“Show me a completely smooth operation and I’ll show you someone who’s covering mistakes. Real boats rock.”
Frank Herbert. Chapterhouse: Dune.

Does candor make you squirm?

This is very counter-cultural to our Canadian mindset. Our American neighbours generally do a better job of it and I suspect it has something to do with our UK decency. Not that decency or politeness is a bad thing but it can sure bog down efficiency.

What would your business, family, or church look like if candor was truly valued?

I’ve worked for companies where candor was upheld and those where it was not. The environments without it were always darker and cloudy, full of information withholding and power struggles. We used to call it “job security”. When my Generation X started running things our approach was generally different than the old boys we were taking over from. To give your people the same information it had taken years for you to gather was unforgivable! What if they became more valuable than you?

Maybe I just described the family you grew up in, or the church you attended as a child? I am not trying to be critical as I am a builder by nature, but to build effectively we must be constantly improving outdated methods and asking better questions, even when they hurt.

We took a hard look at business and realized we could be making more money for our company if we shared information with those we were training. Critical information. Showing them HOW we made decisions and how we handled risk and uncertainty. We decided we might actually be more admired if those under us knew we weren’t perfect, as we walked them through how to make critical decisions and sometimes recover from mistakes to still win in the end.

When information is stifled and doled out to gain or retain control, it kills efficiency.

The other side of the keep-the-info-for-yourself card is the way firing was done. In some of the companies an employee who was under performing was simply never told that there was a problem. Six months later the atmosphere around them would be charged with tension and people who wanted to keep their jobs would begin disassociating with the object of wrath, the dead man walking. The conversation by the power brokers would be done behind backs to gather support for their cause and this naturally lead to a general feeling of fear for everyone. And the truth need not apply as gossip tended to create its own reality and everyone involved was just glad it was not them everyone was talking about.

We used to say that “everyone gets on the chopping block sometime” so just keep your head down and kiss up to the bosses and maybe even find someone else to throw under the bus who did something dumber than you did (if you even knew what it was exactly, which is unlikely).

Don’t call them into your office when you don’t like their performance and tell them straight up, giving them clear goals and expectations and consequences if they continue along their present course. Rather talk to everyone else about it and hope they get the memo?

And don’t actually fire a person…. just don’t call them in for work. Let them wonder and keep calling you while you trot out the “There’s nothing for you this week, call back next Monday?” Give them a month or two and they’ll leave and you’ll save yourself the trouble of an honest down to earth ten minute conversation. Who cares if they have a family to feed?

I walked into the shop one day after working out of town for about a year and felt like I walked into a thick cloud. The tension was so thick you could have cut it with a knife. Ever been told by one of your bosses “I’d fire every single person here if I had my way!”? I have. I smiled and said “but then I guess there’d be no one to make any money eh?”

My candor was not always appreciated by the power brokers but my sites made them more money than those without it, so I was allowed to continue. Once every month or so rumours would surface about me or my sites and I would have to play games so we could be left alone and concentrate on what we were doing.

I would walk right into head office and say something like “So I hear I’m being thrown under the bus for _______? The truth is, I wasn’t even at the job I’m being blamed for.” Then I would watch the hasty retreat of those responsible for the rumours and have a laugh about it later with some of the other project managers. We knew whenever another employee was being bad mouthed to us that it was the same when we weren’t around and sooner or later it makes it pretty hard to care anymore.

There were times when they would think my crew was slacking off and I would hear the rumours of it come back to me. This is ironic because if they wanted real information you’d think the best place to get it would maybe be the candid foreman of that crew? Normally someone back at base would be trying to get the attention off of something they screwed up so…. what to do… blame someone who’s not there to defend themselves! Brilliant! And if you ever left the company you were the scapegoat for everything that went wrong that whole year!

