Candor: The Remedy to the Execution Gap

Mike Nabavi   Entrepreneur. Advisor. Investor.

Mike Nabavi

Entrepreneur. Advisor. Investor.

My favorite word these days is candor. Candor is straightforwardness, bluntness, and outspokenness. It is the most important ingredient for execution focused leaders and organizations. It is only with candor that leaders and organizations can have robust dialogue with customers and colleagues in order to be better informed about where the organization should go and how to get there.   

There are five questions that get to the heart of what matters, specifically:

  1. Where are we and where do we want to go? Why?

  2. What’s working and what’s not? How come?

  3. What are we good at and what we are not? How do we know?

  4. What should we keep an eye on and what shouldn’t we worry about? Why?

  5. What should and what can we do about it? How do we know?

The quality of the answers to these questions is elevated with candor. Without candor, people and the entire organization will give shallow answers at every meeting only to get through the process, resulting in the entire organization getting stuck, spinning its wheels and not moving far enough, fast enough.  

My own organization was brought to its knees because one of our senior leaders lacked candor, hiding issues that our investors, partners, and I relied on. I should have dug deeper, after the second time he said “in two weeks”. My own lack of candor of not talking about the situation as it was alienated good, but misinformed employees who felt emotionally obligated and played politics. It was an organizational mess that could have been avoided many times over if there was adequate candor in the dialogues from everyone. The canned lawyers’ recommendations and the organizational change management methodologies reduced candor. In the end, it was candor that kept some of our key employees and partners on side.

This story is not an isolated case; it happens all the time at different degrees. Often, we can’t put our figures on it and reduce it to trust, but I believe it is candor, talking about issues in a straightforward way as we see them. It is impossible to beat around the bush, if you are asked to say it in a straightforward manner. It also requires every individual to think and formulate a professional judgement, which is the number one reason for hiring people in the first place.  

It is only with candor that it is possible to shed light on what is important and how to get the job done. Candor increases the quality of the dialogue and the level of detail in the discussions, ultimately improving execution. When the team performs well they start to trust each other. Nothing builds trust better and faster than winning.   

Based on years of experience as a consultant and leading organizations, I believe the five questions mentioned earlier inject candor into most situations, whether you are asking boards and executives to chart the course for the organization; asking a product manager to find the right product-market fit; or asking the operational team to find a way to increase quality and cut costs at the same time. With some modifications you can ask the same questions from customers. 

The answer to these questions will give you much of the input to draft the vision, mission, SWOT and PEST of any project or company. It will give the organizational change manager much of the input they need for managing the ADKAR methodology. The last question – what should and can we do about it? - will give a draft of a reasonable 1-3 year roadmap, for the business unit or the entire organization, depending who you ask and what you are able to hear directly and between the lines.

Sharing the answers with the respondents, in a number of feedback loops, will galvanize the entire group to pull and push in the same direction. I have helped turn around sub-optimum and sometimes combative relationships by engaging the respondents in a simple iterative process. It should not go unsaid that it is important to recognize that not every person wants to be involved in every aspect of the process and some prefer a succinct one-page PowerPoint summary. Engage people the way they want to be engaged.

The degree of candor throughout the process will determine how committed people are and how hard they will pull and push. You know you have candor when you have robust dialogue. When people care about an issue they speak up. If they don’t care, they don’t say much; if that happens, seriously consider if they are the right fit for your organization. The way you get people to join the dialogue is by asking them the five questions mentioned earlier and then drill down to the details. Be careful not make it sound like a survey or an interview; it needs to feel more like a conversation over a cup of coffee with a new friend.

Once candor becomes part of the culture, people will be asking each other and their direct reports similar questions. People will soon expect that that someone else will ask them similar questions and they want to be ready for it, so they start thinking about the answers ahead of time, also engaging others in similar discussions. The result is more alignment, more commitment, and better execution.  

The most important, or perhaps the only, job for any leader is to execute, through the people in the organization. Candor is the best way to elevate people’s expectations of themselves and an execution focused organization.   

I am always interested in hearing your thoughts. Feel free to add a whole lot of candor. Click the button below or contact me.