Friday, January 25, 2013

Mind Reading is a Virtue

"I don't understand these charts. I think they're confusing and if I can't understand them, then I'm sure no one else can. Change them," the CEO commanded. Deepening silence became the focus in the overcrowded conference room filled with staff and other support staff.

This was probably the 36th time the charts had been shown. The second-in-command had explained them and interpreted them every time...and asked if anyone had any questions...every time. The response became that he would take more time to explain them next time.

After the meeting broke up, the second confronted the CEO about the wrongness of his statement. "If you had questions about the charts, you could have asked me anytime in the last three years, instead of challenging me in front of everyone else."

"I'm sorry. I've been waiting for awhile now to see if these changed. I was probably wrong to say those things. But I will most likely do it again." And the CEO walked away without really apologizing or committing to doing things differently in the future. Forget continuous improvement in our relationships. (Continuous improvement must only be for 'other people' or processes.)

The biggest issue wasn't the charts, or the CEO probably would have asked questions earlier. The issue was that the CEO had the perception that business results were improving. His pronounced conclusion that it was getting better and it wasn't just based on hope. The charts contradicted him.  The charts showed that there was no statistically significant change; the results over the next few months might just as likely show an adverse indication as a desirable one.

The CEO sets the example of what is acceptable. He or she may set the tone for the rest of the culture. If the CEO was going to chastise anyone who brought bad news, that would cause people to change the way they presented (or didn't present) information that was not positive. This CEO also said it was okay to publicly reprimand someone without ever having had any private conversations. The CEO also indicated that questions were not the responsibility of people receiving information; it was the responsibility of the messenger to guess what questions others might have.

What signals are you sending? What are the implications of how you behave? What expectations are you subtly communicating?Are those expectations you want others to have of you--e.g. you have to read their minds, you have to only report positive results and so on?

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