This will sound bad, but I’d tried to tell them the truth about the crew’s performance so many times I got tired of it (and believe me that I would give honest feedback if someone wasn’t cutting it), so eventually I would just tell the guys on the way back to town at the end of the week to walk in to the shop and lose their minds on how mean I was and how much yelling I was doing after I’d left, so the company could feel that I was wringing as much effort out of them as possible. Management would be happy and could go back to ignoring us, and we could go back to work without the drama.

What a complete waste of time to have to play games and unintelligently brow beat everyone into submission behind their backs? I actually think it is a lack of courage to not address under performance candidly and honestly. My crews were always happy and we didn’t have what we called “staff infection” on our sites. Why?

We created an atmosphere of candor.

My number two would let me know that so-and-so was under performing or had a terrible attitude and I would try pick a good time that day to have a chat with them. Making the same mistake too many times or being lazy would warrant a casual and personal review. If they didn’t take it to heart I would take the next talk to the next level. If they didn’t respond well to that they went home or to some other project where people were allowed to be lazy or grumpy all the time.

The result? Our jobs made money. Our crews were happy. We shared information and the only sin was covering mistakes. Real boats rock. A mistake on a site with a hundred suites is ok unless you find out at the end when a hundred suites don’t work. Never EVER leave something unfinished. Never EVER cover a mistake without fixing it and learning from it.

How frustrating is it to not even know what the expectations are as an employee? We didn’t come down hard on honest mistakes and we were very verbal when the crew members were doing well or when someone had a better idea than the way we had been doing something. We used to carry walkie talkies around so everyone heard every conversation. Invaluable!

“Hey, suite 126 has a problem….who did this?”
“Jim here. It was me.”
“How many did you do like this?”
“Five, what’s wrong?”
“You must’ve missed the memo but the architect made a change”
“OK, be right down”
“Hey guys it’s Bob, I did three the same way on the fourth. Just to let you know. I’ll fix them.”

Problem solved! No power plays, no drama! Just candid conversations. Real boats rock. If everyone is passing blame your bottom line will suffer, and you’ll lose all the healthy people sooner or later.

In our home the worst thing you can do is lie. It breaks relationships. Never cover up mistakes. No one will come down hard on you for the mistake but try blame shifting or parcelling out misleading info and see what happens?

What if we could dump most of the emotional drama surrounding issues and just walk in, drop the gloves, and deal with the issue before it snowballs? Candor..

Most of the anger comes over time and long periods of frustration. Issues seem to pick up steam because we let things go on too long because we’re simply afraid or don’t know how to handle the conflict? Conflict is life baby and you can’t choose IF you have that awkward conversion but only WHEN. Sooner beats the heck out of later!

How many marriage and families are split up because poor behaviour or unresolved issues are ignored? Real boats rock, but when issues snowball you might as well take a hatchet to the bottom of the boat because that’s what it does to the relationship.

I haven’t talked about church much but “Real boats Rock” is part of the Venue Code. It is not for everyone because it’s uncomfortable at times, but we’re quite up front about it. We don’t withhold information or feedback or try to look like something that we’re not. Some people get offended and leave without a conversation when their personal stuff hits the table. It normally sounds like “I’m right and you’re wrong and God told me ______ so I’m leaving”
It’s not much of a conversation and it wouldn’t work in a family very well if every time someone did something you disagreed with you left without listening to their side of the story or trying to work something out? Sooner or later you’re going to wonder why you don’t experience church community like the early church did in the book of Acts and… ergo… it must be the church’s fault!

I can’t help but ask myself why the power and flexibility of the early church was so potent? What enabled God to explode into the know world in so short a time with the Gospel of the saving power of Jesus?

Watch the interactions between the Apostle Paul and the first believers. He didn’t pull any punches. Now read some of the heavier stuff and ask yourself whether your Canadian decency and carefully manicured image would allow you to stay and become a Jesus follower if he was talking to you?

If we were truly secure in the mercy and forgiveness of our Saviour, couldn’t we create a culture where we were candid and honest about our weaknesses and yet loved and forgave each other anyway? Couldn’t we stick around long enough to see what God would do?

I keep coming back to Candor. What if it was just… Normal?


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