I’d like to share three true stories with you…
True Story One:
In a very large global financial service organization there was a strategic conflict between one of the lines of business and the regions, who were selling its products. The regions felt they were different. They knew their territory and customers best, so they wanted to control the sales process. But the business unit believed their products were meant to be sold through a consistent global program, which only they could do. Needless to say, this caused a lot of conflicts, tensions, and stress among the senior leaders. It was causing even more anxiety at the middle managers level as they felt stuck between a rock and a hard place, feeling political pressure to pick sides between the senior leaders they reported to. And, most of all this conflict was hurting business productivity and results.
Everyone acknowledged that this was a big problem, but the CEO didn’t seem to get it. He kept claiming that things were clear, while at the same time telling both sides what they wanted to hear.
At first, the senior leaders tried to bring the issue up at the senior leadership team meetings. However, the CEO refused to engage, so, it didn’t take long before the leaders simply stopped trying to bring it up. They continued to discuss the topic in the ‘around the cooler’ gossipy back channel conversations.
This continued on for a long time… Why?
True Story Two:
A large global technology company acquired another large competitor and was in the midst of integrating the new company. At the most senior leadership level, there were challenges as the existing and new leaders didn’t see eye to eye about important strategic decisions.
The senior leaders held several meetings to get aligned on key strategies and priorities. However, these meetings didn’t go well, and the leaders remained divided, cynical and not on the same page. The lack of alignment at the top affected the performance of the entire organization. Engineering and Product blamed Sales for the problems and Sales blamed everyone else.
Everyone was frustrated about what was going on, including the CEO, the senior leaders, the middle managers, and the employees, but, no one stood up and screamed: “Enough Already!!!” Why?
True Story Three:
An almost fatal accident on the factory floor uncovered significant safety issues that were a result of people cutting corners and not complying with the safety protocols.
The CEO launched an investigation which revealed that the issues that led to the accident were caused by the fact that at the end of the quarter management was driving production so hard in order to meet quarterly quotas that managers prioritized volume and speed over safety. Everyone knew that closing the line would hurt production quotas, so supervisors turned a blind eye to safety compromises.
The investigation also disclosed that the workers knew that this was going on; they understood the risks and consequences of an accident. In fact, many workers discussed these problems among themselves…
But they didn’t bring it up to their supervisors… Why?
Almost every day I meet executives, leaders, managers, and employees who are extremely bright, smart, and knowledgeable. Many describe to me with great insight, confidence and passion the issues, problems, barriers and also opportunities their organization faces. In fact, I often hear about the root causes of many of the issues, and what needs to be done.
However, when I ask these leaders and managers: “So, what have you done about it?” or “Have you brought it up to your superiors?“, they often turn white and acknowledge in an embarrassed kind-of-a-way that they have not.
When I ask “Why?”, they begin struggling, squirming and stuttering, they usually finally admit that they weren’t brave enough!
So my question to you, when you’re faced with challenging situations – are you having courageous conversations?