Build Open and Honest Relationships with Communication

This is the week that I sing a love song to Zappos!  Join me in my journey through the ten core values.

Zappos Core Value #6:  Build Open and Honest Relationships with Communication

Sixth in a series.

Here’s an oldie but goodie:  You start working at a new company and your manager tells you that she has an “open door policy.”  You have to be there a little while before you can determine whether your manager’s door is open just a crack or all the way (and whether that crack is wide enough for you to jam your foot in).

Unfortunately, this reminds me of a particular parenting style I’ve witnessed in which a mother or father tells the kid “you can always talk to me about anything.”  Then, when the time comes, it turns out that this is code for “don’t bother me, kid.”

I find it difficult to understand why a manager wouldn’t want to maintain good communication with her team and why company higher-ups wouldn’t want to keep the lines of communication open with the rank and file.  Sadly, some managers prefer to live in a world of their own making.  “Don’t confuse me with the facts” seems to be the predominant philosophy of these ostriches.  I enjoy playing “let’s pretend” with my three year old grandniece, but this tactic doesn’t work so well in the business world.

It’s no joke that the truth can hurt.  Nevertheless, brutal honesty is just as much the key to a successful relationship between managers and employees as it is between businesses and their customers.  Sometimes I need to be hit right between the eyes by having an employee or customer tell me that I’m being an ass.  I may be stunned at first, but I always end up thanking them for giving me an attitude adjustment upside the head.  If no one tells you, how are you going to know?

I’ll never forget the time when, as a supervisor, one of my team members took offense that I called her out for being a chatterbox.  He was insulted that I would dare make such an accusation.  However, the guy was a gossip, plain and simple.  Being friendly and talkative is surely an asset, but not at the expense of serving our customers.  And not when telling tales about your coworkers seems to be your raison d’être.  I was amazed when, about a year later, he sheepishly admitted to me that I had been right.  He had been so upset by my comments that he thought about them for a good long time and eventually made the necessary changes.

Granted, such a positive outcome doesn’t always occur.  I have a bit of a reputation as a meanie because I like to tell it like it is.  This is not a one-way thing, however.  If I dish it out, I expect to take it, too.  My staff seems to enjoy taking advantage of this opportunity on a regular basis.  Although it’s not always pleasant at the time, I appreciate when my employees “keep it real.”  If I’m starting to micromanage a bit, by all means, tell me to back off.  I have to learn by making mistakes and making corrections, because there is no other way to learn.

One of my pet peeves is upper management that treats employees like mushrooms — keeping them in the dark and feeding them bullshit.  How can you feel a part of things, know where you fit into the big picture, if information is treated as a closely guarded secret?

Arriving at a company that practices open and honest communication can be a little like stepping out of a stifling hot room into the cool, fresh night air.  You just breathe deeply and soak it in.  My staff has the right to expect me to lead them, but it is difficult to do so effectively when I find myself flopping about like a fish.  I enjoy being a leader, but it’s a tough road when you’re heading into the fog.

At companies like Zappos, the open exchange of information makes it possible to lead and actually know where you’re going rather than just guessing.  The holacratic model minimizes the importance of job titles, is committed to the free flow of information throughout the organization and disdains rigid roles in favor of establishing relationships that flex and grow over time.  Sounds like my kind of place!

Can you blame me for wishing I were a Zapponian?

Tomorrow:  Core Value #7 – Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit

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2 thoughts on “Build Open and Honest Relationships with Communication

  1. Great post as always. So often we humans hide- our feelings, our point of view, our selves. Many businesses try to run the same way, but lies, deception and hidden agendas come back home to roost! Praying you find an honorable company to work with.

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