Curious Communication

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

I have been reading your blog on the recommendation of one of the owners of my company. I am unsure of how to handle this situation. Our company has grown over the past few years and, with that growth, some roles have been re-structured, responsibilities shifted from one person to another. During this time, one of our critical business development processes appears to have shriveled from a lack of attention. It used to be a high priority, driven by the CEO, but now, it is hardly noticed, its momentum slowing to a standstill.

This has caused some concern in middle management, but we are unsure how to approach the CEO without causing controversy. We are not a bunch of whiners, but we think this is important. Somehow, somewhere, the ball got dropped.

Your question leads me to believe that your company culture doesn’t actively create open dialogue, that sometimes agendas, company and personal are driven with only half the story told. There is likely another side to this story. So, how to find this out “without causing controversy.”

Public or private, this conversation has to be held in a safe environment. In 1-1 conversations, I use the following phrase to set up the environment, “I am curious. -followed by the question-.” Curiosity is safe, keeps my agenda out of the explanation so I can truly hear the other side of the story.

A university chancellor, I work with, conducts frequent “brown bag” lunch sessions with students at his campus. The “brown bag” aspect removes the formality, and creates a more candid dialogue.

You might create a small “brown bag” affair, with an intimate group of “curious” managers and invite the CEO. One of my rules is “no surprises,” so the invitation should be clear to the CEO that you are there to find out the current Vision of the Business Development activities of the company. There is likely a reasonable explanation for this shift in focus.

You might find this “brown bag” affair becomes a regular event, once a month, once a quarter, and quite soon, will impact the culture of the company to promote this kind of curious communication.

One thought on “Curious Communication

  1. Dennis

    Wow! This is like the Twilight Zone. I must work with you. 🙂 If you feel like this too, then join the club of corporate America. At times, all companies feel this way. Especially growing companies. An example of this, is the company that I work at. In the beginning, we pushed sales like animals. If they had a pulse, we selling them. However, as of late, things have gotten very slow. This was done purposely, by the owners, for reasons I am not privy to.

    As an entry level employee, this has made me feel as if there is no room for growth, and has made me start exploring other employment options. This is something, that I thought I would never have to do. I thought I would be at my company, until the day I retired. My point is, say something to the CEO, before you get so bitter, you end up resenting your job. Resentful employees, are not lifetime value employees. Anyway, enough out of me, great post, and as always, great response Tom.


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