There is fear deep in the heart of many organizations. It has become worse over recent years due to the economy, but it’s not new. I’m not referring to the fear of layoff, but rather the fear in middle management that speaking up or bringing bad news will lead to punishment in one form or another.
It’s difficult for those at the top to see this, but it exists, and it damages the organization’s ability to innovate, improve, perform, and have strategic discussions.
Effective strategy implementation and execution requires an organization culture where discussions can be honest and candid – sometimes even brutally candid. I once worked for a Frenchman whose passion for excellent work could offend consultants and cause staff to cry, whereupon he would suddenly become consoling and say, “It’s only business, don’t take it personally.” On the flipside, one could tell him anything and he’d actually listen and give you credit.
But blunt honesty is much different than punishing someone for expressing an idea or providing feedback. Just one incident of such punishment will damage important communication for years. And there are still managers, and even presidents, motivated by their own insecurity and need for control who will punish people who have thoughts, opinions and ideas that differ from their own. In doing so, they prevent entire organizations from being their best.
Senior leaders need to work hard to establish a productive culture, one where the walls are taken down between those with power and those with knowledge.