Jack Welch: “Candor Counts”

Jack Welch: "Candor Counts"

Jack Welch, former Chairman and CEO of General Electric, is famous for being candid and requiring candor from others. During his tenure at GE, as well as during his speaking engagements in retirement, he often says, “candor counts.” So, why do we admire people who speak with candor? . . . and why is candor so important? Because when people speak with candor, we know how we are doing and where we stand with them. Candor causes people to become faster, more creative and more energetic in their work.

What is candor? Candor is the quality of being frank, open and sincere when communicating with other people. Welch calls candor “the biggest dirty little secret in business.” Candor is critical because 1) current and new ideas get debated and improved with greater frequency and intensity; 2) it creates speed because action and decisions happen faster; and 3) it cuts costs because unnecessary meetings, presentations and reports are eliminated in favor of meaningful, “real” discussions.

If candor leads to winning, why is it so rare in business? Because people are socialized from childhood to soften bad news and difficult conversations. To avoid conflict or hurt feelings, it is easier to not say what we really mean and to withhold our comments or criticism. Straight-talk can create awkwardness and strained relationships. Fixing these situations can be emotional and time-consuming. Consequently, most people avoid them. The irony is that a lack of candor to avoid unpleasantness actually erodes trust.

Lack of candor is most common in performance appraisals, discussions and reviews. Top performance must be rewarded and poor performers must be addressed. It is unfair to poor performers to not be 100% candid with them. They need to know what is working and what is not. They need to be able to calibrate themselves against others. When bosses use double-talk, push back on them and ask clarifying questions. The best bosses will be straight with you. If they are not, keep asking.

A lack of candor creates false politeness, organizational boundaries and political maneuvering. Instill candor at every level by praising, rewarding and talking about it. If you use candor, you will be rewarded with it in return. The more bureaucratic, formal or polite an organization, the greater the likelihood that candor is rare within it. If this is the case, remember, candor can be alarming to people. Sometimes it is more appropriate to use behind closed doors than in a large group. Assess the situation, but always be candid.

All contents copyright © 2010, Josh Lowry. All rights reserved.

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