Thursday, March 28, 2013

Code Name Circle


There is an old saying that two can keep a secret if one of them is dead. Regardless of how hard you try, the circle of those who know continues to expand until it becomes public knowledge. Nevertheless, the reality is that there are times when premature communications would be damaging or would jeopardize an important event. When management attempts to manage disclosure to prevent premature communications, they must exercise great care to protect their integrity. To achieve excellence, management must engage in constant communications but that communication must be honest and sincere. A lack of communication, a lack of integrity, or a management viewed as keeping secrets leads to destructive alternative communication systems—the grapevine, rumor mill, and boss interpreters who explain what the boss really meant, etc.

Excellent managers can manage secrets but only for the purpose of disclosure at the latest possible time. To put it differently, while they cannot keep secrets they can manage disclosure for the purpose of avoiding premature disclosure. Acquisitions, new product development or releases, major reorganizations, significant price restructuring, opening or closing a facility are examples that might warrant steps to avoid premature communications especially during periods of preliminary consideration or planning.

Any secret involves an expanding circle of people. As time passes more and more people become part of the circle—they learn the secrets and assume a duty to protect it until the appropriate time for the information to become public knowledge. Code words are used by excellent managers when disclosure has to be managed. The existence of a code name is a constant reminder of the sensitive nature of the event. Code names allow reference to an event or activity without disclosure of its nature. As more people enter the expanding circle, the existence of the code word helps in the integrity department because it coveys to those new people a sense of importance of preventing premature disclosure. As people enter the expanding circle, they may be brought into the fringes of knowledge by receiving only partial disclosure. To maintain integrity they must know that they are receiving only limited facts—they are not being given the whole story or the final story. The code name helps in that regard. It implies an obligation on their part to accept the incomplete disclosure without attempting to uncover other details, and it conveys their obligation to protect the confidential information from others—those outside of the circle.

When public disclosure is about to occur, every effort should be made to first communicate it fully to the whole organization—make every employee a member of the code name circle. The team members who are becoming part of the expanding circle for the first time also need to know why the information was not divulged earlier. Excellent managers do the following:

  1. Refer to the event by its code name. 
  2. Explain the reason for avoiding premature disclosure.
  3. Go over the timeline leading up to the current disclosure.

These three steps are important to maintain the integrity of management’s ongoing communication. Rather that exclude employees, the steps are a way of bringing everyone into the circle as soon as management can do so.

If it is not possible to disclose to the team before a public announcement, the same three steps should be carried out in a team-wide event that is held separately but simultaneously with public disclosure. It is also valuable for the team to understand, as a part of management’s communication, that while the organization is not in the business of keeping secrets there are times when premature disclosure must be avoided, and the Code Name Circle is how we manage those situations.

As part of management’s communication, it is valuable for the team to understand that while the organization is not in the business of keeping secrets there are times when premature disclosure must be avoided, and the Code Name Circle is how those situations are managed.

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Two 2013 events, April 9th  and June 7th, for you to consider:
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