Unyoke your staff to speak truth to power

Most workers feel that overpraising a boss
Most workers feel that overpraising a boss produces good job security. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Ndung'u worked in a large Kenyan distribution and logistics firm with major operations in Mombasa, Kisumu, Nairobi, Kampala and Dar es Salaam. The company is known for speed, agility, and on -time delivery.

Ndung'u joined in 2016 following five years with a multinational logistics and delivery conglomerate. He felt leaving and joining a Kenyan-based company would provide more career opportunities with no growth ceiling due to his nationality.

By 2019, Ndung'u transferred from customer care into the strategic planning team. He looked forward to expanding the scope and horizons of both his career and the firm.

However, during the first strategic plan departmental meeting, he noticed that employees were clamouring to praise the ideas of the Head of Department (HoD). Then following the second department meeting, employees heaped tonnes of accolades again onto the Hod.

But Ndung'u realised that the idea were rather shallow, simple, and pedestrian. Then why, he pondered, would the staff label his ideas as "innovative", " creative", and "market-leading potential". Ndung'u never heard such praise in his previous department or prior employer.


As it turned out, the new five-year strategic plan eventually produced by the department and submitted to the senior leadership team and board of directors became widely criticised and condemned. Ndung'u later regretted joining the team and being associated with such low quality outputs and outcomes.

Most of us remember that beloved children's tale The Emperor's New Clothes written by Hans Christian Andersen the famed Danish author. Similar to Ndung'u's experience, the Emperor in the children's story paraded through the Kingdom receiving praise and cheers for his clothing all the while he wore nothing.

The Emperor believed the baseless fake praise and ended up looking silly in the end. Likewise, Ndung'u's boss and the whole department looked foolish for not speaking up honestly and truthfully to their Hod.

How many of us have sat in office meetings when preposterous ideas get put forward by the most senior employee in the room, but no one challenges them?

In such situations, what boards of directors need are staff who are not afraid to "tell truth to power" to management. But who among an organisation's staff are brave enough to hold integrity and speak the truth?

Most workers feel that overpraising a boss produces good job security. But, the whole business suffers.

During our human resources job interviews, we as a business community need to start including interview questions during job screenings: describe for us the last time you disagreed with your boss and how did you approach her or him?

Explain three specific situations in your career where you had to share uncomfortable truths about errant directions taken by your superiors? Would your current colleagues feel that you are extremely agreeable? Which is more important: challenging the status quo or smoothing over relations with colleagues and keep harmony in the workplace.

Let us move to include integrity in our workplaces beyond just a lack of fraud or theft, but also in speaking the truth no matter who hears it.