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Permission to Speak – Leadership Blog – Kelly Vandever Interviews Bob Fritz on Discussing the Undiscussable at Work


Permission to Speak

Leadership Video Blog & Podcast

Hosted by Leadership Communications Expert Kelly Vandever

Permission to Speak is the video blog and podcast that loiters at the intersections of leaders who want their people to speak up, technology that facilitates connections, and results that serve an organization’s higher purpose.

Our guest for this episode:  Bob Fritz

Topics Discussed:

  • Bob was with Eastman Kodak when they developed digital photography and when they resisted the digital photography that they’d developed
  • Discussing the undiscussable examples
  • Why people resist discussing the undiscussable
  • Chris Argyris
  • Organizational defensive routines
  • Examples of middle managers who left Eastman Kodak because their voices weren’t being heard about digital photography and they left and went to places like Apple where they became quite successful
  • It’s a natural human process to resist change so we introduce processes and processes that allow us to have those uncomfortable discussions
  • Leaders can create the kind of environments that make it OK to discuss the undiscussable
  • Alan Mulally, CEO of Ford Example of encouraging employees to bring forward bad news, something previously discouraged in the Ford culture
  • Anne Mulcahy at Xerox, instead of giving her ideas first, she said “I really need to understand your ideas”
  • Rather than winning the argument, make it a goal to understand
  • 2-minute platform, each person gets 2-3 minutes to present their view, everyone had to listen and can only ask clarifying questions.
  • Get agreement up front about how the communications will take place, and holding people to what they agree to
  • Questions leaders can ask instead of “does everyone agree,” is “What’s going to be the most challenging part to execute this plan?” Give people permission to speak up.
  • Another question example, “We’re 6 months into executing the strategic plan, it went horribly wrong. What happened?”  Forces people to look into the areas that did not get openly discussed.
  • One-on-one and peer to peer feedback
  • Those organizations with peer to peer feedback are more productive than those who don’t
  • Think about your thinking – double loop learning, what is it about what I think that makes me think it
  • Feedback needs to be given because we have a genuine compassion for the person to help them get better
  • To receive feedback, ask yourself, “Will I allow myself to be vulnerable to hear what I need to hear? Will I be curious?”
  • Give the feedback in the a way that’s non-judgmental
  • We need to build learning organizations
  • We have to practice and be forgiving
  • When you finally get to the point where you’re willing to discuss the undiscussable, it usually turns out better than you think it will
  • See differences as opportunities for learning
  • Edgar Schein, Humble Inquiry: The Art of Asking Instead of Telling
  • Change our approach, instead of spending our time telling, go in with genuine curiosity and the objective to learn
  • 63% of forecasted gains are achieved on strategy
  • Only 32% of IT projects succeed
  • These ideas that work in business in building relationships work in our personal lives too


Questions Answered:

What can I do as a leader to get my people to speak up and tell me what they really think?

What questions can I ask as a manager to get better information?

What is peer-to-peer feedback and how can I use it to improve productivity at work?

How do I start a discuss the undiscussable?

How do I open a dialog about a subject that’s important, but hard to discuss?

Why won’t people tell me what they really think?

What is a learning organization?
What is double-loop learning?

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