Speaking ‘Truth to Power’


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There are too many people in organizations that do not tell their bosses and senior management the reality of the situation.

It’s like the story of the emperor’s new clothes. No one would tell the emperor that the beautiful new clothes he’d commissioned didn’t really exist. So the emperor paraded through the streets stark naked until a young child finally told the truth: “But he hasn’t got anything on!”

I’ve noticed a similar pattern of behavior in some of the organizations I work with as a customer experience consultant. People don’t want to do what is right, stand up for what they believe, or tell their superiors the truth about the company. Some fear retaliation, but most just don’t want to “rock the boat” or upset or criticize the boss.

You Can’t Create Change Without Challenging the Status Quo

But to make change in an organization, you’ve got to be willing to speak truth to power. If you don’t, your customer experience will never improve.

For example, I’ve had clients hire my company, Beyond Philosophy, to perform an assessment of their customer experience. Depending on the company, we might use Customer Mirrors to see the experience from the customer’s point of view, or we might use our Naïve to Natural assessment to evaluate the organization’s level of customer centricity. But when the people I’m working with see what we have to say, they’re dismayed. It’s critical! It points out flaws! The CEO might get upset! Yes!!! That’s the whole point of an assessment – to see where you are and how you can improve! Some clients abandon the process at this point, and others ask us to water down our report so as not to ask difficult questions or upset anybody.

But in my opinion, this is the exact opposite of what you should be doing. Pussyfooting around will do absolutely nothing to improve your customer experience.

I like to tell customers that they pay us to tell them their baby is ugly. There’s some truth to that. It can be hard to be the lone voice advocating for change in an organization, and it can be hard to see the flaws in the company you work for day in and day out. That’s why outside consultants can be so valuable – we see things with a fresh set of eyes and bring years of experience in this one aspect of running a successful business.

But when you hire a consultant to give you an honest assessment and then don’t want your superiors to see it, you’re doing your company a disservice. I see this reluctance to speak truth to power as a bigger problem in the UK than in the U.S. I suppose our mums all brought us up to be polite and not cause a fuss, and that seems to have bled over into business culture as well. In the states, corporations seem more political and hierarchical, and therefore more likely to hire consultants to come in and evaluate things and speak the truth.

How to Speak the Truth Diplomatically

A few years ago, we worked with a company called Yorkshire Water that did an excellent job of creating an environment where employees were encouraged to challenge ideas and suggest new ones. What they did was to use non-threatening language such as “I would like to challenge that idea,” which encouraged discussion rather than offending people or making them defensive.

The bottom line is, you can’t make change in an organization by being nice to everybody, just as you can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs. You don’t need to go out and stir up confrontation just for the sport of it. But you can ask tough questions and participate in discussion and debate. If you are not willing to do those things, your organization not make any changes and your customer experience will not improve.

I often say that a customer experience culture must be embraced by the top leadership, and that is true. But if the people down below don’t speak the truth to company leaders, those leaders will lose the opportunity to take their customer experience to a new level.

Are employees in your organization urged to speak their minds, or is everyone afraid to challenge the status quo? What do you think that means for your company’s customer experience? Share your comments in the box below.

Join us for our FREE webinar when Professor Ryan Hamilton and I discuss these key concepts and how they impact on your Customer Experience. Register now for The Intuitive Customer Conversation – Understanding Customer Behavior on Monday 8th May.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Colin Shaw
Colin is an original pioneer of Customer Experience. LinkedIn has recognized Colin as one of the ‘World's Top 150 Business Influencers’ Colin is an official LinkedIn "Top Voice", with over 280,000 followers & 80,000 subscribed to his newsletter 'Why Customers Buy'. Colin's consulting company Beyond Philosophy, was recognized by the Financial Times as ‘one of the leading consultancies’. Colin is the co-host of the highly successful Intuitive Customer podcast, which is rated in the top 2% of podcasts.


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