Great Managers Have No Secrets

In an earlier post I wrote that most problems in software projects are the result of bad communication, and that good communication is the result of good information and good relationships. But how do we make good information available? Well, the main thing to do is to make sure that no information remains hidden.

When people lack good information, they will invent some information themselves. When they don't know how well their project is doing, they will try to guess. When they don't know how other teams are performing, they will make assumptions. When they don't understand what their colleagues contribute to the organization, they will invent their own reasons. And when they don't know about their manager's personal life, they will gossip about it.

To prevent bad information from flowing through the organization you have to give people good information. In The Great Game of Business Jack Stack argues that great managers share information with their employees. One reviewer of the book summed it up nicely:

Share numbers with your employees. All the numbers that have meaning, from profit and loss to balance sheet, from sales projections to costing standards. The concept is that the more employees know, and understand, the more they will partner and support the company's mission and goals.

Managers should strive to have no secrets. In our organization I made sure that a lot of information is available for everyone. They all can see who is working on which projects, which features, bugs and issues are being handled, and what the team members' evaluations are of those projects. Our people's personal time sheets are public for all, and so are the ratings they give to indicate how happy they were with their projects.

My next step will be to share more financial details about costs and revenue for each of our projects. In tough economic times it is particularly important to make everyone understand what the organization's financial performance is. As Jack Stack wrote in his book: only when employees care about financial figures, they will think of ways how to improve them.


Some great managers managers (like John Mackey, Chairman and CEO of Whole Foods Market) even argue that people's salaries should be made public, including their own. After all, if you cannot explain some employee's salary to everyone else in the organization, then how can you expect people to trust you as a manager?

I can agree with that. But I also understand that you cannot change an organization's culture overnight. It would be very unwise to start publishing everyone's salaries when there's no culture of doing so. But you have to start somewhere. Jack Stack lists ten "Higher Laws of Business" in his book The Great Game of Business, the last one being "Shit rolls downhill", meaning that change begins at the top.

Well, someday I hope to be a great manager. So… here we go… no secrets…

Many of you already know I have a boyfriend.
Some of you know I have two kids.
I once rode naked on a bicycle.
I never wanted to be a manager.
And if you want to know my salary, email me.

So, now you can stop guessing, assuming, and gossiping. Let's get back to building great software!

Oh BTW, what's your secret?

(pictures by Tim Morgan and helmet13)

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  • Wille

    I had a manager once who had a secret project plan, with secret deadlines and a secret deliverable schedule. He used to spring the deadlines on us on evenings 1-2 days before the day, saying “This has to be done, and you’re not leaving your seat before it’s done”, regardless of whether it would actually be several weeks worth of work.
    Suffice to say, he wasn’t exactly great.

  • Mark Roddy

    I’m curious what your opinion is on the distinction between explicit secrets (policy is to not disclose salaries) and implicit secrets (dan is the only one who knows how to do the build). The problem with we tend to have at my shop is implicit secrets. Not that dan is trying to preserve his job security, but rather no one else wants to deal with doing the build so there’s a sort of willful ignorance.

  • Jurgen Appelo

    @Mark: Interesting problem. I suppose a manager should actively try and prevent that kind of willful ignorance. It is indeed another form of secrecy. Not of the type I referred to in my article, but unwelcome nevertheless.

  • Pawel Brodzinski

    I think you can’t go public with just everything, however I agree that we, as managers, are way less transparent than we should be.
    Personally I would never present publicly employees salaries, even though I always assume a person I talk with about money knows everything about other salaries. Misinforming your employee about thing he already knows of can bring a lot of harm. Way more than revealing a bit too much.

  • Martin Proulx

    I just posted : Do you trust people enough to make your salary public? ( Someone pointed me to your post about disclosing secrets.
    Does this make us great managers? 😉

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