, Sarah Searle, and has turned into something quite valuable. Approximately nine times per year, we schedule “Lunch With Executives.” On a first-come, first-served basis, 15 employees sign up for 90-minute lunches hosted by two C-level executives. There’s no agenda and no limitation on who can sign up. As a result, we get a highly diverse mix of employees across departments and job functions and a diverse set of questions, which can include “What’s the future of my department?”; “How did you get to the top?”; or “What’s happening with our operations in China?”
JJ: What have been the results?
AH: Since we began them, we have continually received feedback from employees that they value the opportunity to get to know our top executives and fellow employees from different parts of the company. Our executives have said these lunches help them stay connected with employees and learn useful information. Also, since highly engaged employees tend to sign up, these lunches serve as investment in our top talent.
JJ: Do you believe efforts like the ones you’ve described contribute to the business bottom line?
AH: Absolutely! USANA has won multiple honors for being an outstanding workplace, including Best Places to Work by Outside magazine (six consecutive years since 2009) and Best Companies to Work For by Utah Business magazine (seven times since 2002). Over this time, we’ve enjoyed 12 consecutive years of record sales. In 2014, sales increased over 10 percent to nearly $800 million. Based on my experience, I very much believe that a positive work environment contributes directly to positive business results.