Hard conversations

An interesting link from Reforming project management: Harvard Business school writes about Morning meetings – a daily meetup where leaders meet to get in sync. The essay is ok, but one passage caught my eye:

In contrast, two qualities characterize high-functioning leadership teams: (1) hard conversations happen—difficult issues move quickly from people’s heads to the conference table; (2) accountability is shared—individuals on the top team feel a responsibility to the organization as a whole, not just for their piece of the action.

What a great goal – hard conversations happen. I can’t tell you how many teams are stuck in the 5th level of hell for the single reason that leaders never let hard conversation happen. And the kicker is accountability – nothing more fun to work in a team culture that’s proactively accountable, with everyone taking their fair share of heat when things go wrong – suddenly people spend more time working instead pointing fingers.

Now if only someone at Harvard would write an essay on how to make hard conversations and accountability happen :)

6 Responses to “Hard conversations”

  1. Ryan Brock

    I work for a medium-sized, upcoming wholesale company doing product photography and package artwork. I work independently under a single art director — and since the company is somewhat small (but growing), the art director and I ARE the art department. There is a large snowball pattern of pointing fingers when things go wrong: shipments delayed, artwork does not match dimensions, products don’t sell as well as projected, etc.

    One way or another, the big boys (VP, CEO, President, Marketing Manager) always drop the weight of the world on the Art Director’s (my boss) shoulders. If a shipment is delayed, the finger is pointed – “YOU SHOULD HAVE GOTTEN THE ARTWORK TO THEM EARLIER!”. Artwork does not match dimensions of box (common) – “YOU SHOULD TAKE MORE TIME MAKING SURE EVERY DETAIL IS CORRECT!”…and so on.

    I don’t mean to glamorize myself or the work that I do, but I am VERY meticulous with my work. When dimensions are wrong, that is the factory’s fault for sending them wrong – for some reason it does happen often. To make this whole thing a bit less long-winded, the superiors at my job would rather scream and point the finger rather than take accountability to say, “Oh, that was a mistake. Let’s see how we can avoid this next time.”

    There is a lot more to the situation in my workplace, being that they rush every product out the door when dollar signs start to appear…leaving less time for artwork and review. I just sometimes wish some of the big guys would spend a bit more time trying to streamline tasks, through “hard conversation”, so that less time is spent pointing the finger.

    Man, that was long. Sorry.

  2. Vineet Reynolds

    I remember having just one hard conversation. It went on for hours on end. Bugs and issues started tumbling out of cupboards. Never was a day more productive and satisfying than that.
    But I must add one thing, following up hard conversations with actions and tasks to set things right is equally important. It defines company culture; you can have these conversations about how things have to bettered, but if no one gets better the next day, it’s all hogwash. Seen it happen. Lucky to have come out of it.

  3. Scott (admin)

    Vineet: Right on. But if there are hard conversations about bugs or issues, they’re are probably hard conversations about actions that never get taken.

    I think the burden for all this always falls on the most senior person in the room – they define for everyone else what behavior is ok, and what behavior isn’t. If they’re cool with being challenged, and respond well to hard conversations, everyone else will tend to follow. (And of course the opposite, sadly, is also true).

  4. pff

    wellll. my boss is a hyper-critical micro-manager, willing to blame anyone in the room for anything that’s bothering him.

    the notion that i am not taking enough criticism and that is why i hate my job is plain laughable.

  5. Disorderly

    Accountability does not happen with psychopaths and narcissists; the personality types likely to find their way up to management positions because of their competitiveness, ruthlessness, conning, and manipulative abilities. Humanity needs psychopath awareness. It’s about time.


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