Category Archives: Transparency

I Don’t Know

Those three words instill fear with some people. Part of a leader’s job is to ask questions, sometimes difficult questions. I think we have to be conscious of how we are asking the questions, but I wonder why people don’t just say “I don’t know” when they don’t know the answer.
Many people feel that talking their way through an answer, even if they don’t know the answer, is better than just saying they don’t know the answer.
I disagree. I believe it’s much better, and not a sign of weakness, to just say you don’t know.
I remember my Mom telling me that you don’t have to have a good memory if you always tell the truth. I think Mom was onto something.

We often are coached to be confident. I would argue that confident people can say they don’t know the answer to something. When faced with this situation, ask yourself “why” you would be inclined to “wing it” instead of just saying it. Then keep asking “why?”

Why #1: Why won’t you just say you don’t know?
Answer 1: I’m afraid that I’ll look stupid
Why #2: Why are you afraid that you will look stupid?
Answer 2: Because I think my Boss thinks I should know the answer
Why #3: Why do you think your Boss thinks you should know the answer?
Answer 3: I don’t know.

Bingo. In this example, the core issue might be expectations between you and your Boss. Have a discussion with your Boss about expectations, and level of detail you should have in your role given your scope. Likely this conversation will be enlightening in that your assumptions of what your Boss expects do not actually match what your Boss expects. Having this conversation saves you from losing credibility when you try to “wing it” but inevitably admit to not having a clue.

If we were all much better about being open and honest about this type of thing, then we can be liberated, and not fearful, when responding to a question for which we do not know the answer.

“I don’t know, but I can find out.”

MythBusting at Work!

I had the opportunity to hear Adam Savage, co-host of the TV series “MythBusters” speak today at the #Kronosworks conference in Las Vegas.

Savage was entertaining.  He had great slides, I’m a fan of the show, and I have to admit it was just cool to see a celebrity in action.  He talked about having a hypothesis, testing it, and then analyzing the results.  You learn from this process.

There we were, 2500 knowledge workers, there to learn, anxious to apply these concepts!

But he didn’t really tie anything to work.  Not at all.  Zilch.

Thank you Adam!

You may be wondering why I’m thanking Adam for such an obvious omission.

Truth is, this has been my calling for years.  I’ve written about the concepts before, like in my most popular blog about the power of betting a burrito.  We so often stop short of trying out or experimenting on new things based on our opinions or speculations about a topic.  Sometimes I just get too impatient, and just want to test out the hypothesis.  It wasn’t until Savage’s talk today that I tied it all together: We need to think like MythBusters at work.

Take an idea.  Develop a hypothesis.  Test it out.  Learn.

It takes leaders, like you, to move your initiatives and ideas into this model.  Don’t get caught in a speculation showdown.  Challenge your partners to test stuff out.  Bet burritos.  Take action.  Heck, you might even bust some myths along the way.

Let’s Take That Online, not Offline…

“Let’s take that offline.”

Generally speaking, that means that the topic at hand is deemed more appropriately discussed privately, and not out loud with the entire community.

Besides never knowing who actually takes the action to setup the offline discussion, the “offliner” or the “offlinee”, I wondered if anyone has ever said, “let’s take that online” instead of “let’s take that offline.”

So why would you ever actually elect to have topics liked this discussed online versus offline?

I’ve found that the offliner’s questions or concerns about the topic may actually be the same questions or concerns with the broader group. Taking it online, and thus out loud for the questions/concerns to be raised–and answered–may benefit the entire community of people. Taking it offline can imply that the entire community would not benefit from the dialog around the topic, but how do we know?

Yet our tendency is to take these things offline and if the offline meeting happens at all rarely is there a feedback loop to the broader community. One person’s concerns are addressed offline, and the remaining community, likely with the same question, is just left to wonder or speculate. Plus, we all tend to create drama when it really isn’t there. “Oh, I wonder how that (offline) conversation went?”

I’m just not sure that is really efficient. I’m not suggesting at all that there is never the need for a private discussion. I’m just suggesting that the future of work involves more online discussions, even if the topic may be something we’re used to handling in private one-on-one forums.

So, the next time you’re tempted to play the “offline” card, why not try the “online” one? You might surprise yourself.

I am a Simplifier

Recently, someone told me they were a “turnaround specialist”. I liked that he had a label that he could use to talk about what skills he brings to the table.

It is clear. It makes sense. It is a useful skill. You need that? He’s your guy.

But what am I?

I started out with longer phrases like, “I am good at untangling hairballs” and “I can take really ambiguous things and drive clarity”. Hmmm, not the same panache as “turnaround specialist”.

And then it hit me. Is there a term for being a Simplifier? I went to google and found a bunch of math stuff. Great, but I was an English Major in college–I don’t know what an “expressions simplifier” is or what one would do.

So I’ll ponder this one for a while–I may not be a turnaround specialist, but if you need a simplifier, I’m the guy!

Transparency, not Compliance

Driving change is a challenging task. With so many different nuances to the type of change you are trying to drive, there is clearly no one size fits all approach. I’m a big fan of measurable goals at the macro level, where all participants understand very specifically how they are aligning to those goals. I say measurable because there are things that we should and can measure. Any continuous improvement process (e.g., ITIL) uses measurable goals that should and can be measured to baseline organizational performance and then subsequently drive improvements. I’ll take a “quality improved by 40% as measured by x” success statement any day over a “quality got better” statement.

So how do you effectively drive organizational-wide initiatives that have measurable goals?

My evolved answer is transparency. Let me give you a little background.

Earlier in my career, it was all about compliance. What’s your goal? Where are you at (what’s the number?) Who’s hitting it? Who is not? Get the folks who are not hitting the number to hit the number. Done deal, rinse and repeat.

Compliance, while often effective at “hitting the number”, is generally criticized as having the potential to drive the wrong behavior. And, to many, it just doesn’t feel that great. Reaching out to people and saying, “Well, you’re team is at 30% and the goal is 80%. You know this report is going out to Management” may be a quick way to get their attention, but it’s also a quick way to have partners get frustrated and question the value of what you are trying to do.

Now enter the value shift.

Transparency is just a much better way to think about things. If we are setting organizational goals that are measureable, it’s still important to understand why you may or may not be attaining those goals. Think about branding the reports you use as transparency reports instead of compliance reports. This now allows you to create transparency to where your opportunities are. And instead of feeling like there are punitive penalties, you just create awareness and an understanding (aka transparency) to the challenges the teams are faced with which will in turn create a dialog of understanding and a plan of action. Continuous improvement can still happen because people know where they stand and why things are the way that they are. You diffuse a natural tendency to be defensive.

The “what” is still achieved, but the “how” is even better. For me, I’ve really worked hard at this value shift. When you get labeled as a “numbers guy” people sometimes mis-interpret your intentions as just wanting to “hit the numbers.” But in reality, the spirit of what I try to do is to help people understand what they are shooting for, where they are at, and along the way develop a greater understanding for their business and how to think about what they could do to continuously improve.