Sharing Information with Employees
"Sharing Information with Employees"
by Alexander R. Heron

The year was 1940.  A group of more than 150 people known then as industrial relations specialists gathered in Burlington, Vermont to discuss a subject that had lingered on the fringes of conversations about their profession in the past.  The topic was employee communication. 

Coming out of that conference, Alexander Heron later took on the task of writing what has been touted as the first book on how to communicate with employees.  Remarkable for its day when it was first published in 1942, Heron’s treatise still rings true with freshness and insight. 

In both content and style, the book is a virtual “declaration of inter-dependence” between managers and workers. Starting with his title, Heron displays a sensitivity for the communication process that eludes many practitioners yet today.  As Paul Eliel of Stanford University wrote in the book’s Foreword, “… the problem, as Mr. Heron so graphically points out … is not how to convey information but how to share it … Conveying is mechanical; sharing is personal.” 

Not surprisingly, some of the ideas and language appear a bit dated.  Others, though, are highly contemporary – like these little pearls:
“The first element [in sharing information] … is the understanding by employees that facts about the enterprise are not being concealed from them.  The knowledge that they can get the information they want is more important than any actual information that can be given to them.”

“The program should be a continuous one, a method of conduct rather than a campaign … it must not become an institution apart from the actual work or operation of the enterprise.”
Heron contrasts largely ineffective types of management “willingness” to share information (reluctant, paternalistic and propagandist) with what he viewed as the essential approach. He called it the “aggressive willingness” to share, which he described as “practical because honestly and wisely followed through, it will induce a constructive co-operation which cannot be bought or forced.” 

One thing that sets this book apart and puts it on a higher plane is how it looks at employee communication within the broader context of society and economics. Heron’s historical insights on how the industrial revolution distanced workers from the “fruits of their labor” are particularly thoughtful, almost poignant. He also offers guidance on how to counter that effect through “understanding units” that bear a striking resemblance to today’s work cells and natural work groups.

Heron is both strident and eloquent on the topic of status and stature in the workplace:
"The American idea has no place for a class predestined to be wage earners incapable of understanding a world beyond the workbench, no place for a class which is denied the opportunity to reason its conclusions on facts which it helps to create, no place for a class which is happier because ignorant of anything beyond the daily task.  And those whose sense of superiority leads them to believe in either the necessity or the desirability of such classes are themselves enemies of the American idea or ignorant of its genius.”

Try to top that one.

The book has been out of print for several decades, but copies can still be found through various book selling websites.  It can also be read online through GoogleBooks.

Alexander R. Heron – Background
•    Vice President and Director of Industrial Relations, Crown Zellerbach Corporation
•    Director of Industrial Relations, Rayonier, Incorporated
•    Consulting Professor, Graduate School of Business, Stanford University
•    Colonel, U.S. Army and Chief of Civilian Personnel

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Written by Les Landes, President, Landes & Associates

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