Where The Honesty Happens Matters

A sealed bottle of water will break even the strongest containers when placed in a freezer and allowed to expand. The extra pressure created just has to come out, one way or another.

The same is true for honest feedback, critique and assessment. The real question in your organization is … where does it come out?

In the knowledge age, corporate battles are won through creative thinking and fresh human innovation, not by bending steel or cutting costs. Accordingly, business cultures that support, nurture, and harness their team’s best creative ideas are the winners of photo-finish victories. Creative ideas are rarely born as fully developed and fully defensible. Rather, they are nascent sparks that must be refined and shaped to bring their full power to life. Unfortunately, many organizations neuter their best ideas because politics impede honest feedback that could help jettison mediocre concepts.

A good barometer to gauge the potency of your creative culture is to observe where the honesty happens. In many hierarchical structures, sycophants quickly nod their heads to the boss’s idea, holding their own opinions back instead of challenging and elevating the ideation process. Like the frozen water, the honesty must come out somewhere, so it ends up spewing out as finger-pointing criticism among colleagues at the water cooler or the nearby lunch joint.

If the organization has reached a Defcon 5 level of dysfunction, honesty among colleagues becomes too risky and the distance for its release expands outside company walls to neighborhoods, sharing concerns with friends and family. If authentic relationships are void at that level, honest feedback gets released to therapists, strangers at the bar or as anonymous blog posts.

The key point is that the further the honesty is removed from the source, the worse it is for everyone. The bitch-and-moan club produces no tangible results, and isn’t even fulfilling for its participants.

As leaders in our organizations and communities, we must work hard to structure cultures and relationships that revere honest feedback rather than punish it. If thoughtful and candid feedback happens in real time at the point of ignition, creativity and results both soar. Unproductive gossip helps no one. Let’s insist on sharing candid and direct viewpoints in order to drive progress. Proximity matters. After all, wouldn’t you want someone to point out you have spinach in your teeth instead of laughing about it later behind your back?

Fight to move the honesty close to the source and you’ll enjoy a significant boost in performance. Honest.