For decades, we’ve done engagement surveys. We’ve done leadership 360s. We’ve done focus groups, stay interviews, and exit interviews. We do it to learn about leaders and the culture. We learn about what makes them great. We find some opportunities for improvement. We learn what we are told. But there’s more. And it sits in the silence. As a former Talent leader, I was responsible for gathering the data, analyzing it, discussing it with leaders, and putting the programs in place that followed. Yet, the silence started with us. I remember a moment right after we launched a manager 360 feedback survey, when my boss’s boss, one of the most senior and influential leaders in the company, said to his direct-reports, “Hey, only say nice things about me, alright?”(with a laugh, of course). Reading between the lines (actually, what was said outright), I did just that—said only nice things— even though there was more to say. At another company, while reviewing the proposed engagement interview questions, I identified some gaps. It was, in all candor, a weak set of questions to begin with, the kind that doesn’t really get at the core of the culture. I raised this with my leader, who responded that the question set was by design. Don’t ask what you can’t fix. So you might be wondering if these experiences made me cynical or led me to start my own business. Yes, that is part of my story, because I don’t like superficial impact. I also felt there was something more important to be learned—and applied. It’s not cynical to know, first-hand, that no organization and no leader is perfect. Leaders…really, all of us, are scared of being exposed for our flaws. Yet, we are imperfect, and so are organizations. And that is where the growth is…if we are ready to acknowledge our imperfections so we can activate our potential. When we don’t, there are consequences. We lose some of our best talent, and we don’t even know why. We keep some of our best talent, but we don’t actualize their true potential. Businesses decline, margin-making becomes the focus, people take on more work, leaders get stressed, and well-being goes downhill. So how do we create the conditions for truth in service of growth?
By teaching teams that we are all a work in progress. It’s called growth.
By helping leaders seek insight beyond the silence. It’s called opportunity.
By engaging everyone in the journey of learning and evolving. It’s called your future.