In an earlier post I introduced my favorite short list of corporate values:

  • Open and Honest Communication
  • Making and Meeting Commitments
  • Always Meeting or Exceeding the Customer’s Expectation for Quality

In order to be useful, all employees need to know the stated values and – more importantly – need to be able to internalize the values so they can apply them to the innumerable daily decisions involved in running any organization. The remainder of this post is devoted to an explanation of the first of these values.

Open and Honest Communication

Open and honest communication means:

  • Communicate proactively.
  • Aim for clarity and transparency.
  • Don’t say one thing while really meaning or intending another.
  • If you have an issue with person A, talk to person A! Don’t involve person B unless and until you and person A have made a genuine effort to work through the issue.

The “Anti-Politics” Value

I sometimes think of this as the “anti-politics” value, but that sells it short as we’ll see a little later. Even so, “open and honest communication” does go a long way towards limited office politics.

Has an employee ever come to you to complain about another employee? (Or, have you been the one doing the complaining?) Unless the complaint relates to a behavior which is an obvious violation of company policy (think of harassment or something illegal), what is the best way for a manager to respond to the complaint? Personally, I believe the manager’s first (and best) question should be, “Have you talked with the other employee about this issue?” If the answer is “no”, then the manager should encourage the employee to address the complaint/concern open and honestly with the other employee. Only if and when that fails should the manager allow him/herself to be drawn into the situation. Far more often than not the issue will be resolved of its own accord.

An Anecdote

I do “management and strategic” consulting for clients. Recently a client was considering an acquisition and during due diligence had uncovered strong concerns with the personality of the CEO of the target company. My client came to realize that this person, while important to the target business, would have little chance of adapting to the acquiring company’s corporate culture and values and that it would be necessary to “back fill” some of his duties after the acquisition. A conversation ensued about if and how to explain the back filling to the target company’s CEO.

A year earlier I had worked with this same client to revise its corporate value statement and the client had enthusiastically adopted the “open and honest communication” value. So, I was very pleased (and impressed) when the executive leading the client’s acquisition team re-framed this question in terms of the open/honest corporate value. In view of that value, it was clear to all participants in the meeting that, yes, it was essential to communicate the concerns directly with the CEO of the target company.

This is a great example of stating, reinforcing and living a corporate value. You can be sure that each participant in the meeting came away with a strengthened belief in the company’s devotion to its stated values and to the benefit those values can bring in guiding decisions.

It’s Not All Negative

I don’t want to leave you with the impression that “open and honest communication” serves merely to tamp-down negative behaviors. On the contrary, this value also serves to reinforce positive, proactive communication.

Probably everyone has been behind on at least one project (at least!) at some point in his or her career. Sometimes, being behind schedule has little impact on the organization. However, other times the impact can be large and can affect numerous fellow employees, customers and even vendors. Once you have fallen behind, when is the best time to share that information? Generally, the answer is “as soon as possible”. Sharing a schedule slip openly and honestly – and early – gives the rest of the organization / customers / vendors the maximum opportunity to adjust. The later this information is shared, the less time – and fewer options – the rest of the organization will have to adapt.

In my next post I’ll talk about making and meeting commitments.


Values – Open and Honest Communication
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