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“I don’t want any yes men around me. I want everybody to tell me the truth even if it costs them their job” Sam Goldwyn (Hollywood tycoon)
Recent corporate scandals – from Oxfam's misconduct in Haiti to doping at the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), not to mention sexual harassment at Westminster – suggests that speaking up and exposing the truth has never been more of a priority than it is today inside our organizations.
A challenging new research paper fromMegan ReitzandJohn Higginsat Ashridge Executive Education, Hult International Business School, analyses the dynamics behind truth-telling in organizations and offers a series of recommendations:
For individuals wishing to speak up more effectively;
For individuals wishing to enable others to speak up more effectively; and
For organizations wishing to enable speaking truth to power.
We live in what has been called a ‘post-truth’ age, where political and corporate realities are being shaped by emotional appeals from charismatic individuals and dominant leaders, and ‘false news’ can undermine truth that should be grounded in fact and research.
In this age where alternative views can be too easily stifled, it is essential that we champion corporate cultures where individuals are encouraged to voice their ideas, challenge the status quo, and ‘speak truth to power.’ Furthermore, in our fast-changing world, where corporate sustainability depends on innovation, harnessing the ‘collective intelligence’ of employees to foster innovation is an essential process; one that is badly impeded if people only report what they think their senior leaders want to hear.
Reitz and Higgins acknowledge the complexities of truth and power in organizations, explaining how the interplay of five key issues – Conviction, Risk Awareness, Political Awareness, Social Awareness, and Judgement – affect whether people speak up and/or encourage others to feel free to speak up in organizations. They propose strategies and mindful action organizations can take to ensure transparency and improved connection up, down and across their hierarchies.
In this recent TED talk Professor Megan Reitz introduces the research and describes its findings:
Ashridge Executive Education, part of Hult International Business School, helps organisations around the world improve their leadership talent, strategic thinking and organisational culture.
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