Don’t Shoot the Messenger!

In 1989, the 101st Congress passed what is popularly called the Whistleblower Protection Act, designed to encourage federal workers to report violations of law or regulations, gross mismanagement, waste of funds, abuse of authority, or dangers to health or safety in the federal agencies in which they work. The act protects whistleblowers against retaliation for reporting problems and misconduct.

Remember that old saying Don’t shoot the messenger? Well, the Whistleblower Protection Act is an attempt to keep public-sector messengers from being shot. Its spirit and intention are well worth emulating in the private sector. You can never know enough about your business, and there is no such thing as knowing too much about your business. All information and insight is good news, especially when it is bad news. Because the sooner you know what’s going wrong, the sooner you can act to fix it or at least to contain the damage.

You should always invite comments from employees, vendors, customers, friends—everyone who has any contact with your company. Make it clear that you’re not fishing for compliments, and be sure the other person knows how much you value his assessment, insight, and opinion. “Ralph, how can we deliver better service to you? I value your opinion. I need your insight. What’s working for you and what isn’t?” And when you get a frank response—maybe a harsher, more critical response than you bargained for—suppress your natural urge to respond defensively (“That’s unfair!”) or with denial (“Nobody’s every complained about that before.”). Instead, convey heartfelt thanks and ask for more: “Ralph, thank you for being so honest and direct about this. Please give me all the gory details. I want to fix this!”

Believe it or not, it’s pretty hard to get people to criticize or complain to you about something for which you are responsible. (“The Thanksgiving turkey you spent all day preparing tasted just like cardboard, Mom.”) While the last thing you want to do is create a workplace in which people habitually grumble, gripe, and whine, you do want to move heaven and earth to create a culture of kindness, transparency, respect, and—why not use the L-word?—love.

Fortunately, creating such a culture is both joyful and rewarding. When it comes to kindness, it is simply more fun to be kind than it is to be mean. Kindness means treating people as colleagues, rather than as tools to be used or as dogs to be scolded or as potential threats to one’s god complex.

Adapted from Fran Tarkenton’s book, The Power of Failure: Succeeding in the Age of Innovation

Fran Tarkenton

About Fran Tarkenton

Fran Tarkenton is an entrepreneur and NFL Hall of Famer, and the founder of GoSmallBiz.com and Tarkenton Companies. With a passion for small business, he’s started more than 20 businesses during and after his NFL career. Fran is a small business coach for entrepreneurs and business owners, providing advice and guidance through sites such as GoSmallBiz.com, SmallBizClub.com, and more. He has written about business issues in the Wall Street Journal, U.S. New and World Report, and USA Today, along with regular appearances on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC. You can follow Fran on Twitter @Fran_Tarkenton.