“I don’t understand why they didn’t come to me, I have an open-door policy? Why am I just hearing about this now? This should have been reported to me immediately! Didn’t anybody else see this as a problem?”
Ever hear or say any of these above statements? They are common enough. Unfortunately, if you’re saying them, it’s probably too late. Something has happened, and now it’s time to pick up the pieces.
You are in a leadership position. It’s your sincere intent to be as open and welcoming of bad as well as good news in your organization. However, power has a way of making people nervous, guarded, and unfortunately, silent. The business world is littered with people who espoused an open-door policy, instituted suggestion boxes and had written grievance procedures. However, if these ideas aren’t working, what is the solution to encourage “truth to power” in your organization. As with all things involving ethics, it can’t be a quick fix. It must become part of your organizational culture.
With tribal enterprises, it cuts two ways. The leadership within the enterprise must be willing to speak truth to power to the tribal government, and, in addition, foster their employees to do the same with them. That task can seem daunting. It doesn’t have to be. Let’s look at some simple, yet effective tools you can utilize in short order to establish your Bona fides as a receptive leader:
Put an agenda item in every meeting that is held in your organization titled: “Tell me what I don’t want to hear.” (This includes town-hall type meetings with employees) It won’t magically make people comfortable, but the more it’s used, the more they will feel good about using it. Most will wait for someone else to say something, and then watch how the leadership reacts and responds. Follow up early in the process in critical.
Make sure you have a whistleblowers policy and don’t hide it. Bring it up every chance you get. Communicate openly about issues that are brought fourth through this process. Even in a very open environment, the whistleblower policy needs to be a part of your program.
Reward those who speak truth to power. In the Native American culture, those who speak truth to power are warriors. They should be honored as such. Most organizations reward other achievements such as length of service or great customer service. Make truth to power the top recognition.
Have quarterly all-staff meetings that include two main agenda items: What things are we doing well as an organization? What things do we need to hear about that are not good for the organization?
Establish a “truth to power” monthly meeting. Give your employees a variety of different ways to provide topic items for this meeting. It’s the old “suggestion box” on steroids. Let them know that the management will consider every item that flows into this meeting agenda. It may be overwhelming at first, but it’s a great way to show everyone in your organization you’re serious about this process.
Have an agenda (using the suggested topics that come in), take minutes and have an “after-action” report. Make sure all this is posted where everyone can have access to it. (This meeting is for your management team only. They can tackle the problems identified as they would in any other management meeting) When this becomes established as a regular part of your management infrastructure, it goes a long way to show your commitment to open and honest feedback, with no retribution.
It takes a lot to overcome the fear of power and of losing one’s job if they speak up. But if you’re serious about a true open-door policy, take action. It’s time to get past the simple (and ineffective) fixes and start establishing a lasting and powerful culture of truth to power. It’s all part of the true ethics infrastructure. What are you waiting for? ♦