Integrity of Communication: The Basics
In a new venture environment, every choice sets a tone and initiates a pattern. What is talked about, what is avoided, how tough issues are raised and resolved, all of these decisions plant seeds for your future culture, which will eventually grow into a force beyond easy control. “As a parent, or as an entrepreneur, you begin imprinting your beliefs from Day One, whether you realize it or not,” writes Howard Schultz, founder of Starbucks. “If you have made the mistake of doing business one way for five years, you can’t suddenly impose a layer of different values upon it. By then, the water’s already in the well, and you have to drink it.”2
Instead of directly tackling tough issues, many venture teams surrender to a psychological pressure to do the opposite. A kind of beggar’s mentality takes hold of new founders, who are so grateful for support from partners and investors that they shrink from delivering bad news or raising thorny topics. They want to seem—they want to be—on top of things, so a lot of energy goes into posturing, instead of seeking the truth. The paradoxical result is that the most critical topics are the least likely to see the light of day. As Ken Macher observes, “the thing that people feel most sheepish about bringing up is often the very thing that needs to be discussed.”
Numerous books and careers have been dedicated to the practice of healthy human communication. But a few core principles, outlined below, will determine whether you create early patterns of open communication and plant the seeds of a high-integrity culture.