Be Brutal: Colleagues Will Thank You for The Truth (Eventually)

Be Brutal: Colleagues Will Thank You for The Truth (Eventually)

Human beings are good liars. The practice of fibbing to others is probably as old as language itself. We usually assume that the worst ones are the whoppers – telling your partner you did (when you didn’t), telling your colleague you’re five minutes away (when you’re not), and the old faithful – “oh! I think that went into my spam folder”. Nobody wants to admit they lie, but plenty of studies have shown that almost everybody does. But the most damaging lies aren’t the kind that we sell to others, but the sort we use to mislead ourselves. Especially in business.

The truth hurts…

But the truth is all there is. At Grey Lemon, it’s our job is to get to it. Companies of all shapes and sizes can harbour myths, assumptions and denial. Most are told (and then sustained) through fear, but all are damaging. When it comes to most of the cataclysmic organisational failures of recent history there is always a link. Something stopped leaders from accepting the brutal truth – then acting on it.

Incumbency is one driver of this. Companies that enjoy a strong market position, a recognisable brand and a business model that has yielded a healthy bottom line for years – or decades – causes a culture of complacency. Brutal truths are called out as catastrophising or negative thinking. Consider the mass extinction of retail brands like Kodak and Blockbuster, which famously sat on their hands as others put them out of business. The benefit of hindsight shows that when it came to the big decisions – executives there didn’t catastrophise enough.

Getting brutal

It’s this simple. The more willing your teams are to both tell, and accept, brutal truths, the more resilient, resourceful and effective your business will be. Debunking them is best done in a way that is positive, and generous to someone’s experience. Bitter pills go down better with kindness. If you suspect that your organisation might be leading itself down the garden path, there are a few things to watch out for.

The first is leaders or managers who consistently excuse things as everyone else’s fault. Didn’t win a project…clearly the other team was way cheaper and the client is insane?! Losing employees…well, they weren’t any good anyway. Blame culture is toxic, and until you realise the cause of the outcome you’re excusing, you will never learn. Companies frequently excuse themselves out of business.

Then there’s fostering a culture of responsibility. Quiet acquiescence and obedience might feel like safe places for people to hide, but creating an environment where people are accountable for their decisions – and not automatons working in an unquestioning chain of command – will help teams learn from their mistakes, and feel good about their successes.

Lastly, cut, demote or re-educate these guys: managers who punish team members who question them in public; individuals who are over-focused on optics, or their reputation in the company. Anyone too afraid to use the most important word in business: “no”. When it comes to the truth, be brutal. On yourself and on others. It is the foundation that the strongest strategies are built upon. Here’s a rhyme I’ve just invented that summarises the whole thing. Brutal truth: eternal youth. Tall tale? Doomed to fail.

You know your business.

We help you see it through fresh eyes.


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