Saturday, 13 May 2006

Need to know

In military organizations, the principle of “need to know basis” is widely operative. Soldiers and officers are told as little as possible of details of any plans or operations, and just enough to enable them to carry out a task as planned.

The primary consideration, of course, is security and secrecy. One way or another, word about an operation may reach the enemy and compromise its success. In recent times, this has become a very real threat with the increasing proliferation of information outlets like Internet blogs and chatrooms. So-called “military bloggers” have been known to have wittingly or unwittingly compromised the safety and security of military personnel by revealing details of what and where their colleagues were doing in the battlefield.

Another consideration is the minimization of dissension within the ranks.

“Ours is not to question why, Ours is but to do or die.” Military mantras like these exemplify what rigid organizations prefer in terms of how their personnel follow orders and commands—unquestioning obedience and loyalty.

Understandably, this is to be expected. Military operations involve not only the lives of soldiers and servicemen, but also the security and safety of whole communities and nations. Security, therefore, is paramount above all else, and that includes whether or not soldiers are actually 100 percent happy about being asked to do a certain job or not.

Most organizations operate like rigid military outfits. Everything seems to be clandestine and hush-hush, with only a select coterie of individuals being “in the know” about things. Employees are only informed of things that they “need to know” to be able to do their jobs. Their opinions are not solicited and they are not consulted at all even on matters that may have a direct impact on their jobs.

Sounds familiar about your own organization? Well, that’s because most are run in this fashion. Consultation down the ranks on major decision of significant impact to the business is not a commonplace practice, except in very few progressive companies. Usually, the chief executive officer only consults the senior management and his assistant, senior managers confide with their subordinates, and so on down the line.

As a result, decisions become a bit predictable, and lose their creativity and innovation. This is logical because they all come from the same group or groups of individuals always acting in concert.

Imagine if many others were involved in the process. Or, at the very least, if there was a way by which the ideas of many others can be incorporated in the decision making process. Would this not give more alternatives and, therefore, ensure more relevant and effective decisions to be taken?

There was a time when managers held a monopoly on business wisdom. In the olden days, employees did not have as much education and training as their bosses, who were therefore held in very high regard.

These days are past—the acquisition of knowledge is now a more level playing field. The increasing accessibility of fora like the Internet, improvement of general education and the increasing mobility of the workforce has meant that there is a lot of potential in any organization to gather innovative and creative ideas, if only we knew how to get them.

Published in Sun Star Daily, Saturday, May 13, 2006 (

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