The Travelin' Librarian Management 4 Ways Leaders Can Create a Candid Culture

4 Ways Leaders Can Create a Candid Culture



When leaders want to create an open culture where people are willing to speak up and challenge one another, they often start by listening. This is a good instinct. But listening with your ears will only take you so far. You also need to demonstrate with words that you truly want people to raise risky issues.

Take the former president of a major defense company, whom I will call Phil. No one at the 13,000-employee firm believed Phil when he announced that he was going to create a culture of candor and openness. And why should they? He already had three strikes against him: his workforce, his past performance, and his manner.

First, Phil’s workforce had successfully repelled every attempt at culture change in previous decades. Well-intended change efforts had continually failed. Why would this time be different? Second, his own leadership history was not exactly one of give-and-take. He had a command and control style and the closest he got to dialogue was one-way “management briefings” he held monthly with his “chain of command.” And finally, he was imposingly large, his face was one of studied expressionlessness, and his voice had an involuntary imperiousness even when asking you to pass the salt.

And yet, Phil needed to dramatically improve quality and costs at the 60-year-old tactical aircraft designer and manufacturer — and he knew that the stifling culture was suppressing the very ideas he needed. Once he set out to better engage his employees, however, within a matter of months he succeeded at transforming the company culture.

Like many leaders, Phil’s first attempt at fostering candor was by using his ears. And it immediately fell flat. At the end of a highly scripted management briefing he announced, “I will now take questions. You may ask anything you wish.” He scanned the audience for raised hands. None. Thirty painful seconds later he would have been happy for even a twitch to indicate engagement. Crickets.

While some executives would have blamed the audience for its timidity, Phil understood the problem was a lack of safety. He reasoned that the behavior he was trying to encourage was so counter-cultural that any rational person would be terrified to try it.

With the studied intensity of a good engineer, he decided to demonstrate that this defense company was a safe place to talk about anything. Employees had decades of data from their own painful experiences that told them taking a risk to raise controversial questions was quickly punished. Phil and his senior team needed to produce enough disconfirming data to call these fears into question.

Read the full article @ Harvard Business Review

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