A remarkable absence of candour in the workplace represents one of the most significant obstacles to companies’ success.
Jack Welch (one of the greatest managers of the century) once said presenting the highlights of his best seller “Winning”: “In a bureaucracy, people are afraid to speak out. This type of environment slows you down, and it doesn’t improve the workplace.”
When you’ve got candour (you’ll never completely get it, mind you) everything just operates faster and better.
Lack of candour basically blocks smart ideas, fast action, and good people contributing all the stuff they’ve got. It’s a killer.
“Now, when I say “lack of candor” here” – says Welch – “I’m not talking about malevolent dishonesty. I am talking about how too many people (too often) instinctively don’t express themselves with frankness. They don’t communicate straightforwardly or put forth ideas looking to stimulate real debate. They just don’t open up. Instead they withhold comments or criticism. They keep their mouths shut in order to make people feel better or to avoid conflict, and they sugarcoat bad news in order to maintain appearances. They keep things to themselves, hoarding information”. That’s all lack of candour, and it’s absolutely damaging.
Lack of candour permeates almost every aspect of business causing bureaucracy, layers, politicking, and false politeness.
Most often, lack of candour is affecting performance appraisals as well. How frequently have you received an honest, straight-between-the-eyes feedback session in the last year, where you came out knowing exactly what you have to do to improve and where you stand in the organization?”
Successful companies are places where people put their views on the table, talk about the world realistically, and feel free to debate ideas from every angle.
Let’s look at how candour leads to winning. There are three main ways.
- First and foremost, candour gets more people in the conversation, and when you get more people in the conversation you improve the quality of the output. Many more ideas get surfaced, discussed, pulled apart, and improved. Instead of everyone shutting down, everyone opens up and learns. Any organization (or team) that brings more people and their minds into the conversation has an immediate advantage.
- Second, candour generates speed. When ideas are in everyone’s face, they can be debated rapidly, expanded and enhanced, and acted upon. Candour triggers the process “surface, debate, improve, decide”. This approach isn’t just an advantage, it’s a necessity in a global marketplace.
- Third, candour cuts costs. Just think of how it eliminates meaningless meetings and reports that confirm (or cover) what everyone already knows. Think of how candour replaces PowerPoint presentations and boring with real conversations, whether they’re about company strategy, a new product introduction, or someone’s performance.
Given the advantages of candour, you have to wonder, why don’t we have more of it?
Well, the problem starts young: we are socialized from childhood to soften bad news or to make nice about awkward subjects. We just don’t want to hurt others…
Candour just unnerves people. People don’t speak their minds because it’s simply easier not to: they’re afraid they can easily create pain, confusion, sadness, resentment. Therefore we tend to justify our lack of candor on the grounds that it prevents sadness or pain in another person, that not saying anything or telling a little white lie is the kind, decent thing to do.
People are often strongly tempted not to be candid because they don’t look at the big picture. They worry that when they speak their minds and the news isn’t good, they stand a strong chance of alienating other people. But what they don’t see is that lack of candour is the ultimate form of alienation. In fact, when people avoid candour in order to curry favor with other people, they actually destroy trust, and in that way, they ultimately damage their organization.
Someone may be thinking: “I can’t raise those questions because I don’t want to look like a jerk. I want to be a team player”. It is true that candid comments definitely freak people out at first. In fact, the more polite or bureaucratic or formal your organization, the more your candor will scare and upset people, and, yes, it could create troubles.
That’s a risk,and only you can decide if you’re willing to take it.
Everyone agrees that candour is against human nature. The good thing about candor is that it’s an unnatural act that is more than worth it.
Adapted from Winning, Jack Welch with Suzie Welch, Perfectbound