The problem was major for an organization its size—the life guards of a community pool, who were on duty as night watchmen, were bringing underage guests onto the grounds and giving them alcohol. The last person to learn about the problem was the president.
“I thought you knew, everybody else did,” said one member of the board of trustees.
“I didn’t,” I responded, as the president in this case.
Virtually all other members of the board knew, and finally one of them broke up the party crew and called me. I had on random times visited the grounds to see what was going on—usually a poker party, which was fine, to make sure things like this weren’t happening. But that was before midnight. Apparently most of the drinking was happening at 2 a.m.
The law was laid down and my response was “My job as president is to handle problems. I can’t do that if no one tells me. If this happens again, you can call me at 3 a.m. if necessary.”
This underscores just how difficult communication can be in any business. And in this case, it’s a pretty small one, under $200,000 a year in revenue with no year-round employees, a volunteer board of directors and a largely teenage staff that delivers services involving life-and-death decisions—lifeguards.
Communications is not a series of events. Ideally, it is a process. And it’s very easy for decision makers to be cut off from the information that they need to make decisions. In this case, the problem could have resulted in very serious consequences for the board and its business. Board members were talking of quitting because they felt nobody was taking action.
There is only one solution and that is for leadership to make it known that communication is not only appreciated, it is essential and expected. It’s tougher with volunteers because they don’t have to do this.
This experience was an eye opener because we’ve all heard of companies in which the people at the top say they didn’t know about the things that were going wrong, or the things their employees were doing wrong. And we often don’t believe them.
I now believe them. But the people at the top are still responsible which is why setting the expectations that communications must occur is a mission-critical task..
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