I’ve always been a big proponent of candour in business, because straightforward, frank communication stimulates real debate. And debate is what leads to smart ideas, fast action and good employees fully contributing to the company they work for. Candour is a rarely discussed secret of the most successful businesses. Why Candour Drives Business Success

So why don’t we see more candour in business if it’s got so many advantages? Well, the fact of the matter is we’re socialised from an early age to soften bad news and to be nice about awkward subjects. Not to be troublemakers. Candour unnerves people.

Because we’re conditioned not to speak our minds, it’s much easier not to. When we ‘say it as it is,’ the chances are our words will generate anger, pain, sadness, confusion, resentment; emotions we’re generally not comfortable with. So we find ways to justify our lack of candour because frankly, this makes our lives easier.

But when we eschew candour in order to favour curry with others, the end result is we destroy trust. And in business, the erosion of trust can be fatal.

Candour or Curry Favour?

Whether to speak out and be candid, or seek influence by currying favour has been the subject of much debate since the controversial 120-day travel ban was announced. The ban constituted a seminal challenge to technology companies which rely heavily on immigrants to fill jobs that go unfilled for lack of qualified applicants. This was why 97 technology companies including AppleGoogleFacebook, and Microsoft took the unprecedented step of filing a joint amicus brief challenging the executive order, claiming it "threatens companies' ability to attract talent, business, and investment to the United States." They were joined by more than 40 other companies including Coca-Cola, General Electric, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan, Starbucks. These companies looked at the big picture and made the judgement that it was preferable to speak out against the travel ban than try to ingratiate themselves with the new President.

Under Armour’s CEO, Kevin Plank, tried to curry favour with the President by calling him "a great asset to America." He was forced to retract his statement when his firm's top sponsored athlete, the basketball player Stephen Curry, replied that he would agree if Plank removed the letters "et" from his praise. In this scenario, Curry held all the cards, and was able to hold a company accountable for its politics and stances on social issues.

Under Armour shares fell after the controversy erupted. And the company, which has long been viewed as progressive for its stance on equality and diversity, and its huge investment in rebuilding parts of Baltimore has inflicted damage on its reputation.  This will almost certainly have affected its attempts to position itself to reshape the athletic shoe business which Nike has dominated for decades. Especially as Nike immediately hit back with an ad campaign titled “Equality,” featuring LeBron James, Serena Williams and openly gay soccer player Megan Rapione.

Make Candour Part Of Your Arsenal

Here are five recommendations for business leaders:

1. Focus On The Big Picture

Stay focused on your mission irrespective of any uncertainty surrounding you. Don’t deviate from the core values that define your company for fear of alienating customers. Staying true to your values will deepen the loyalty of customers and employees – the stakeholders who matter most to your business.

2. Build On Your Strengths 

If you haven’t recently completed a SWOT analysis, take a few minutes now. Brainstorm what sets you apart from your competition. If you’re not sure what these unique differentiators are, ask your customers, your employees and your network. Develop a clear vision of what sets your business apart from the competition, and leverage these strengths to gain competitive advantage.

3. Adapt Your Tactics, Not Your Strategy

Earlier I cited the example of how Nike leveraged one of its competitive advantages – its commitment to equality and diversity – to launch a new ad campaign in response to the travel ban. Nike knew perfectly well that Under Armour was trying to reposition itself in the athletic shoe industry, and increase market share. Kevin Plank’s public missteps gave Nike just a golden opportunity which it seized by running the “Diversity” ad campaign. In so doing, Nike stayed true to both its values and did not deviate from a marketing strategy that puts equality and diversity front and centre stage.

4. Encourage Candour In Your Team

To get candour in your company, make it one of your core values. Model it yourself, and then talk about it, praise it and reward it. Make heroes out of staff who demonstrate it. Talk to your staff about how they can be candid, without delivering offense. There’s an art to being candid. Here in the UK, we have a professional duty of candour to encourage our medical and nursing staff to be open and honest when things go wrong.

5. Finally, Don't Abandon Globalisation 

Globalisation is here to stay despite efforts in the US and Europe to halt it. Build your business without backing away from overseas expansion, if this is right for your business. Embrace globalisation by targeting new overseas markets, hiring diverse employees, and building your operations abroad. In so doing prepare for the jobs of the future, and if you’re part of an organisation like the Chamber of Commerce or Institute of Directors or Small Business Association, lobby to encourage them to press government to address the real jobs issue; the skills gap created by the lack of lifelong training and education.

Join The Conversation

Question: How has candour worked to your benefit in business? I love reading your feedback so please do reply in the comments box below.

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I’m Denyse Whillier, a London based business coach and consultant. I guide entrepreneurs from across the globe to achieve profitable, scaleable growth and create businesses that are Built To Succeed™. Built To Succeed™ is my proven success system, developed during my 8 years in the trenches as a CEO, 25 years’ experience at senior leadership and managerial level and training at Cranfield School of Management, the UK’s leading business school. It’s this background that sets me apart and helps my clients to get BIG results.

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