Hold an honest conversation

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in Hiring,Human Resources

Get your organization going by moving discussion into the open.

Why? Because private conversations can’t mobilize a whole group. Employees look to their leaders to articulate where the group is going.

In short, you need to hold a conversation: talk about important matters, make it collective, allow employees to be honest and structure it.

One Hewlett-Packard division used the following process and improved profitability nine-fold over seven years.

First, ask these questions:
  • What are our objectives and aspirations? Threats and opportunities?

  • What’s our value proposition?

  • What must we do to deliver on our value proposition?

  • Which capabilities do we need to carry out this strategy?

  • What values guide us?
Draft your best managers to collect data and start a conversation. Set them up as a task force.

Protect those who engage in the conversation. Getting low-level employees to talk is hard. Protect their confidentiality.

Distill what matters. When interviewing front-line employees, task force members should focus on: strengths and obstacles to overcome. Expect long and emotional interviews.

Make it safe to present findings. Seat task-force members around a table in the middle of a room. Meanwhile, the senior team sits on the edges, observing and taking notes.

Diagnose what’s wrong and plan changes. You wouldn’t let a doctor perform surgery without diagnosing what’s wrong. Same here. Let the task force present its findings one day, then give the senior team two more days to come up with solutions.

Test the plan. After the senior team devises a plan, the task force should get time alone to vet it. The final meeting between these two groups may be contentious. That’s OK. Let the task force modify your plan and it will be stronger.

—Adapted from “How to Have an Honest Conversation About Your Business Strategy,” Michael Beer and Russell Eisenstat, Harvard Business Review.

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