Monday, May 12, 2014

Assessing Your Willingness for Dialogue

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Four weeks ago, in On the Right Track, I wrote about some of the things I'm doing in my organization to diffuse leadership and decision-making across our hierarchical levels. It was partially inspired by the CEO-level discussion facilitated by Humanize authors Jamie Notter and Maddie Grant at a recent WSAE meeting.

But that wasn't the only thing that grew out of that meeting.

In addition to the CEO discussion, there was a general session for all, where we each completed an assessment based on four of the cultural categories that are promoted in Humanize--decentralization, transparency, collaboration and experimentation. Not only did I complete this assessment, but two of my staff people who were in attendance completed it, too. And shortly after the meeting, the three of us sat down to compare notes and talk about what the assessment revealed to each of us.

Some leaders might think such a conversation risky. What, after all, would I do if they said something negative about the organization? Or about me as its leader? But I never hesitated. I was much more curious than fearful about what they might say. In completing the assessment, I had been as honest as possible, giving both high and low marks where they were warranted, and I expected no less from these individuals. To me, our conversation would be less about where they thought things were strong and weak, and more about where we all agreed or disagreed that things were strong or weak.

And that's exactly the kind of conversation we had. One of the most interesting parts had to do the organization's comfort level with experimentation and risk-taking. There were several statements on the assessment regarding this. Statements that you had to agree or disagree with. Statement like:

We love to beta test ideas both internally and externally.


Managers will back their employees up when they want to try a new way of doing something.


Our organization is comfortable with the approach of "fail fast, fail smart.

All three of us agreed that these were concepts closely associated with our success. Indeed, they were similar to several of the behavior descriptions that we had included on our own values statement. But we also agreed that they were a work-in-progress. That, as an organization, we were still looking for ways to make them part of our regular habits.

And what immediately became apparent to me was that this conversation was a crucial part of that very process of figuring things out. By being open to the dialogue, and by honestly engaging with members of my team on where things stood and where we wanted them to go, I had a golden opportunity to reinforce behaviors associated with our values, and speak out against ones that weren't.

Right or wrong, any assessment that gets people talking about the things that matter in an organization is worth doing.

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This post was written by Eric Lanke, an association executive, blogger and author. For more information, visit, follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

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