Thursday, January 19, 2006

Candor and courage

Business Times p.B3
Thursday, January 19, 2006

By Moje Ramos-Aquino, FPM
Candor and courage

RICK HAWTHORNE of Roadrunner Networks Inc. wrote, “I like the article on candor and frankness, I just wish more people would put it into practice.”

Indeed, all reactions to last week’s column on candor lament the lack of candor in the workplace and express the need for straightforward, say-what-you-mean conversations. GE’s former CEO Jack Welch writes, “Lack of candor blocks smart ideas, fast action and good people contributing all the stuff they’ve got. It’s a killer.”

Welch continues, “Imagine yourself for a second at a meeting where the subject is growth and how to get it at an old-line division. Everyone is sitting around the table, talking about how hard it is to win in this particular market or industry. They discuss the tough competition. They surface the same old reasons why they can’t grow and why they are actually doing well in this environment. In fact, by the time the meeting ends, they’ve managed to pat themselves on the back for the ‘success’ they’ve enjoyed ‘under the circumstances.’

“In your head, you’re about ready to burst, as you tell yourself, ‘Here we go again. I know Bob and Mary across the room feel the same way I do—the complacency around here is killing us.’ Outside, all three of you are playing the game. You’re nodding.

“Another situation that happens all the time is a high-growth business with a self-satisfied crowd managing it. You know the scene at the long-range planning meeting. The managers show up with double-digit growth—say 15 percent—and pound out slide after slide showing how well they are doing. Top management nods their approval, but you’re sitting there knowing there’s lot more juice in the business. To compound matters, the people presenting the slides are peers of yours, and there’s that age-old code hanging in the air: if you don’t challenge mine, I won’t challenge yours.”

These situations are acted out in real business life every day.

What might be going on inside the minds of these seemingly smart people quietly, politely saying nothing and enduring the phoniness of the situation?

The boss will never buy it.
It can’t be done anyway.
I have to call my dentist.
It’s too visionary.
We don’t have the time.
I have a golf game in two hours.
We’re doing all right now.
It’s beyond my responsibility.
I am hungry.
I don’t like it.
We’ve been doing things this way for the past 20 years.
It won’t work in a small company.
What will I do this weekend?

Rienzi Ramirez, GlobalStride, “Just dropping a line telling you that I came across your article on Candor and it was very true to life. It will be interesting additionally to write about how candor is misunderstood or corrupted. Nice to come across articles like these which hit a note.”

Candor is simply saying what we mean and meaning what we say, to speak out openly, argue, debate, question, clarify, drill down, explore possibilities, suggest options, challenge ideas, disagree in a straightforward, no-b.s. manner. The one guideline I have is: You can disagree without being disagreeable.

Welch says, “Now, imagine an environment where you take responsibility for candor. You, Bob or Mary would ask questions like: Isn’t there a new product or service idea in this business somewhere that we just haven’t thought of? Can we jump-start this business with an acquisition? This business is taking so many resources. Why don’t we get the hell out of it?

“It is true that candid comments definitely freak out people at first. In fact, the more polite or bureaucratic or formal your organization, the more candor will scare and upset people, and, yes, it could kill you. That’s a risk, and only you can decide if you are willing to take it.”

Moje is president of Paradigms & Paradoxes Corp. React to this article at

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