Let’s get naked!
OK, so the title is a shameless way for me to get more hits on the blog now that I’ve decided I have some free time to write again. While I feel guilty for not having more regular articles here, I also don’t want to become one of those people who use their blogs as therapy or for some reason think that most of the people out there really care what they had for dinner (oh wait, that’s twitter). So let’s bust into a new topic related to getting naked in more of a business sense.
You’ve probably heard the term “the naked truth” or “the unvarnished truth”. Basically when someone is using terms like that they are saying that you’re hearing only the truth and it’s not covered by varnish or other things to make it look prettier than it is. Said another way it can also be called transparency.
Imagine you were out buying a used car and you found one that looked great (clean, nice paint, no dents) but when you asked to pop the hood to look at the engine the seller refused. Would you buy the car? I mean why not? It ‘looks great’ doesn’t it? Of course you wouldn’t buy it because you can’t know what’s under the hood and there may be some serious mechanical problems they are obviously trying to hide. The car has a job. It’s likely to include transporting you reliably to places and not just looking pretty in your driveway. But how can you trust that the car is going to get the job done and you’re not getting cheated? Well, by looking under the hood for starters. Also perhaps putting it on a lift as well and looking underneath. What about checking the brakes, taking a test drive/etc? While it’s not likely to be perfect, you can make an informed decision about the risks you are taking if you know the naked truth about the car (its history, maintenance, and issues/etc.).
What it really boils down to is trust. If you worked with a dealer on purchasing one of their cars and they provided a car fax, let you take it for a drive, opened the hood, put it on a lift and walked through all the good, and not so good about the car and overall it was a nice car, you’d feel great about buying it because you could trust that you knew what you were getting. People are good with making informed decisions. It’s when you hide some of the truth (purposeful omission is pretty much like a lie) that you are seeking to fool the buyer into making a bad decision (buying the wrong car for them or paying too much). This will eventually catch up with you as a seller and you won’t see repeat business.
In your professional/work life you and your team are there, like the car, to do a job. While we all may want to be perfect, most rational people would realize we are not. Yet fear of looking less than perfect or fear of exposing your faults and weaknesses (or those of your team) can cause you to be less than truthful or transparent about the performance you are putting forth. When this occurs, people typically either avoid the naked truth or mask it with other objects. You can mask shortcomings of a project or team by blocking the view of the poor performing areas with less meaningful stats instead of the ones that matter, or by drawing attention to only the good parts. While I think it is fine to put your best foot forward when showing the performance of a team or project, if you are trying to avoid telling the whole story then you are not being transparent. Your customer or your boss (or both) and your peers will likely sense this even if they can’t quite see the problem. You may get away with it (perhaps the issue you were hoping to avoid was addressed and fixed before you went to market), you may not. And later when the truth comes out people will wonder how much you knew but didn’t share. This will erode their trust in you or your team. Without that trust, people will be less likely to turn to you to help them solve critical business problems because they can’t be sure that they know what they are getting or how well you will deliver.
So how do you earn that trust? It’s easy! Get naked! Start by learning what’s important to the customer of the product or project or service that you provide. Ask them if they were running it, what would they measure to determine that it was working as intended? What values should the measurements take or in other words, ‘what does good look like’? Ask your manager and any other key stakeholders the same types of questions. Also find out what their concerns are for such a project or service.
Once you understand what good looks like (or great for that matter), here’s where getting naked comes in. Report on all of it and publish it. The good, the bad, and the indifferent. If your job (or the job of your team) is to improve performance on a service or product, then by putting it all out there you are giving all the stakeholders the honest truth. It won’t be perfect, but they will know what they are getting. Also, it puts you into a situation where you can’t skate by. If something isn’t working right, it’s right there in everyone’s face. It will force you to face it and deal with the challenge of correcting the problem. You will also get more input from others on ideas for correction as well as what you can let slide in order to focus additional resources on more of the larger/key issues facing the team.
As you continue to manage the product or project or service, report publically at regular intervals showing performance. As things improve you will earn additional trust. As you earn more trust, people will turn naturally to you and/or your team to solve problems because they are comfortable that with you or your team they will know exactly where they stand and count on things improving or being fixed. This is what drives success. You just have to be willing to put it all out there. Get over the fear of not looking as good as you like and take the energy you would have put into hiding the blemishes and put it into making a product or service that looks good, even when naked.