Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:36 pm
I recently spoke at a conference on the topic of executives evolving their leadership styles to accelerate the growth of their organization. After the presentation, someone asked if it wasn’t slightly idyllic to believe organizations could really achieve a high level of critical dialog within a work environment where there is longevity, familiarity and camaraderie.
The answer is no, it is not idyllic. In fact, it is a must for companies wanting or needing to improve operating performance.
Even though there are plenty of companies that struggle with achieving a high level of critical dialog, there are also plenty of organizations that are highly effective communicators with a core internal capability to discuss the key performance issues affecting the organization’s financial health and well being.
These organizations create critical dialog with tact, candor, honesty, respect and the appropriate sense of urgency. As discussed in a previous article, this is known as asking the tough questions.
We all intuitively know that the performance-related questions we want to ask are, in fact, the right questions to ask. These questions only fall into the category of being the tough questions because of the people equation. It is only difficult to ask the tough questions because we work in an environment where there is longevity, familiarity and camaraderie.
Let’s face it, it’s difficult for many people to question someone else regarding their under-performance. But the people and companies that struggle with this will rarely find great sustained success in this highly competitive world we live in.
How to improve
The first step in fixing any problem is to acknowledge it’s a weakness that needs to be improved. Discuss this with your management team. This is your first action item. More specifically, ask your management team the following questions:
- Ask each individual on the management team if they believe corporate success, in any organization, requires a core internal capability to discuss the key performance issues affecting the organization’s financial health and well being. The goal is to get team buy-in on this concept, as well as to identify anyone who doesn’t believe that candid cross functional communication is a key element to achieving future success.
- On a scale from one to 10, rate the collective leadership team’s overall effectiveness as it relates to their ability to create critical dialog (talking about the tough stuff).
- And finally, on a scale of one to 10, have each manager rate themselves, as well as each of the other managers for overall effectiveness as it relates to their demonstrated ability to create critical dialog about the key issues affecting overall operating performance.
The purpose of this very simple exercise is to get your team started in talking in a deeper, more meaningful way. If you went through that exercise with your leadership team, you just experienced critical dialog.
Now, in the spirit of continuous improvement, hold a team meeting with each department head and an additional person from each department. Pull everyone together and ask them to respond to the following questions regarding each department’s actual performance for the last 12 months:
- On a scale of one to 10, rate each department’s overall effectiveness according to their demonstrated ability to achieve their identified goals.
- Identify each department’s greatest strength.
- According to each department, identify the area that needs the most improvement.
This is a very direct set of questions. If your team can honestly respond to these questions, you should be able to develop a short list of priorities according to each department. More importantly, you have taken a big step in creating direct and highly effective cross-functional critical dialog.
If you are going to embrace the opportunity to excel, you must get comfortable with and learn how to break down the communication silos within your organization. For more ideas on how to improve critical dialog within your company, feel free to contact me for a private discussion.