By John M. Bernard, Founder and Chairman, Mass Ingenuity
Companies today must do business at the speed of NOW, and a business that cannot see its problems will sink. In the NOW organization, The Quarterly Target Review makes problems clearly visible to everyone and, thus, provides a pivotal tool for maintaining transparency. A formal review of work ON and IN the business, the Quarterly Target Review puts a microscope on the business, revealing any gaps between targets and actual performance.
For honesty to prevail, the Quarterly Target Review must take place in an environment of complete safety. That safety sets the right tone and sends a clear message for how this company does business, inside and out. No one plays the blame game, no one points fingers. No one embarrasses or derides colleagues.
NOW organizations incorporate 7 Rules for Total Transparency into everything they do, especially their review meetings.
RULE 1: Seek facts not blame.
A well-run Quarterly Target Review (QTR) takes the guesswork out of problem-solving by focusing on facts rather than opinions and unsubstantiated theories. Of course, the same applies to all work in a NOW organization. Solutions depend on cold, hard facts. Concentrating on the facts helps remove emotion and the tendency to lay blame when discussing a business problem. If sales manager Bonnie points out problems with the accounts receivable system, everyone can examine the facts without laying blame on the accounting department. If a team lacks sufficient facts to explore solutions to the problem, then they will conduct more research before moving forward.
RULE 2: Ask for and offer help.
The QTR gives everyone a chance to offer each other support, the hallmark of a healthy business. Asking for and offering help builds an atmosphere of solidarity. “United we stand, divided we fall.” Sometimes people feel reluctant to ask for help, falsely thinking that doing so will make them look weak or ill informed. In fact, it signifies wisdom. Wise people know they don’t know everything and can’t do it all by themselves. By the same token, most people feel flattered when someone asks for their help. Bonnie, highly skilled in the use of social media, can help accountant Robert develop a speedier way to follow up on delinquent accounts. Robert can help Bonnie understand cash flow and, thus, solve a problem with a delinquent customer account. In short order, their relationship blossoms. Instead of two wary people thrown together on a project, they become two deeply bonded colleagues who like and trust each other a lot.
RULE 3: Speak the truth respectfully.
Sometimes the truth hurts, but falsehoods and cover-ups do even more harm. Never bury the truth, no matter how painful. When you speak the truth, do so with the utmost respect. Everyone then learns and grows. Remember to share good news and praise good work. Choose your words carefully. If Robert admits discomfort using social media to stay in touch with accounts, Bonnie shouldn’t say, “Oh, it’s easy, my kid can do it.” Instead, she admits, “Look, it took me forever to get comfortable with it, too, but now I really love it.” When someone’s disrespectful behavior in a QTR threatens another’s sense of safety, people should feel free to point that out. Persistent threatening behavior requires intervention outside the meeting, where it will not distract from the business at hand and where the offender will not feel embarrassed in front of colleagues. If Bonnie tends to offend people with nervous laughter at their verbal missteps, Robert might bring that to her attention in a one-on-one chat at lunch. If Robert openly accuses Bonnie of incompetence in the meeting, a colleague should object immediately. Both situations require tact, as well as respect. Truth telling and respect go a long way toward canceling fear and building trust.
RULE 4: Think organizationally, act departmentally.
People naturally tend to think in terms of what’s best for their own department, but in a NOW organization they always balance their departmental concerns with what best serves the organization. That holds especially true when people see their work within the context of boundary-crossing processes rather than departmental silos. This view ensures that departments support the success of the organization. A strong silo in a weak organization eventually will fail. Likewise, a strong organization with a weak department eventually will pay a price for that shortcoming. Bonnie’s social media expertise will accomplish nothing if a serious problem in accounting puts the company in financial jeopardy. Not even the most effective accounting system can save a company that does not learn to do business at the speed of need.
RULE 5: Engage fully.
Just as everyone should think both departmentally and organizationally, they should view everything not only from their individual perspective but from the perspective of the CEO or team leader. Full engagement requires empathy with those above, below, and around you. When you are fully engaged, you freely display interest, express concern, seek and offer help, make suggestions, ask questions, probe for details, and congratulate accomplishment. Fully engaged people do not wait for a problem to worsen before they offer help, they volunteer the instant they see the problem. When Bonnie sees Robert fully engaged in the work and the enterprise, she feels motivated to do likewise. In this way, full engagement unites the team and motivates everyone to do their best to solve problems and hit their targets. Everyone wants to be part of a great team, and one fully engaged teammate improves everyone’s game.
RULE 6: Laugh and play.
People often approach the review process with a certain amount of tension and even apprehension, well aware of the fact that, “Hey, this is serious work we’re doing.” Regardless of the seriousness of a problem, however, you tend to solve it more quickly and creatively if you lighten up and find some humor in the situation. While work may offer daunting challenges, it is seldom a matter of life and death. Solutions tend to retreat when you attack them with deadly seriousness but surrender naturally and spontaneously when approached with lighthearted playfulness. People also feel safer in a more lighthearted environment. True to the old stereotype, accountant Robert tends to frown a lot when he sees disappointing numbers, but Bonnie’s infectious laughter always brings a smile to his face. The humor they increasingly share has led to more than a few “Eureka” moments that might never had occurred if they approached every problem as if someone will suffer a loss.
RULE 7: Share leadership.
As Emmett Murphy stressed in his book, “Leadership IQ,” “Every leader works, and every worker leads.” Everyone in the organization should take accountability for modeling the ground rules, regardless of who actually chairs a meeting or runs a department or owns a process. While it may take more time for shy Robert to speak up and share his honest opinions, it comes quite easily to gregarious Bonnie. Certain situations can cause people to ignore or even act contrary to the rules that govern behavior in a transparent organization. Major surprises in the business environment or the competitive arena, unexpected internal crises, or the loss of a key colleague in the midst of a major initiative can instill fear. Nothing threatens transparency more than fear, which always prompts one of three classic responses: freeze, flee, or fight. When the tiger pops out of the jungle, inaction will almost always turn you into tiger food, and running away will only delay the inevitable, so you might as well fight to solve the problem. Fully engaged teammates greatly increase the odds in your favor.
John M. Bernard is the author of “Business at the Speed of NOW: Fire Up Your People, Thrill Your Customers, and Crush Your Competitors.”An experienced executive, consultant, and founder and chairman of Mass Ingenuity, over the last 20 years, he has been fine-tuning a system of management that delivers high levels of employee engagement and business results. Bernard has sat in nearly every seat around the leadership table, from founder/CEO of a start-up firm to senior vice president of a multibillion-dollar financial services company with responsibilities for a workforce of 1,000. His consulting work has spanned the globe in high tech, service, distribution, utilities, banking, insurance, manufacturing, health care, education, and government.