Crystal Clear

Recall the most important conversations you’ve had in the past year?

I bet you were very honest and maybe very careful. Because you and others knew the matter under discussion had serious implications, it’s easy to imagine them as intense.

Radical transparency is a tough topic because both employing it and avoiding it can have very significant consequences.

Levi Strauss & Company CEO Chip Bergh says he got an early leadership lesson when his own performance review required him to develop his people. With an important hire, he sidestepped honest feedback. This hurt the employee and the team. It translated to multiple costs: no capacity or expertise and substantial time. Bergh’s reflection:  “You have to be really transparent and straight with people.” He says being extremely transparent builds trust. Bergh aims for the best results by working together.

Bergh’s comfort with tough conversations comes from two factors: recognizing individuals do make a difference and valuing different skills on a team. For him and other effective executives, a constant sensing for ways to build a strong team is a high priority.

If we face accountabilities with some urgency, there’s rarely a better choice than transparency. A false culture and its opportunity costs are just too big to tolerate. In the workplace, practicing candor may be referred to as dynamic dialogues, tough, crucial or fierce conversations.

What is a “fierce conversation?” Susan Scott’s book by that name defines it as: “One in which we come out from behind ourselves, into the conversation and make it real.” She suggests every conversation affects a relationship: for better or worse.

A no risk sugar-sweet norm emphasizes the hyper-polite. In this context, few accountabilities with no urgency translate to a greater reliance on political currency of deference. In these cultures results will never be what they could because there’s slack in the space. When nobody wants to “rock the boat,” people generally aren’t in high performance mode.

While our interactions with colleagues, clients, customers and others need not be fiery in temperature they can be richly focused and clear. Candor has huge yield. Why not make the many hours we and others invest worth the effort?

-Lisa Wyatt Knowlton, Ed.D., leads Wyatt Advisors, a resource for effective people and organizations. See:  Lisa is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. She has cross-sector and international experience.

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