FERRETING OUT WHAT NO ONE WANTS YOU TO KNOW

There are many benefits to being the boss,
but they’re almost always outweighed by one enormous frustration.
As boss, I never know whether our people are giving me the full story when I seek information, or telling me the complete truth when I ask tough question.
It’s not that they’re liars. It’s just that they adopt different relationship with the facts when the boss asks the questions.
They omit information that might reflect poorly on their performance, thinking I’m judging every bit of bad news and blaming them. They keep information to themselves, thinking I don’t want to be bothered with it, or, worse, that it’s none of my business.

Candour is tough to share
I’m not na*ve. I know why employees trade in their customary candour when the boss is asking the questions. They’re afraid I’ll kill the messenger. So, I’ve developed ways to encourage people to tell me the truth, to show them that I’m not going to kill the messenger.
Sometimes the lack of candour reaches comical depths. The other day one of our executives phoned me to talk about personal problem. I couldn’t give him all the time he needed just then, but I could later on.
So I asked him, “When are you leaving the office this evening?” simple question, not fraught with meaning or malice. But all I got was silence on the other end of the line. I recognised his hesitation. I could almost hear him thinking, “Is the boss asking me how late I work? Is he going to think less of me if I say 6 o’clock rather than 8?”
Finally, I interrupted his thinking. “I don’t care when you leave the office. I have crowded schedule and I don’t think I can talk to you until 6.30. I just want to know if that’s convenient time for me to call you.”
That’s the sort of tempering language boss has to employ to cajole the truth out of people.

What you won’t get
Some stuff you’ll never pull out of people. This is the information just simmering below the surface of normal discourse. It’s usually about dysfunction in the organisation Ñ who’s unhappy, who’s fighting with whom, who’s overrated or not carrying their weight, who’s hated by their employees, etc.
It’s simmering below the surface not because people don’t want to talk honestly about it, but rather because bosses rarely ask about it.
And yet for manager it’s the most important information of all because it identifies problem, and you can’t fix problem until you’re aware of it.

Characters who talk
There are always people who no longer have reason to be tactful in an organisation. Chief among these are those leaving the company.
I’ve always said if you want to find out anything about your competitors, talk to people who’ve just left the competition. If they left in unhappy circumstances, they’ll tell you everything.
It’s no different internally. If you want to find what’s really going on inside your company, talk to those on their way out the door. boss who doesn’t pay attention to exit interviews (or for that matter, conduct them personally), isn’t doing their job.
Almost as valuable are the people who are hungry for attention. Every organisation has people who feel neglected or ignored. They have opinions about their job, workplace, colleagues but no one seeks them out. They’re usually one or two levels below those you regularly include in your meetings. They’re the forgotten names. Let them vent and you’ll get dose of candour that will either thrill you or scare you.

Who’s avoiding you?
I also seek out those who are actively avoiding me Ñ they’re avoiding me for reason and it’s never good one.
When I don’t hear from an executive I regularly speak with, I automatically think there’s something wrong. Experience bears this out. It always amazes me how quickly an executive with good news will find me. What’s troubling though is why the same person isn’t as quick to deliver bad news. So when an executive who regularly reports positive bulletins to me suddenly disappears from my radar, I begin to worry.
Avoidance is my cue to seek them out and find out what’s really going on.

Mark McCormack is the founder of International Management Group. www.successsecrets.com

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