, , , , ,

Bosses, Do you know what’s really going on in your organizations? According to the Speak Truth to Power Survey I fielded last month, no. You’re often not hearing what your people really think.

According to my unscientific-but-interesting survey, almost half your potential workforce (48%) indicated they are actively withholding their truth in the workplace more than 25% of the time. But guess what? The Corporate Executive Board found scientific corollary datathat’s even scarier.

  • Companies whose employees were afraid to speak up suffered 5.8% lower total shareholder return than those with cultures that encouraged open communications.
  • Where fear was more prevalent, fraud and misconduct were higher.
  • 59% of companies surveyed said that $1 million worth of harm would have to be at stake for employees to share honest negative feedback (29% said $10 million).

How vulnerable are you?

Now we all know that everything on the top of everyone’s mind doesn’t really belong in the workplace, but the numbers indicate there’s a disconnect big enough for ethical and lost opportunity trucks to drive through. This is reinforced by the finding that people reported in my survey that they were penalized more often for speaking their truth in situations that were ethical in nature (42%) than in situations which were bottom line in nature (57%). All this leaves you and your organization vulnerable in ways it doesn’t have to be.

Many bosses and execs say they want people to speak up and tell them what’s really going on. They admire people who speak their truth, and yet the stats indicate that simply making that request isn’t going to get you the honesty and information you’re asking for, especially if your corporate culture is steeped in fear.

If you’re looking for reasons employee loyalty is down and 33% of the workforce plans to switch jobs next year, here’s a good place to start. Why start with truth-telling? Many people anecdotally reported quitting jobs or choosing silence when they felt their truth was unwelcome. But this is beyond even revenue performance, job performance and job satisfaction, going straight to your employees’ sense of self. Many reported that their inability to be true to themselves in a work environment left them with regret (75%). This issue runs personal and deep for your employees.

One other factor you should look at carefully. Women in my survey report being rewarded less frequently than men for speaking their truth (68% for women and 82% for men). This is an unscientific finding, but worth exploring. Could your truth-telling cultural weaknesses be undermining your efforts to support women’s leadership programs? I don’t know, but if I were you I’d take a look.

Your own worst enemy

Why aren’t people telling you their truth? They’re afraid – of you. Eighty two percent of them report having been penalized for speaking their truth in the past. Even if you’re a good boss, and your corporate culture doesn’t habitually penalize people for speaking up, you’re probably working against toxic cultures many employees have been in before where they experienced penalties as severe as job loss. And according to the Corporate Executive Board you’re working against a general sense of paranoia brought on by the recession. The point is that if you want to find out what’s really going on in your company, if you want people to speak up honestly, it’s up to you to overtly create a corporate culture where people can safely change their behavior now.

And you may be your own worst enemy because people report that the single biggest reason they were penalized is because the boss’ ego got in the way. Again, this puts the onus on you to demonstrate that the managers and leaders in your organization have their ego in the proper proportion when it comes to truth-telling. A tall order, but that’s why they call it work.

There’s plenty of hope

Despite the dismal number of people who report being penalized for truth-telling, almost as many (72%) report having been rewarded. Speaking your truth is a learnable skill. Find out if the leaders in your company are good truth-tellers. Do they know how to speak their own truth effectively? Do they know to hear truth well, when it’s spoken to them? Do you? Fix it for the leaders and it will flow down pretty quickly. Speaking Your Truth to Power is a core leadership and professional development skill. Since it goes to the core of who we are as individuals, it’s effects run deeper than knowing how to run a good meeting or negotiate a contract. Give this skill to your leaders. That’s the shortest route to getting it spread out more widely to your employee base.

Speaking your truth is a key to getting ahead no matter what level you’re at, and it is possible to learn how to do it well. Here are three things you can do right now to shift the communications culture of your teams:

  1. Learn to speak YOUR truth to power. It will help you personally in your career and model what open communication looks like for your team.
  2. Look at every business challenge as an opportunity to find the answer where you don’t expect it. This will make you more curious and open, and you just might find some surprises.
  3. Learn to make every potentially Right vs. Wrong discussion a Right vs. Right discussion. This way everyone (including you) feels less vulnerable when speaking their truth.

Get your whole team on board and take the Speak Your Truth to Power eCourse (Launching Oct 24) together. Interested in a volume discount to send all your leaders to this class?Contact me.

I’m interested to know what you think and what your experience has been as a boss when speaking truth to power or having it spoken to you. Please leave your comments below and share your experience. Ladies, we’re also having a special dialogue on this subject on theInPower Women LinkedIn group – please join us there.

 Speak Your Truth to Power eCourse 

Launching: October 24

Related posts and resources.

This post originally appeared on the Reclaiming Leadership blog. Sign up for my weekly newsletter, InPower Insights, for power-coaching advice, InPower surfing suggestions and recent blog posts.

Dana Theus