Scenario #1: Sweat
The CEO of your company summons you to her office. “Is this a high performance organization?” she asks.
You start to sweat.
It's a tough question, despite being strongly recommended by a CEO in a recent newspaper interview.
Apart from scaring people, the question is flawed by its yes-no form. It will yield little info.
You wonder what the CEO’s really looking for. Maybe she’s implying this could be a high-performing organization—if only it weren’t for you.
How to answer???
“Yes!” you say, going with enthusiasm, while ignoring the fact that many of the company’s products don’t work, smell bad, and appear to be mildly carcinogenic.
Wrong answer. The CEO, it turns out, was looking for honesty.
Scenario #2: No sweat.
The other day I heard about a newly hired, 20-something-year-old at a large insurance company who, during her first week, did something fearless.
She called up the CEO and asked if she could stop by. Said she wanted to get a feel for the company, and where it was going.
Intrigued, the CEO said yes.
But her supervisor didn't know about the meeting till later. He was furious. "I've been at this company for over 10 years," he said. "I've never even met the CEO."
You could argue that the new hire was naive, that she learned an important lesson about org. politics and the chain of command, and that she'll never do anything like this again.
Fine, but what's the cost to the organization?
The cost is fear.
Years ago, consultant Tom Peters popularized "management by walking around." He urged managers to get out of the office, ask questions, and find out what's really going on.
Great advice, except for one thing: Most people, unlike that new hire, are reluctant to speak truth to power.
Tip: Don’t underestimate fear.
Before you ask a tough question, lessen the fear. Disclose something personal, disclose a vulnerability, or, at the very least—this is key—disclose why you're asking.
© Copyright 2011 Paul Hellman. All rights reserved.
The author is solely responsible for the content.
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Meet the Jobs Docs
Patricia Hunt Sinacole is president of First Beacon Group LLC, a human resources consulting firm in Hopkinton. She works with clients across many industries including technology, biotech and medical devices, financial services, and healthcare, and has over 20 years of human resources experience.
Elaine Varelas is managing partner at Keystone Partners, a career management firm in Boston and serves on the board of Career Partners International.
Cindy Atoji Keene is a freelance journalist with more than 25 years experience. E-mail her directly here.
Peter Post is the author of "The Etiquette Advantage in Business." Email questions about business etiquette to him directly here.
Stu Coleman, a partner and general manager at WinterWyman, manages the firm's Financial Contracting division, and provides strategic staffing services to Boston-area organizations needing Accounting and Finance workforce solutions and contract talent.
Tracy Cashman is a partner and the general manager of the Information Technology search division at WinterWyman. She has 20 years of experience partnering with clients in the Boston area to conduct technology searches in a wide variety of industries and technology.
Paul Hellman is the founder of Express Potential, which specializes in executive communication skills. He consults and speaks internationally on how to capture attention & influence others. Email him directly here.