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Research Report: One in four employees leave due to Mushroom Management

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Here at Geckoboard we’re big fans of businesses who embrace a transparent culture. As a result, we’ve been taking a look at a concept called ‘Mushroom Management’ in recent months. Mushroom Management is essentially a management style where employees fly blind to company performance and are given work without knowing its purpose. It’s basically looking at employees the same way you look at growing mushrooms - “Keep them in the dark and feed them s**t”.

We partnered with Censuswide and surveyed 2000 employees of business in the UK and US to find out more about Mushroom Management. We wanted to understand the scale of the problem, the impact it has on employees and some of the solutions to overcome the challenges faced. You can find the full report here, but I thought I’d summarise some of the key points for you here.

The Scale of the Mushroom Management Problem

We started to look at the size of the Mushroom Management problem by asking employees if enough company information is shared.

I would like my boss to share more info

Looking at the response, it’s clear that the vast majority of employees want more. Over four in five employees said that they want management to share more info with them about business performance. In our eyes, that’s a pretty clear demand for more transparent data in the workplace!

Clearly employees care, but how regularly do they currently see company KPI data? After all, the clue is in the title. The “Key” in KPI data suggests this is critical business data that the whole business should be able to react to all of the time.

Sharing regularity

It’s rather alarming the research shows that employees most commonly only see company KPI data once a month, with over one in four seeing it less than every three months. This is particularly concerning in an age where data should be more available to businesses than ever before.

Since there’s an issue with regularity of data sharing, we thought we’d look at how it’s shared to understand if that’s the cause of the problem.

How information is shared

Sadly, many company techniques are a little archaic. Nearly 50% of companies are using face-to-face meetings as a data sharing tool. This is useful to frame data and information for employees. However, you can’t do face-to-face sharing all the time as it’s too resource intensive. This is equally true of PowerPoint as a tool to communicate data and information.

Also, nearly half of those polled said their organisation still resorted to email distribution. There are three major issues with this:

  1. Email communication is one-to-one so it doesn’t encourage conversation about the data, which is important as it generates solutions.
  2. It’s very time intensive to aggregate data, so data is not always-on and in front of the employees that really want to see it.
  3. Email volumes are high, which means important data is diluted in amongst all the other noise in an employee’s inbox – far from optimum when KPI data is so important.

Over 20% of employees also said that important company information is shared in spreadsheets. It’s important to acknowledge that spreadsheets are great for gathering and manipulation of data. However, they tend to contain reams of data making it tough for employees to identify and interpret the most important data. Meanwhile, only 10% of businesses have given data dashboards a go, so there’s certainly a way to go before being data-driven is the norm!

The Impact of Mushroom Management

There is clearly a large-scale issue with Mushroom Management, but what is the impact on employees? Well, you could read a thousand business books and most would concur that it’s important for a leader to gain confidence in their group of workers. Without it, it’s hard for employees to have the drive and motivation to get their work done.

Lack of confidence

It seems that one sure-fire way of losing confidence is hiding data and information from your team, with the research showing that over three quarters of employees lose confidence in their bosses when they failed to share company performance information. It also appears that an information blackout can drive a culture of mistrust and suspicion.

Doing own research

Over half of employees admitted that they take it upon themselves to find out the company data most important to them. ‘Internal espionage’ isn’t something we’d recommend, but if employees are being starved of data that could help them perform their jobs, who can blame them?

So, why do bosses hide data from their teams? When employees were asked why they thought their organisation might hide info from them, many were suspicious.

Power Games

Over a quarter felt that their bosses were playing their own power games with them, citing that “information was power”. Meanwhile, just under a quarter suspected that bosses didn’t want to share positive company performance data to keep a lid on staff costs. Not exactly a vote of confidence. A quarter of employees believe it’s due to the time it takes to share data, presumably because a system isn’t in place where data can be shared quickly and efficiently.

The question remains as to whether businesses will adopt more transparent cultures over time? The stat which might act as a wake up call is the impact that data sharing has on employee retention.

Head for the door

According to the research, a quarter of us have, or know someone who has, left an organisation because they felt left in the dark about the performance and direction of a company. That is a considerable percentage of the workforce that has been directly affected by Mushroom Management and voted with their feet. The question is, how high will this percentage need to get before businesses adopt more transparent cultures?

The Solution to Mushroom Management

Now we understand the scale and impact of Mushroom Management, it’s important to consider the solution. Firstly, when company information is shared, there is a positive impact on employee performance and morale.

Sharing increases productivity

When surveyed, over half of employees said that there was a significant positive impact on their productivity when bosses openly share information. You might argue that surely it is the boss’s duty to protect team morale by hiding information if the company picture isn’t as positive as desired? Not so.

Dont leave in the dark

According to our research, the majority of employees would still very much prefer the information to be shared rather than hidden away when it’s bad. More than 90% of those polled said that they would rather hear bad company news than be left in the dark.

Transparent cultures can have a transformative impact on a business, and we believe there are three key steps every business and manager should take to avoid Mushroom Management:

  1. Measure - What gets measured gets done
  2. Share - Make data available to everyone all the time
  3. Digest - Make data understandable

We’ll dive into these solutions in a follow-up post later this week, but for now we’ll leave you to digest the findings of the research and apply them to your own business.

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