My friend, Dr. Tim McCoy, recently shared a funny and insightful story by John Ortberg that illustrated why it’s critical that people tell the truth about significant risks.
Imagine picking your car up from the shop after a routine tune-up, and the technician says, “This car is in great shape. Clearly you have an automotive genius to take great care of your car.” Later that day, your brakes don’t work. You find out you were out of brake fluid. You could have died.
You go back to the shop, and you say, “Why didn’t you tell me?” The technician replies, “Well, I didn’t want you to feel bad. Plus, to be honest, I was afraid you might get upset with me. I want this to be a safe place where you feel loved and accepted.” You’d be furious! You’d say, “I didn’t come here for a little fantasy-based ego boost! When it comes to my car, I want the truth.”
Or imagine going to the doctor’s office for a check-up. The doctor says to you, “You are a magnificent physical specimen. You have the body of an Olympian. You are to be congratulated.” Later that day while climbing the stairs, your heart gives out. You find out later your arteries were so clogged that you were, like, one jelly doughnut away from the grim reaper.
You go back to the doctor and say, “Why didn’t you tell me?” The doctor says, “Well, I knew your body is in worse shape than the Pillsbury doughboy, but if I tell people stuff like that, they get offended. It’s bad for business. They don’t come back. I want this to be a safe place where you feel loved and accepted.” You’d be furious! You’d say to the doctor, “When it comes to my body, I want the truth!”
Obviously, when something matters to us, we do not want illusory comfort based on pain avoidance. We want truth!
Why People Fail To Tell the Truth
Project stakeholders may fail to tell the truth about risks sometimes. Why? Sometimes, it because individuals don’t want to look like they don’t have things under control (often a pride issue). But another reason is that individuals don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings. Either way, when people fail to tell the truth about significant risks, it’s just a matter of time before the risk becomes apparent to everyone.
Individuals gain nothing by hiding the truth. Not only is their reputation harmed, teams and organizations are harmed. Mature stakeholders are the ones who have the courage to tell the truth and help to develop plans to manage the risks.
Question: What steps do you take to encourage transparency and ownership of project risks?