I recently interviewed a team of senior executives for an upcoming planning session. When I asked the question of what was going well the executive whom we will call Phil was to the point and able to articulate two to three points without hesitation. When a follow-up question came, “What is missing or could this executive team do better?” Phil’s answers were prefaced with, “I want to tell you something that I would not want repeated.”
When we work with teams, we always interview the executives before an engagement, and we are very clear on how the information will be used. We emphasize the interview feedback will be reviewed to identify patterns and themes in the data, and all information will be consolidated and reported by patterns and themes, and specific information will not be attributed to any individual.
We are almost always told that we can “share with anyone what I am saying” –but inadvertently, always during the interview, an executive will ask to go off the record, oftentimes with something that should be shared.
My question that comes up is, what would you do if you were not afraid?
Our research shows that although respondents feel that their organization is open to new ways to explore and change the status quo, more than 70% believe that their organization does not encourage them to express their views. Three recommendations to reduce the fear:
Get clear on the language of what it means to “encourage” people to express their views. Realizing that most people really care and are committed to doing the right thing is important –make it easy for them to do the right thing!
Teach people how to better discriminate between what is fact and what is opinion (allows people to be more objective). People gain confidence when they are able to sit back and assess a situation that is grounded in facts. They are better able to articulate their concern, or the fear subsides and the concern can be placed into a larger context –not an individual compelling.
Encourage people to explore answers to questions together –this builds trust and mutual respect. The old adage ”Two heads are better than one” can help a lot here. Partner with a colleague.
The ability to create a culture where people are encouraged to express their views increases when people have the tools to truly conduct a fast-based assessment, take opinions out of the equations, and jointly co-discover what the issues are.