The article Organizational Culture: An Overlooked Internal Risk in Business Week has useful data about how employees tend to hide bad news:
- Nearly half of executive teams fail to receive negative news that is material to company performance in a timely manner because employees are afraid of being tainted by being the bearer of bad news.
- Only 19 percent of executive teams are always promptly informed of bad news material to company performance.
The article points out that the corporate culture drives this behavior and the employee intent is not likely malicious. Clearly, there is a confirmation bias in most organizations. The article points out that there are likely to be several reasons for this:
- It affirms your preexisting emotions (you wanted the meetings to go well and believe in the strategy)
- it reflects well on your own performance (it’s your job to communicate in a compelling way)
- it is not incorrect (generally speaking, the meetings went very well)
- perhaps you don’t believe your CEO is interested in hearing contrary feedback.
The survey shows that breaking down this communication barrier brings measurable benefits to the organization. The article suggest that managers should encourage employees to speak up, help eliminate the fear of retaliation (through actions, not just words) and educate employees how to speak up / escalate issues constructively.
So what specifically can be done? We can encourage skepticism and questioning in R&D teams. We can reward failure to encourage risk taking and communication of bad news. Furthermore, a questioning environment actually is shown to drive innovation.