Make it Safe to Speak the Uncomfortable Truths

As a consultant, I know that one thing clients want me to do when I assess their organizations is to tell them the uncomfortable truths. Where are they weak? Where are they vulnerable? What are they not doing that they should be doing? What are they doing that they shouldn’t be?
Why do leaders look to consultants to provide this candor? Because employees are often reluctant to speak the uncomfortable truths. It’s hardly surprising. Job security, promotion opportunities, pay increases – there are many reasons not to risk upsetting the person who controls your fate. Ironically, however, it’s often employees who are in the best position to identify uncomfortable truths.
So how can you make it safe for your people to speak up?
1. Encourage people to identify uncomfortable truths
Explicitly let people know that you want them to constructively identify your organization’s weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Why? So you can deal with them of course! Ignoring weaknesses and vulnerabilities only leaves your organization weak and vulnerable.
2. Reinforce people who speak the uncomfortable truths
People might be reticent to speak up, even if you encourage them. That’s why it’s critical to reinforce them when they identify uncomfortable truths, even if you disagree with them. It’s the behavior you want to reinforce regardless of the validity of their comments. Immediately debating, justifying or defending sends the message that you don’t really value or want their input.
3. Take action to address uncomfortable truths and let people know
At least some uncomfortable truths will be valid. Yet if you don’t take action people will stop bringing them to you. So selectively take action to deal with uncomfortable truths and then let your people know that you took action.
Every organization has weaknesses. Every organization has vulnerabilities. You absolutely want to know what those are. And despite how well you know your business you can’t identify all those weaknesses and vulnerabilities on your own. That’s why you need to make it safe for your people to speak the uncomfortable truths.
Make it happen.
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