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.