My favorite word is candor. Candor is straightforwardness, bluntness, and outspokenness. It is the most important ingredient for execution focused leaders and organizations. It is only with candor that leaders and organizations can have robust dialogue with customers and colleagues in order to be better informed about where the organization should go and how to get there.
There are five questions that get to the heart of what matters, specifically:
Without candor, people and the entire organization will give shallow answers only to get through the process resulting in the entire organization getting stuck, spinning its wheels, and not moving far enough or fast enough.
You know you have candor when you have robust dialogue. When people care about an issue they speak up. If they do not care, they do not say much. And, if that happens, seriously consider if they are the right fit for your organization. The way you get people to join the dialogue is by asking them the five questions and then drill down to the details. Be careful not make it sound like a survey or an interview; it needs to feel more like a conversation over a cup of coffee with a new friend.
Once candor becomes part of the culture, people will be asking each other and their direct reports similar questions. They will soon expect that someone else will ask them similar questions and they want to be ready for it. They will start thinking about the answers ahead of time, also engaging others in similar discussions. The result is more alignment, more commitment, and better execution.
In one of my previous ventures, my own organization was brought to its knees because one of our senior leaders lacked candor, hiding issues that our investors, partners, and I relied on. I should have dug deeper, after the second time he said, “in two weeks”. My own lack of candor of not talking about the situation in its entirety with everyone, particularly a few key employees, alienated them and was emotionally draining on them, pushing them to play politics. It was an organizational mess that could have been avoided many times over if there was adequate candor in the dialogues from everyone. The canned lawyers’ recommendations and the structured organizational change management methodologies reduced candor. In the end, it was candor that kept some of our key employees and partners on side. The company got out of its chaos, but only after a lot of pain.
This story is not an isolated case; it happens all the time at different degrees. Often, we can’t put our figures on it and reduce it to trust, but I believe it is candor, talking about issues in a straightforward way as we see them. When candor becomes part of your culture, it demands that each employee to think and formulate a professional judgement and share their thoughts in a straightforward way or to let others know that they don’t have the answer yet. No beating around the bush. Your key people get energized or start walking towards the door. Both scenarios are great.
Candor increases the quality of the dialogue and the level of detail in the discussions, ultimately improving execution. When the team performs well they start to trust each other. Nothing builds trust better and faster than winning.
Based on years of experience as a consultant and leading organizations, I believe the five questions mentioned earlier inject candor into most situations, whether you are asking boards and executives to chart the course for the organization; asking a product manager to find the right product-market fit; or asking the operational team to find a way to increase quality and cut costs at the same time. With some modifications you can ask the same questions from customers.
The answer to these questions will give you much of the input to draft the vision, mission, SWOT and PEST of any project or company. It will give the organizational change manager much of the input they need for managing the ADKAR methodology. The last question – what should and can we do about it? – will give a draft of a reasonable 1-3 year roadmap, for the business unit or the entire organization, depending who you ask and what you are able to hear directly and between the lines.
Sharing the answers with the respondents, in several feedback loops, will galvanize the entire group to pull and push in the same direction. You can even help turn around sub-optimum and sometimes combative relationships by engaging the respondents in this simple and iterative process. It should not go unsaid that it is important to recognize that not every person wants to be involved in every aspect of the process and some prefer a succinct one-page PowerPoint summary. Best to engage people the way they want to be engaged.
In any case, if you want to move the organization forward faster start asking the five questions I wrote in the beginning of this article. Ask everyone to answer the same questions to galvanize and align your team or the entire organization. And if you need to bring in outside help to facilitate the discussions, we are always here to help.
I am always interested in hearing your thoughts. Feel free to add a whole lot of candor.