Consistent Candor: Disciplines of a Learning Organization

Candor is critical. Every organization communicates something, but candor is a way of communication. Management guru Jack Welch writes, “I would call lack of candor the biggest dirty little secret in business”. Candor is simply the process of speaking the truth. It is saying what needs to be said, when it needs to be said. An organization that supports candor in conversation is an organization of leaders that speak up, say what needs to be said, and don’t get crucified for it. Candor gets more people in the conversation and generates speed by avoiding pointless reports, presentations, and paper work. There are millions of pie charts made every day to present numbers that people have already seen. These will be presented in meetings that are too long, and will typically end with no real solutions. With candor, people speak up, loose the pie charts, and get down to business asking tough questions to get real results. Developing candor in an organization can be done simply by rewarding it, talking about it, and demonstrating it to others. Candor is very important if any change is to be successful, because people need to talk through the real issues and be honest about progress and road blocks. If employees keep honest information out of a conversation, an entire change process can be derailed.

REWARD CANDOR: This would pretty much be the opposite of “shoot the messenger”, and it takes a lot of patience and self control. It’s easy to write about, and even easy to support in theory, but it sometimes flat out sucks to implement. Rewarding candor means encouraging people to speak the truth – even thanking them for speaking the truth. It means that when an employee comes to you and, in a private conversation, calls you out on something then you should respond with a “thank you”. It means when your pet project is just not going anywhere and your team tells you about it, you appreciate their candid feedback. Rewarding candor is really tough, but it is absolutely critical if we are to have any success in implementing it into your culture. The critical piece, as with any other reward, is to be crystal clear with yourself on what is candor and what isn’t. Make sure you reward the type of candid feedback you really want to continue.

TALK ABOUT CANDOR: Your people need to know from you, the leader, that you expect and support candid conversation. People need to know that they have your permission to speak with candidness. This is critical though: candor is very different than complaining, whining, or putting others down. Part of talking about candor is creating the boundaries and expectations for it. You need to communicate to your team regularly that candor is speaking the truth in love when it needs to be spoken. Candor IS letting someone know the numbers they are using are incorrect. Candor IS NOT letting someone know that, in your opinion, the numbers they are using might not be the best ones. Candor is letting someone know that their personality flaw is driving a wedge in the team. Candor IS NOT letting someone know that you personally can’t stand their personality. Managers and leaders must talk about candor regularly with their teams and organizations to be sure that everyone understands the expectations and guidelines around it. It takes a lot of emotional maturity.

DEMONSTRATE CANDOR: In the end, this is what a lot of leadership comes down to isn’t it? Leaders must lead by example. When it comes to candor, this takes guts. It’s probably going to be a little bit uncomfortable at first. Start with the easier conversations. I wouldn’t suggest starting to lead by example by tackling some long standing company issue that needs to be called out. Candor isn’t being a whistle blower. Maybe you start by being honest with your team about something that effects you. Maybe you put a stop to a project you have been driving because isn’t successful, and be honest about your fault here. You can also start by asking your team for honest, candid, feedback. These types of things will get the momentum moving and create the right example to follow.

Look up candid in the dictionary and the definition is actually really helpful. Candid is defined as frank and outspoken but also sincere. Candid is straightforward and also informal. Notice the definition includes descriptors like “frank” and “informal”. Candid is not just about WHAT you say, it is also about HOW you say it. It’s about speaking the truth with the correct motivations – the motivations to help the team and move progress forward for everyone. In the end, this is the measuring stick for appropriate candor. If your motivation is to get better for the good of the organization, then keep it going. If your motivation is make things better for yourself, then someone needs to get candid with you!

Read all ten of the Disciplines of a Learning Organization here.

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