Why Create Information Vaults to Foster Healthy Communication

My mother-in-law works for a local credit union. When one of their branches was recently robbed, my kids were asking her a lot of questions. They wanted to know if she’s ever been robbed (she hasn’t and doesn’t work on the retail side, so it’s pretty unlikely it would ever happen) and they wanted to know how much money was stolen. She explained bait money and bill tracking and that the amount of money in a teller’s drawer really isn’t that much. A really successful hold-up means you made it to the vault.

Around our office, we only have psychological vaults. While we strive for open and honest communication, there are also certain aspects of our jobs and personal lives that only get shared with the right people. That sensitive information winds up in the listener’s vault. Most of the information that gets vaulted is shared during our weekly one on one meetings. Those interactions look a little something like this:

  • Setting: They happen in our conference room, with the door closed so that both parties can speak plainly. Computers are usually closed so that full attention can be given to each participant, but paper and pens are encouraged to take down any important ideas that arise.
  • Timing: Fifteen minutes is usually enough time to cover what needs to be said if they are happening each week, or every other week. If travel schedules have created a bigger gap since the last go-round, a little more time will likely be needed.
  • Characters: My wife and co-founder, Kim, conducts the meetings with each employee. We’re still small enough that a founder can meet with every person in the organization, which allows us to get a pretty good pulse on our culture, areas for growth and successes.
  • Dialogue: Kim asks a softball question, references something from their personal life she knows about, or just asks a simple “How’s it going?” She keeps a running document for notes around any successes or areas of improvement for that specific team member and their department that she walks through, but before she moves on to those items, she asks the team member if their work is going well. She checks to see if they’ve had any roadblocks to getting stuff done or if they’re encountering any problems in the process. Asking for that information before she goes over what’s made her list for the week often provides quite a bit of context for timing, quality of work or interpersonal questions she may have.
  • Resolution: Any notes about our processes or personnel have to push forward from that meeting to bring about change. Sometimes the project manager needs to make an adjustment or sometimes we just need to have a conversation with a person or team to make sure all is running smoothly. This part is quite critical in the process. Whatever the team member communicated in the meeting should be shared only with the team members who need to know. It should be communicated clearly, without judgement and in a way that’s designed to bring about change.
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    Here’s the general idea: Negative information travels up the chain of command so that we can solve the problems. The source of the information, the words that are shared – these all remain locked in “the vault” for the person who hears it. We keep sensitive information vaulted to increase vulnerability and honesty for the whole team.