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Speak-Up Culture: Bias Hurdles

TIGNUM Thoughts

February 22nd, 2020
By Jake Marx

Developing a speak-up culture is a nearly omnipresent topic amongst leaders as organizations across the globe seek to empower associates with more autonomy, while encouraging more vulnerability and risk taking. Over the last few months, it's one of the most requested deep dives for our TIGNUM Virtual sessions. Within each of these deep dives, we discuss ownership, specifically the ownership of each person's individual development of Performance Mindset skills to foster this type of environment. However, our most recent session sparked a new discussion around this idea of speaking up and ownership and their effects on company culture.

  • If we are always encouraging people to speak up, don't we ultimately just create a culture where people are always complaining?

It's an interesting and understandable perspective that begs the question, how can we be more clear about what we don't want? No one wants to create an environment of complaining. You can probably recall someone you've worked with who was a habitual complainer. You also probably remember the way that person quickly drained your energy and pulled the team into a vortex of drama. That said, this comment was important because it reveals two biases sometimes carried by leaders that can sabotage the benefits of an autonomous speak-up culture.

BIAS #1 - We can get this done faster if I jump in and solve the problem.

While most leaders don't say this out loud (although, some do), many leaders' actions express this point of view to their teams. Have you ever had a leader who steamrolled their way through a meeting? Maybe you had something important to say, but as the meeting rolled on, you increasingly felt like no one was interested in your opinion. Maybe you even started to articulate something only to have someone jump in and speak over you. How did that feel? Did you feel safe and trusted? Did you feel like it was worth sharing your ideas in this environment? Many leaders do this unintentionally yet consequently condition the team to remain silent.

BIAS #2 - We are going to create a team of complainers.

If this is our mindset, we're in trouble. The objective of encouraging people to speak up is to create psychological safety, eliminate any elephants in the room, and expose unforeseen risks. The support and trust that a leader demonstrates by facilitating teams to openly share challenges, propose ideas, and engage in tough conversations has a multiplier effect on overall performance. This only happens when we show up with our empathy and curiosity dialed up, prepared with the intent to listen and understand while leaving cynicism and judgement at the door. These skills are essential to any leader's repertoire. What if you spent 1 minute before each meeting setting your intentions to exhibit these skills and quickly visualize what it will look like? How much more effective do you think that meeting would be?

It's also important to note that it's nearly impossible to avoid biases when we've had our foot on the gas for 12 weeks straight. As fatigue accumulates, we begin acting like the worst version of ourselves - impatience, cynicism, and drama become harder to overcome.

Leadership requires the constant development of our own Performance Mindset skills. By using every opportunity to practice the tools and strategies you need to keep yourself on track, you will better keep your team on track.

If we say we want a culture where people will speak up, we need to show up at our best, set clear intentions, ask great questions, and listen intently without bias or judgement. This sounds so simple, but doing it is difficult, especially when you're tired and the demands are high. Great leaders consistently bring their Performance Mindset regardless of the external demands.

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