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.