How to Have Tough Conversations to Improve Your Organization

Among the myriad of things that may be keeping a business leader up at night, very high on the list should be the worry that your smartest people aren’t telling you their best ideas to improve the company. The thought of your team, the folks working in the business every day and know it inside and out, not being willing to share their ideas should be hair-raising to those on the C-Suite. So, why would these employees not feel comfortable sharing their ideas? More importantly, how can company leadership cultivate an environment that encourages employees to have the difficult conversations that bring forward new ideas and constructive criticism? At VP Demand Creation Services, we’ve been working on these types of issues and wanted to share how far we’ve come, and how it’s changed our company culture to encourage the tough conversations.

Culture Starts at the Top

If the C-Suite doesn’t tolerate honest feedback and encourages their managers and employees to bring both new ideas and issues to their attention, then company leaders will never know the good, the bad, and the ugly of what’s happening within the business. That doesn’t mean these new, potentially business-changing ideas and criticisms won’t be brought up; they’ll simply be whispered between employees at the water cooler and in employee-only meetings. In this scenario, new ideas wither and complaints fester with no solutions forthcoming.

Get a Third-Party Involved

At VPDCS, some of our toughest conversations happen at our Quarterly Strategic Planning Sessions. Each quarter, managers and company executives meet up for an afternoon to discuss priorities and projects, which are set every three months with the idea of completing those priorities at the end of the quarter. At these meetings, we have a professional strategy expert help us address issues that inhibit the business. Our facilitator, Paul Mead of Grand Traverse Strategic Partners, helps us have conversations in a constructive manner that give us actionable ways to improve processes, address personnel issues, and keep food from being thrown at each other.

Some of the conversations at these meetings can turn extremely personal. At least, it can sometimes feel that way. And, that’s okay! We have a group of extremely passionate individuals on our team, as I’m sure many of your organizations do. When criticisms and tough questions are raised concerning performance, failures, or missed deadlines, having a professional third-party facilitator to keep the conversation constructive is a key component of how these meetings are managed. You may call this person a referee, but they’re so much more. This individual, if effective, can turn the most trying conversations into some of the biggest opportunities for your business.

How This Has Changed Our Business

In the beginning, these tough conversations only took place in our strategic meetings each quarter. This is probably due to Paul’s presence, as well our CEO ensuring everyone that these meetings were a safe space to voice concerns and share ideas. But after the first year, it became clear that the culture of openness was becoming more prevalent. Employees were less hesitant to wait until the strategic meetings to challenge perceptions, create innovative solutions to company and client problems, and share ideas with management, no matter the topic or potential impact. Because these conversations happen more frequently and more productively, we’re able to improve our business at an exponentially faster rate than before these meetings started taking place.

The reality is that these tough conversations need to happen to improve your organization. What matters is how leadership facilitates these conversations in order to make your employees trust the process and start bringing their ideas to the fore.

VP Demand Creation Services is a marketing execution company based in Traverse City, Michigan, with clients across the United States and Canada. Follow us on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram for more marketing tips and industry news.

Article written by:

Wes Sovis

Business Development Manager