My wife and I had to put down our 14-year-old dog Sally last week. Some kind of neurological “event” where she clearly lost motor function and—likely—cognitive function. Maybe a stroke. Don’t know, but what we did know was that it was time.
Given the humane urgency of it all, our grandkids who adored Sally did not have a chance to say goodbye first. The following weekend, they came over to our house. I asked our four-year-old granddaughter if she would like to go out in the backyard to pick up any of Sally’s remaining dog poops (hey, it seemed oddly ceremonial, and it was something she liked to do anyway on better days.). When we finished the task, she leaned against me and in a sad, wistful voice said, “Pops, I kinda miss Sally now.” I gave her a hug and assured her gently: “She misses you, too, but at least now she is in dog heaven chasing rabbits and squirrels — and most importantly, she doesn’t hurt anymore.”
She pulled back a bit, looked up at me and, with a straight face, said, “Well, duh…she’s dead!”
I can’t make this stuff up. Really.
Funny as it may be coming from the mouth of a child, I see examples—good and bad—of such honesty and clarity in business. One of my clients has simply been courageous in telling employees where things stood during the recent economic downturn, and the employees took on the challenge as their own, stirring lots of ideas on generating revenue and cutting costs. By contrast, another executive simply could not see the benefit in laying out to employees the reality of some market threats they faced, so he instead fluffed up their condition by over-playing a few sales they had made and making a lot of some reorganizations. Sadly, the employees were all too aware of the company’s predicament; their trust in management sagged, as did the company’s fortunes.
Today’s well-connected and networked employees are pretty well-informed. Sure, there is some risk in laying out your challenges with them — some may bolt, some may fret — but it is a small risk to take for the benefit of lighting up good people to the cause. Moreover, it is an issue of trust. They can detect — well, poop — pretty quickly.
Do you trust your employees enough to be honest and clear about challenges you face? In turn, do they trust you to tell them the truth?