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February 2020
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TD Magazine

Be Honest

Fit to Compete: Why Honest Conversations about Your Company's Capabilities Are the Key to a Winning Strategy

By Michael Beer
Harvard Business Review Press, 275 pp., $32

"Honesty is the best policy"—that summarizes exactly what Beer conveys in Fit to Compete. A Harvard Business School professor and businessman with 30 years of corporate experience, Beer shares his process for having honest conversations within organizations.

His book is broken into three main parts: "Power of Honest Conversations," "Honest Conversations in Action," and "What If Honest Conversations Were the Norm?"

I found part 1 to be the most significant, because Beer introduces the Strategic Fitness Process (SFP), which is his method for enabling honest, collective, and public conversations in organizations. The entire method is based on the idea that if senior leaders and managers can learn to have truly honest conversations with their teams, their companies can be transformed. Transformation to honesty will take patience and commitment, and Beer shares his steps for leading these conversations: Focus on the issues that matter most, create a safe space to share whole truths, diagnose and develop a plan, make everyone accountable, and then repeat the process periodically.

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In part 2, he first reflects on companies that have experienced great success using SFP. He explains how SFP helped managers evolve their communications with their teams.

This section also includes a discussion about the "silent killers," which Beer says will make organizations unfit to perform. Examples are conflicting priorities, unclear values, ineffective leadership, inadequate leadership development, and silence. He shares how successful organizations avoided these pitfalls.

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In part 3, Beer addresses how honest conversations are not yet common in companies. SFP adoption must start at the top. "Making honest conversations the norm demands courageous leaders with distinctive human sensibilities," he writes.

Leaders must have the courage to be vulnerable and hear the whole truth about their organizations and their own leadership. They must inspire trust, embrace feedback, confront the difficult problems, and become vulnerable. Only then will they have truly honest conversations.

In this book, Beer provides the "antidote to silence" in companies. Anyone who has been a people manager knows that communication is what many people seek out and is often the hardest to deliver on. Following Beer's process will push you in the right direction toward honest conversations.

About the Author

Tara Gilmore is a training manager at the Sheraton Vistana Resort in Orlando, Florida.

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