How About Heads Up?

By: Nan S. Russell


It didn't take long while on safari in Botswana, to begin to recognize the animal calls heralding a predator roaming in the area. What intrigued me was the pass-along path those calls took, from animal group to animal group. The shrieks of baboons, the trumpeting of elephants, the screams of francolins, the cries of impalas were picked up by adjacent animals and sent out for as long as the threat remained.

In that predator-prey world, where survival depends on heeding and passing on warning calls, this was nature's equivalent of a "heads up." It got me thinking. Why isn't there as effective a process in the workplace? Sure, none of us are in danger of being eaten, but danger still lurks, emerges or requires attention from time to time. And a heads up can reduce the frequency of encountering it, limit feelings you're out there on your own, or save you stress and disruption.

While most people try to pass warnings on to same-team teammates, they often get distracted, forgetting to give a shout that the project deadline was accelerated, the boss is saying no to everything today, or the direction has changed. And when it comes to crossing imaginary boundaries, they rarely do.

Accounting, IT, Creative Services, Customer Support all may be affected by information we know. But, warnings rarely find their way across silo perimeters. Too many think in terms of personal survival and small departmental herds, instead of company survival and large group thriving.

If elephants only listened to warnings from elephants, zebras from other zebras or giraffes from other giraffes, there'd be a lot more dead animals in the African bush. The process for nature's heads up insures that alarm calls cross animal groupings and geographic boundaries. The process protects the larger whole. Our workplace communications should too.

But let me be clear. After twenty years in management, I'm not na´ve to antics of a few who deliberately "forget" to give teammates that heads up, believing survival of the fittest requires sinister intentions. But, they're the minority. Most people have good intentions, but poor execution.

Neither is true of people who are winning at working. They're big team thinkers. They automatically share information to help others succeed. They sound the heads up alarm and pass along warnings when they get them. They believe that only if the company does well (or the country or the world), will they prosper within it.

What separates people who are winning at working from people who aren't is their philosophy. They believe it's when we're all winning that we all win, and helping others thrive helps them survive. As Maya Angelou so aptly puts it, "Nobody, but nobody, can make it out here alone." That's as true in the workplace as it is in the African bush. My advice? Give as many heads up as you can.

© 2006 Nan S. Russell. All rights reserved. Receive a copy of 21 Winning Career Tips (a free download) at www.winningatworking.com.

Nan Russell has spent over twenty years in management, most recently with QVC as a Vice President. She has held leadership positions in Human Resource Development, Communication, Marketing and line Management. Nan has a B.A. from Stanford University and M.A. from the University of Michigan. Currently working on her first book, Winning at Working: 10 Lessons Shared, Nan is a writer, columnist, small business owner, and on-line instructor. Visit www.nanrussell.com.