Company Culture of Truth: How to Get Employees Speaking With Conviction and Honesty

Building a company culture of truth is a key priority for me and something I’m speaking candidly about. This quote summarizes why.

“A great leader will provide a safe environment for people to tell the truth. Without truth, democracy, innovation, and trust are compromised.”

I heard coach George Raveling say this and I immediately bookmarked it. George is famous for more than one reason. He played basketball for Villanova, coached for Washington State, University of Iowa and USC. George had Martin Luther King Jr. give him the original ‘I Have a Dream’ speech and played a part in Michael Jordan signing with Nike, not Adidas. This isn’t his entire story but it may give you confidence that he may know a thing or two about building great teams.

It’s this quote that is motivating me to write this blog post for you.

I believe the most successful relationships in our personal lives are based on truthful and honest conversations.

Why can’t our professional ones be built on the same foundation?

I think they can.

In this blog post, I’m going to share:

  • Stories of great companies and leaders who speak truthfully.
  • Three ways you can start doing so in your company (the one you have today or the one you will build in the future).
  • My real-world example of achieving this.

When I attend events to be a company’s company culture, employee engagement and customer experience keynote speaker, I share examples of how to build and lead a team.

In short, it’s by teaching everyone to speak honestly and with conviction. You may associate these words with,

“Oh, he must be a jerk to work with” or “He must speak too bluntly.” I know myself well and I wouldn’t suggest I do either but I definitely get my point across, respectfully.

I believe I have found a balance between sharing what’s on my mind, giving feedback and building a company culture of truth.

Some leaders and companies have shied away from this because:

  1. Their culture isn’t built for this.
  2. They haven’t hired for this trait.
  3. They tried it before and it failed.

Let’s evaluate each scenario.

Building the Company Culture of Truth

I’ve discovered that companies that have an open and honest company culture through communication have it as a core value.

Netflix is a great example of its company culture being built for these honest conversations. Two of their core values help shape this type of culture and behaviour.

Communication: you listen well and treat people with respect independent of their status or disagreement with you.

Honesty: you are known for candor and directness.

Netflix has a very competitive company culture and not suited for everyone but don’t immediately dismiss this trait of honest for your culture.

Take Zappos as another example. Their company culture is not as strict and, as they put it, “weird.”

One of their core values is, 

“Build open and honest relationships with communication.” 

Whether it’s for your personal relationships at home or with friends, Netflix or Zappos’ honest relationships and communication breed success.

Hiring for Honesty

Once you’ve established that these types of conversations are going to be the bedrock of your company, you must start hiring for this trait.

During the interview process, I will probe for this by asking the candidate the following questions:

What do you think of our interview process so far? I want to hear them critique it so that I can see if they are honest and to generate ideas to improve it.

What is the hardest conversation you’ve had to deliver with a senior ranking team member in a previous organization? I won’t let the candidate get away with a vague answer. I will ask follow-up questions to really understand how they approached the conversation, what obstacles they needed to overcome and more.

What is the hardest conversation you’ve had to deliver to a junior ranking team member? I will pay attention to whether they approached the conversation with a junior ranking person as they did the senior one. For example, were they just as respectful?

Some people are what I refer to as “professional interviewers.” It’s likely that you’ve interviewed someone, hired them then weeks later you realized that they told you everything you wanted to hear in the interview. Avoid this misstep by ensuring you ask plenty of follow up questions to understand if they can speak honestly, respectfully and with conviction. 

Introducing Honest Conversations to Your Company

“All employee surveys are going to be received with names attached.”

This is what I told my management team when I decided against receiving anonymous surveys for our hospitality company.

We debated whether we should move forward with this or not. Many people said,

“Our employees won’t feel comfortable giving feedback like this” and “we will receive fewer responses.”

These reasons are why I wanted to move forward with it. Yes, we did receive fewer surveys but the answers and feedback we collected were more valuable.

This was going to be new to our culture and because we hadn’t built our company to communicate this way from the beginning, we were going to experience a learning curve. I expected and welcomed this challenge.

After we launched the program, we saw a decline in response rates from 75% to nearly 25%. But, as I suspected, the feedback was much more valuable. We gradually increased the response rates after each time we sent out a survey, eventually getting to above 40%.

We were able to show our team members that you can deliver honest feedback and not be punished because of your candor. This was one of the ways that we were able to move the needle to achieve higher response rates.

Remember George Raveling’s quote at the beginning of this blog post?

“A great leader will provide a safe environment for people to tell the truth. Without truth, democracy, innovation, and trust are compromised.”

I was motivated to ensure that our company had a safe environment for people to tell the truth.

RELATED: What is an Employee Advisory Board (EAB)?

Becoming More Honest

Covid-19 has upended our businesses. Some of us will go out of business or be permanently laid off giving us an opportunity to start and lead another company.

We have been given the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to hit the pause button and reevaluate how we want to operate and lead.

I’m recommending that we use this time to create great change for our employees, customers and ourselves.

Are you interested in improving your company culture, employee engagement, and customer experience? If so, my online course, Team Operating System, is your solution.

Click this link to book a call with me directly to learn if the course is right for you and your company