‘How was your meal?’, the waiter asked the small table of friends, each of whom had been silently suffering the needless indignity of bad food.
‘Oh, lovely, thank you’, they lied, in unthinking unison, not wanting to ‘make a fuss’.
And there you have it: British business’ biggest challenge.
Because of course the flip side of ‘not wanting to make a fuss’ is a very British tolerance of mediocrity – an epic tragedy which has eaten away at some of our best organisations over the last decade or two.
If you can’t tell a waiter, who you will likely never see again, what you really think of the food he has served (or the way in which he has served it) what hope do you have of delivering honest feedback to your team? And so what hope does your business have of developing a genuine performance culture?
And, lest we forget, in any organisation, a ‘performance culture’ is what makes the difference between your ideas actually seeing the light of day, becoming something real and tangible – and remaining just that, ideas.
This is absolutely not about a return to the bad old days of dictatorial, ‘only tell ‘em when they’ve screwed up’ approach to management. Rather, it’s about developing a willingness to tell people — very simply — when and how they did a great job, and when and how they didn’t.
Honest feedback, good and bad, regularly and frequently, little and often. ‘Nothing that’s said in an appraisal should come as a surprise’, runs the old cliché.
You can ignore it, of course.
You can fail to grasp the nettle.
You can dodge the difficult conversation; kick the can down the road.
And in the short term, there’s no doubt that this will spare the red faces.
It’s just that – in the future – those faces will be redder. Much redder. And there’ll be more of them.
Because one of them will be yours.
Nick Jefferson is a partner with Monticello.