'Shameless honesty' is double-edged sword in business world

cartoon.jpgThat's how folks at DreamHost, an L.A.-based Web-hosting provider, describe their corporate culture. Not only do they want everybody to have a voice (to the point of holding a company-wide election to select a new CEO), but they want those voices to be heard, even if it means people fighting and challenging each other. "When people talk about culture, they often think that culture is about the lunches and that sort of thing," Chief Executive Simon Anderson tells the NYT. "We don't really see culture like that. Culture's a full-contact sport. You're fighting for what you believe in." Well, I'm not sure about that - office democratization sounds great, but it requires maximum maturity and minimal ego. The workplace is simply not like that because people are not like that. Being brutally honest works with for some folks and can be utterly debilitating for others. Besides, making good decisions often comes down learning from the bad decisions you've made over the years, and that requires experience. It's great that the workplace has become more flexible and open to different opinions and approaches, but good management will never be a team sport. From interview:

Q. What's your approach to fostering a culture?


A. What I always say is: "I don't have an open-door policy. I have an open-mind policy." An open door suggests that you're coming to me in my space, whereas an open mind helps you hear things, good or bad, from someone who is an expert. We've also gone through a very democratic process of crystallizing the values that DreamHost has as a company and as a team. For example, everyone has a voice. We also practice shameless honesty, which is a fantastic value used in meetings regularly.

Q. That's an interesting phrase.

A. Our employees came up with it. You can be sitting in a meeting and you can say, "I'm going to be shamelessly honest here." Boom. Now there's respect and it's not rude honesty. It just gives us permission to have those hard conversations and get to a point where the elephant is not in the room. We don't have elephants in the room for very long because someone's going to call it out and say, "Look, I'm not getting this." When people talk about culture, they often think that culture is about the lunches and that sort of thing. We don't really see culture like that. Culture's a full-contact sport. You're fighting for what you believe in. Culture is debate. It's argument. It's messy, and for culture to be strong, people have to be fighting and challenging each other.

Q. Let's talk about hiring. What qualities are you looking for, and what questions do you ask?

A. I like to hire someone who's the sort of person who believes they can come up with solutions to problems. It's definitely not black and white, but I find that if I ask someone about their experiences, and their answers start sounding like, "The world did this to me," or "An outside party did this to me," then that can be a signal that maybe they're not the right candidate. I'd much rather have people who believe that they're empowered to do things.


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Mark Lacter
Mark Lacter created the LA Biz Observed blog in 2006. He posted until the day before his death on Nov. 13, 2013.
 
Mark Lacter, business writer and editor was 59
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