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How to Tell the CEO His Baby Is Ugly

Tuesday, November 12, 2013
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What may be an obvious truth—but often ignored or unaddressed—is at the heart of this blog-a-roo. The famous metaphor of the large pink elephant in a room, taking up ginormous amounts of space, and causing damage every time he moves comes to mind.  

Who tells the CEO or the senior leader their baby is ugly? Unfortunately, having to give this not-so-fun news is a task that OD practitioners often face in their work.  

I once worked with a group from the finance industry in the Middle East on an organization assessment. When the results were analyzed, one major finding was that the leaders rated the organization superior on most of the key organization behaviors. However, those in non-leadership positions rated the organization low to average on the same behaviors. An obvious disconnect on perspectives. 

Consider the consequences 

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Using multi-dimensional data or negative data can be a useful tool in this process. In this way, the data are used in a constructive way. Some of the data will show that things are not going so well, and where change needs to happen. Disregarding the negative information would be like not telling the Emperor he is naked.  

This is also an instance when using ROI methodology can help facilitate tough conversations. The methodology helps pinpoint areas for improvement. The story basically changes from “let’s look at the success we’ve achieved,” to “now we know which areas to change.” By including the negative findings, leaders build credibility and create real opportunities for change. Then, when the positive story emerges, people can break into a cheer—and it’s well worth it. 

Consider the timing 

When looking for outlets for feedback and reporting, consider using the timing and forums of routine organization reports. The content of the communication should be consistent with organization practices. A special communication at an unusual time may create more work than it’s worth.  

Also, when a particular group, such as senior management, regularly receives communication, the information should continue even if the results are not what were desired. If selected results are omitted, it may imply you like living with the elephant.

About the Author
Lizette Zuniga is an organizational development consultant who specializes in measurement and cross-cultural talent development. She holds an M.S. degree in psychology from Georgia State University, and a PhD in leadership and HRD from Barry University. She co-authored the book Measuring the Success of OD with Jack and Patti Phillips, and has published several articles and case studies on needs assessment, ROI, and organizational culture.
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