leadership, entrepreneurship, corporate communication

How Leaders Can Find the Truth in Their Companies

By Brent Tilson

It’s human nature for information to become filtered as it moves up and through an organization. The number of direct reports managers have can vary from just a few to dozens of employees. With each level of management, business leaders often get further away from the front lines and their customers, and, with each stage of growth, potentially further from the truth.

I have found this to be especially true in high-growth businesses. Frequently, as new layers of management are added, leadership only receives filtered information about the daily activities of the business operations. This happens as the managers want to shelter the entrepreneur or chief executive from the daily headaches or annoyances. Managers aren’t trying to keep the higher-ups in the dark, but they feel it is their responsibility manage one area of the business and not bother the leader.

This type of thinking is an early warning sign that a business is heading down a dysfunctional path. Leaders rely on information from many sources to help them make decisions on growth, adding products and services, and ensuring the business is aligned. The most valuable sources are the employees and managers themselves.

The antidote to this problem is to have candid, consistent, and collaborative conversations.

At a small event I attended, billionaire investor and businessman Mark Cuban shared how he successfully manages his vast array of businesses. His employees and entrepreneurs must hit him with the bad news first. He already assumes they are competent employees who can do their jobs well; he needs to know what the issues are so he can try to help in any way he can.

Another key to a candid conversation — don’t just bring the problem and lay it at the feet of the leader, bring the proposed solution as well.

My own management team has a daily 8:18 a.m. phone call. It’s a quick, 15-minute huddle where, similar to Mark’s rule for his team, we quickly discuss where people are getting stuck, but also critical numbers and current activities. The important addition to this candid conversation is having it often and consistently.

Can you imagine the quarterback of an NFL team running a play that no one on his team knew about? Absolutely not. The play is called in a huddle or at the line. But, even more importantly, a receiver can come back to the quarterback after a play (consistent communication) to tell him a flaw in the defense so the quarterback can take advantage of that information. What good would it be if the receiver merely came back and told another receiver? That’s the equivalent of telling middle management an issue or opportunity and that information never being shared with the leader. Having regular communication with leadership is crucial.

Finally, collaboration is critical between leaders, managers, and their direct reports. By working with managers to clearly identify next steps or adjustments, a leader can better ensure the information is moving effectively throughout the organization. Having structured weekly one-on-one meetings between managers and their direct reports then allows those next steps to be carried out. In essence, collaboration allows issues or opportunities identified in candid and consistent communications to make their way to the leader and management team. Clear lines of communication will empower your front lines and, should the appropriate adjustments be made, benefit your customers.

Implementing effective communication systems is critical for removing the filters that build up as the company grows. Everyone in the organization, from the front-lines to the CEO, should both crave the truth and have the appropriate channels open to receive it.

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