Tuesday, January 8, 2019

8 Steps to Jumpstarting a Truth-telling Workplace Culture


Guest post from Jim Haudan and Rich Behrens:

What do a water cooler, bathroom, and hallway all have in common?

These are three places in the workplace where people feel “safe” to tell the truth.

Many leaders believe that their people feel safe in telling them what they think and feel. But this is a misconception—or a blind spot, as we call it in our book, What Are Your Blind Spots? Conquering the 5 Misconceptions that Hold Leaders Back

Consider these stats: the 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer shows that people’s trust of their CEO, and CEOs in general, is at an all-time low. Sixty-three percent of survey respondents said CEOs are somewhat, or not at all, credible. That is 12 points lower than the previous year’s results. Clearly, the trend of not being candid with higher-ups is becoming worse, rather than better.

Why? People don’t feel safe telling the truth because they don’t think it is smart or safe to do so. Many leaders believe that to be effective and successful, they need to be smarter than the next guy, fight for their area of the business, and not show vulnerability. This mentality creates a lack of trust, collaboration, and common ownership for a greater goal—and ultimately greatly slows down execution speed.

We can’t overstate the impact that truth telling can have on the engagement, optimism, and hope people feel about their organization and their team. Truth telling makes all the difference if you want your teams to successfully work together.

So, how can leaders tell if their people feel safe telling the truth? Try this quick 45-minute activity. We call it “Walls of Greatness and Reality,” and the activity begins with a discussion of what we are good at, and then moves to what we are not so good at.

Follow the steps below to complete the activity:

1    1. Give each team member three or four large sticky notes. Ask each of the members to write down one item per note that is great about the team, and how it has worked together and executed in the past 12 months.

2.    Have the team members place each of these on an open wall space and start to “affinity-group” them. Line up the various notes that fit under the same theme. You should end up with numerous vertical rows of key themes.

3.    Have team members alternate reading all the notes aloud, providing any commentary they see fit. At the end, ask the group for the story that describes what the team is great at. Capture the “Wall of Greatness” story on a flipchart.

4.    Repeat the activity by giving everyone another three or four large sticky notes and ask each person to write down where “we are creatively dissatisfied with the current state of our business”, related to marketplace, strategy, operating model, culture, or behaviors.

5.    Place these notes on a different space on the wall. Repeat the activity of affinity-grouping the notes and reading the vertical columns aloud, with the team standing in front of the wall.

6.    Ask the team members to put a check mark by the three issues they each believe are most relevant and represent the greatest opportunity for the team.

7.    Identify the two or three key themes that emerge from the group.

8.    Ask the following questions:
a.    Why do you think these realities exist?
b.    How have we helped create these realities?
c.    How have we personally benefited from these realities?
d.    What can we do to make sure our Wall of Reality looks different six months from now?

This activity can give leaders quick insight into how comfortable their teams are in talking about difficult issues, while jumpstarting the truth-telling culture.

Establishing a culture of truth telling is hard. It requires leaders to be vulnerable and to be open to hearing things they may not want to hear. But truth is a critical blind spot that can create an environment of poor decision making mixed with a significant lack of trust and disengagement in your organization.

If leaders don’t make the effort to allow truth to guide teams, the true problems of an organization and the best ideas of employees will remain buried in the hearts and minds of their people.

So, leaders: let your employees speak candidly and you will have an organization that soars.

Jim Haudan is Co-Founder and Chairman of Root Inc., the organizational change expert on helping companies create leadership alignment, execute strategies and change successfully, build employee engagement, and transform businesses. Rich Berens is CEO and Chief Client Fanatic of Root Inc., and has helped align leaders at Global 2000 organizations to drive strategic and cultural change at scale. Jim and Rich are authors of What Are Your Blind Spots? Conquering the 5 Misconceptions that Hold Leaders Back, published by Berrett-Koehler and released in October 2018.

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