A recent survey of more than 400,000 employees across various industries by the Corporate Executive Board (CEB) showed that “nearly half of executive teams lack the information they need to manage effectively because employees withhold vital input out of fear that doing otherwise will reflect poorly on them. This restricted information flow can cripple a company’s ability to identify and respond to internal and external threats.”

The CEB research found “companies rated by their employees in the top quartile in terms of openness of communication have delivered 10 year Total Shareholder Return (TSR) of 7.9 percent compared with 2.1 percent at other companies. In addition, they also had materially lower levels of observed fraud and misconduct.” Of the 12 key indicators that CEB tracks in their culture diagnostic, “the one that is most strongly correlated with 10-year TSR is employee comfort speaking up. The most important driver of this comfort is a lack of fear of retaliation.”

A culture of fear or weak two-way communications is a major blind spot for many organizations. Many organizations have risk management programs focused on financial and compliance risks. But rarely do companies understand the deep and serious risks of their closed communications cultures. Read more about the research at “Organizational Culture: An Overlooked Internal Risk.”

As I tried to show in the fictional story of Pete Leonard in Moose on the Table: A Novel Approach to Communications @ Work, courageous conversations involve both speaking up and listening. The sad irony is that many managers believe they have an “open door policy,” are approachable, and foster open discussion and debate. But many times they mistake silence and the lack of problems being raised as signs they don’t have big moose (or elephants or 800 pound gorillas) issues in their team or organization. Too often the manager’s aggressive and overbearing style (sometimes wrapped in a velvet fist) is the moose.

Here’s where you can find articles, quizzes, examples, and other resources on dealing with moose-on-the-table and courageous communications:

Authentic Communication: Dealing with Moose-on-the-Table
The moose represents an issue that everyone knows is a problem but isn’t being addressed. People are trying to carry on as if things are normal. By failing to declare the issue, they further empower it.

Moose Track Quiz
Use this short 12-point questionnaire to do some moose hunting.

The Story Behind the Story
How I use the moose-on-the-table metaphor and wrote the fictional Moose on the Table story.

Moose Stories, Examples, and Discussions
See a variety of short examples and readers interactions on dealing with moose from an earlier issue of The Leader Letter.

So You Think You’re a Good Listener
An item excerpted from Harvard Business Review on research showing a big gap between managers’ self-evaluations and colleagues’ assessments of their approachability and openness.

Moose-on-the-Table: How to Have Courageous Conversations Addressing Barriers to Teamwork
Customized and practical half or one-day moose hunting workshops or part of a management team retreat.