In order for us to get the maximum out of our teams, honest communication is critical. We may believe that we are getting honest feedback but we need to seriously evaluate this belief. This story serves as a caution for those of us who handle teams.
The Army hired a communication consultant to improve communications, specifically between and amongst the junior officers and enlisted personnel.
The consultant asked the Generals how communication was between themselves and their subordinates. Almost as though rehearsed they replied that it was “pretty good.” They all said they had an “Open Door Policy.” They sincerely felt as though they were there for their men. The enlisted men could come in any time and talk about anything.
The consultant then asked the middle echelon officers, the Colonels and Majors, what they thought. The officers said that they also had an Open Door policy for their men and ensured that the policy was kept all the way down the chain of command. They felt things were quite good with senior officers, they were however, “. . . always aware of being diplomatic and respectfully courteous when talking with them.” They all said they were more spontaneously honest with fellow ranking officers.
When the enlisted men were asked what they thought was the communication problem in the military, they said they couldn’t tell their superiors the truth. They were always worried about promotions and pretty much kept their opinions of their sergeants and officers to themselves. The Open Door Policy? Yes, it’s there, but who’s going to tell a Sergeant or a General the truth? Whenever possible, ” . . . you tell them what they want to hear.”
The point of the story is that no matter what the leadership of an organization thinks, those dependent upon management for promotions and survival withhold certain thoughts, the personal-growth feedback, the stuff that really counts.