Avoiding Avoidance

Shawnee Love   •   May 24, 2019

If you lead an organization, chances are you have encountered a situation where someone has avoided telling you the truth, whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Just like no one wants to tell a new mom that her baby is not perfect, so too does no one want to tell a leader that something about his or her business isn’t right.

Frankly, its understandable why employees avoid being fully honest.  Everyone knows of someone who was dismissed for being too vocal. And people preface their comments with “Don’t shoot the messenger”  because news deliverers and truth tellers often get the brunt of emotion when bad news is delivered.

Unfortunately, lack of honesty about the problems in a business mean those problems continue to grow and perpetuate.  If you want your organization to thrive, you have to be correcting problems, overcoming obstacles, and rooting out toxicity.  But how can you do that if no one tells you about them?

The solution is to create an environment where people feel safe and build in systems which ensure you learn about the problems. That means people have to trust their leaders and believe that they care enough about the business enough to want to learn about its warts.  The 6 best ways I know for leaders to do that are:

  1. Ask what you are missing (or don’t know) and really listen for the entire answer.  Do this all the time, so people know they can escalate issues safely.
  2. Recognize and reward those who are willing to speak up, tell you the truth, and bring forward the hard messages.  (And never ever punish someone or allow anyone else to punish that person for doing so!)
  3. Teach your people that disagreement and debate is healthy and show them how to do it respectfully.  You have to teach people how to fight correctly because few learn how from parents or school.  (It’s such a need, we have built a workshop on it.)
  4. Embed the role of disagreeing or asking tough questions into your decision making processes.  Consider tasking someone as devil’s advocate in meetings or create a checklist of questions to ask before moving forward with a decision or plan.
  5. Have an alternative, confidential route (beyond the typical “escalate concerns to your boss”) for someone to safely escalate problems or concerns.  An example of this is an ethics hotline or whistleblower process. (Example here.)
  6. Cultivate an environment where people can share information and speak to people in other areas and ask questions without fear.

We hope this helps you ensure you are getting the full story in your organizations.