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Monday, June 29, 2009

Create a Culture of Candor

This the third and FINAL of several postings this week regarding the June issue of the Harvard Business Review.

What’s Needed Next: A Culture of Candor by James O’Toole and Warren Bennis (HBR June, 2008, 54-61)

According to the authors, in particular Warren Bennis, who is a world-class mind and Professor at USC, candor in organizations has always been and will be critical to those very organizations themselves. The authors say in a sidebar: Why Good People Do Bad Things: “….ethical problems in organizations originate not with a “few bad apples” but with the “barrel makers”—the leaders who, wittingly or not, create and maintain the systems in which participants are encouraged to do wrong.”

Their advice is simple and straight forward:

--Tell the truth. Leaders must tell people what they need to hear, not what they want to hear. A record of candor is the only standard.

--Encourage people to speak truth to power. Leaders must create systems that allow people to tell the truth without retribution, or no one will tell you when your pants are on fire!

--Reward Contrarians: Listen to all sides. Don’t dismiss people’s value just because they don’t agree and thank them.

--Practice having unpleasant conversations. Getting good at having truthful, respectful conversations that leave people undamaged is a skill that’s only learned by practice.

--Admit your mistakes. Give people permission to be human—just like you are.

--Build organizational support for transparency. Protect people who tell the truth (not only whistleblowers) but create a culture of candor.

--Set information free: Become a transparent organization and give everyone the data…unless there’s some compelling reason not to. Remember: The truth shall set you free!

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