Lack of Candor Is a Killer
Right at the top of the interview with Jack Welch (former Chairman and Chief Executive of GE) at the World Business forum, he spoke about leadership in many ways. The most interesting to me was his conversation about his famous policy of “Rank and Yank.”
When Jack first took over GE in 1981, America was facing high unemployment and high inflation. GE had 178 people in strategic positions and 3 business showing losses for 20 years. Welch became known as “Neutron Jack” because of the tens of thousands of positions he cut. But that single campaign left the company and the remaining employees with a streamlined organization prepared for future growth.
Hard choices and candor were his management tools. Welch is passionate and straightforward about candor in business. “I would call lack of candor the biggest little dirty secret in business, ” Welch says in his book, Winning. It “basically blockes smart ideas, fast action, and good people contributing all the stuff they’ve got. It’s a killer.” Jack’s deifnition of the difference between candor and abrasiveness is the corporate level from which the words are said. From higher up it’s candor, from lower levels it’s called abrasiveness.
I agree with Jack, nothing can break down trust (and build fear) more than lack of candor — inconsistent truth. People get fired when no one has said a word to them about their performance being less than it might be to be “great.” Then they wonder why no one told them the truth.
At GE, Jack held his managers to a policy of Rank and Yank — that every manager had to rank his or her employees and fire the bottom 10% once a year. When speaking on that at the WBF, Jack Welch seemed to have moved from firing those who might improve to retraining them. In this one minute interview, Jack explains who to keep and retrain and who to let go.
Here’s another one-minute interview with Jack on integrity, learning, and mentorship.
At the World Business Forum, Jack was clear and cogent on what makes a winning team. “You get the right players in the right positions and you will win.” Jack spoke of mentors and leaders and managing from the top, at one point delivering my favorite quote of the two-event.
“Fear as a management tool is dead.”
Jack and I are so aligned in that single statement.
How to Build a High Trust Culture
Fear cannot exist in the same space as trust. Here are a few of my best practices on how to wipe fear out of your organization. Ironically, in this grassroots social business world, developing a high trust culture a process that builds its roots from the to.
- Leaders build a values system that resonates with everyone who helps the business thrive. This happens when leaders let go titles to be human, get their hands dirty, and invest their hearts as well as their heads outside of themselves — the higher cause of the business.
- Incorporated core human values into your value proposition. Repeat both the same sentence every time you speak — to every audience.
- Talk, walk, and live the truth online and offline, inside and outside the company. Trust is the hard truth spoken gently. Leaders are charged with defining the reality under which we serve the cause. Make it easy to see, hear, and understand what is valued and what is not.
- Invite ideas and diverse thinking. Explore those ideas and thoughts that are different from our own.
- Celebrate and reward people who live the values as well as the performance goals of the company.
- Invite people outside the business who exemplify the same values and performance ideals to participate, engage in, learn from, and add to the culture and community you’re building.
Watching Jack it’s easy to see that the world is his natural habitat. He lives his values and feels no need to apologize for what he believes. He knows his losses, learns from them, and makes them part of his repertoire of strengths. It’s a irresistible combination of humanity and leadership.
And that sort of candor is easy to trust.
How will you contribute to building a culture of candor and trust in any business or any size?
–ME “Liz” Strauss
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