My student intern from Cambridge asked this question during a discussion of how I conduct group communications through e-mails, reports, and meetings.
The short answer is ‘no’, shaded with a couple of lightly textured exceptions.
I have a legal obligation to keep some information confidential: involvement in due diligence, notice of pending press announcements, and detailed budget numbers prior to announcement.
I try to avoid feeding speculation: if several possible scenarios are being considered, then the ball is still in play and I say that “Nothing has been decided”.
But the question is still relevant in extreme cases like the circumstances leading up to the announcement of the shutdown. Where is the line; did I stay on the right side of it?
One relates to how much information to give when situations are uncertain. We’ve been aware that this was one of a wide range of possible outcomes since February, and have been working as hard as we could towards a more favorable resolution. There was every reason to expect that the worst would not happen, right up to the end. As you might expect, there were meetings, analyses, flights back for consultations, and closed door discussions. People worry and ask questions; I tell them nothing is decided yet. What is the right thing to say, and why?
The more difficult problem came when I heard about people are making life decisions: to buy a house, to relocate, or to turn down an outside job offer. I really wrestled with whether to advise people to wait until the outcome was known. But if I told one person, my moral obligation would be to tell everyone. Or, if a better scenario had happened, they would have lost their opportunity because I was worrying at shadows. I hold my peace. What is the right thing to do, and why?
Now, the worst has happened, and it hurts everyone. Did I stay on the right side of the line?
The acid test came quickly, as the question was raised in an employee meeting with support people here. In the discussion, we openly discussed the events of the past months. I could honestly say I did my best for the group and didn’t mislead people. In the end, nobody benefited at the expense of others, and nobody has a parachute.
And, in the evening, I could call my intern to share the full story with him, and have a good open talk about why this whole question of personal integrity is so important to get right.