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  • Writer's picturePatrick Novak

Can Leaders find Truth between a Rock and a Hard Place, in 2021?

Trick question! Truth is the only virtue worth finding that gives credibility to leadership and their corporations during a time of crisis. No matter how history remembers 2020, one question will separate wheat from the chaff - how did leaders at our companies respond? What choices did they make, and how did that impact the reputation and livelihoods of those entrusted to their care? To solve this puzzle, let's explore two factors on earning trust.

The first factor is response. What level of resiliency, optimism, fortitude, and decisiveness did leadership demonstrate - vice dictate? Did their words of bravery match their actions, or did they run and hide from their most pressing problems? Whatever action they elected to take, employees were watching diligently and taking notes on who was being real or fake.

The second factor is strategic consistency. Meaning, how rigid or flexible was the organization when they approached new challenges? Did they find ways to prioritize their people, or did messaging fail to match action? Flexibility is important, but not at the expense of core values. Companies that fell short, did so against the painfully obvious fact that they just couldn't be consistent. No matter the justification, there's no tenable position for those who operate diametrically opposed to buzz words plastered on walls, inside dusty hallway frames, or sprinkled throughout uncompelling job descriptions.

It's been a very long time since companies were held to such high standards. The expectation for firms to embrace doing what's right, has never been greater. Employees have become accustomed to their bosses taking up positions congruent with their mission statement, corporate values, or other stated standards of conduct. If they publicly profess one standard, but then act in opposition to what is purported - the company sadly and predictably sees just how quickly they can become unilaterally unsupported.

In general, the trust factor for leadership is low. There are too many examples wherein the specter of misinformation and fake external marketing demands that employees witness corporate values in action, with their own eyes.

Don't say what you believe, show it!

We've all heard the saying "the squeaky wheels gets the grease" to describe how obvious, painful issues are to the external observer of fact. How can companies make their core values visible today, in a way that it is genuine and believable? Here are a few indicators and tangible cues that interested parties should explore prior to engaging with a company (use this "COOL" mnemonic to help).

  • Corporate Revenues: Log into GOVWIN or FPDS-NG, check prime Federal revenues. Are they increasing or decreasing? Does this match messaging that companies push such as "fastest growing" or "industry leading"?

  • Online Presence: Google the company and leadership team. What's the quality of their external messaging? Go past the top search results, for the facts.

  • Old News: Is the company trapped in a time machine, with few press releases and updates to be seen? If you see major gaps, dig in and find out why. Sometimes this means the company is doing great, other times it's a sure sign they're just fake.

  • LinkedIn: This is your best tool. Look at the tenure and records of their business development, proposal management, program management, leadership and owners. Look who remains, and who has resigned. Reach out to as many as possible to evaluate potential partnership or employment. What you may learn can greatly impact your chances for success.

Transparency as a metric for doing what's right.

One of the most significant benefits of social media is increased transparency! Employees in the virtual environment are keen to validate the leadership practices of those in charge. This is a direct result of a new movement in the human consciousness to ensure that those valuable resources are treated with the dignity, respect, and humanity they deserve. To build out what this looks like, let's consider how reputation, retention, recruiting, and reviews all factor in creating a strong foundation for corporate stability.


Echoing throughout every corporate corridor and business community, are the actions a firm takes. It's a direct link to the company's character. These data points inform potential partners, candidates, and the greater corporate landscape on what to expect. Every company makes mistakes, they are run by humans after all (for the time being)! Mistakes don't create "hard places" or "rocks," however. Deliberate, repetitive, intentional, and pervasive leadership behavioral norms do.

Therefore, reputation is an observation of the intentionality, patterns, and reactions to key challenges. This goes back to the truth necessary to overcome adversity. The cornerstone of which is an indelible, un-editable fact of the matter. Fortunately - there are no alternative interpretations, or diversionary tactics that work in these scenarios.

"When a stakeholder hears about your brand for the first time—be they a potential customer, employee, partner, or investor—they will almost always Google your company to learn more." - Sameer Somal


The environment you create (even virtually) determines whether or not employees feel a sense of cooperation and community. During the pandemic unfortunately, many staff found it all too easy to stick around until another job could be found. Some of the traditional pressures at hostile workplaces, dissipated while others became exacerbated. Either way - with much more time to explore other opportunities, toxic firms lost valuable resources during a crisis where continuity is paramount. As this trend continues - the good firms will grow to become great and the rest will just have to wait, until they adequately address all the problems on their plate.

“We’ve noticed that you’re spending more time on LinkedIn lately, so I wanted to talk with you about your career and whether you’re happy here,” - Paul Garland


When it comes to putting your money where your marketing is - bringing the right talent to the team is how you win. It's a firm's superpower and competitive edge. When candidates hunt for jobs, they really are seeking strong leadership and a compelling narrative to contribute to the mission. How firms are able to capture the needs of the workforce and translate them into employee benefits isn't found in a job description. It's discovered in the effectiveness and beliefs of those charged with bringing the talent to the team. If recruiters support the the firm's esprit de corps, they'll always seek to do more. If they view their role as a simple task or a paycheck - that will translate as well. Therefore, the very power of corporate culture has an inalienable and indelible impact of the efficacy of a firm's ability to bring in the right talent.


The final, and often most impactful consideration is what the customers and candidates have to say about the brand. We expect companies to market themselves positively, as they should. Part of showing the world what they do right, is also letting them know what areas are critical to improve, and what their plan is make things better.

Core problems arise when firms first fail to acknowledge they have major issues. These issues are then compounded by denial, distraction, and intentional abdication of a basic and minimum corporate responsibility. The end result in a series of poor leadership decisions is that employees, partners, and businesses alike - all take the time to let others know how good or bad the firm is that they have experience with.

The reason corporate reviews have captured the credible attention of higher education and major business associations - is that they provide a ground level truth that is so very important for the consumer or potential new talent to understand. Through technology, the reviews are then aggregated to provide reliable feedback to the public. This transparency is just as vital for businesses as they seek to improve, as it is for those externally.

"57% of job candidates avoid companies with negative online reviews. It’s logical, right?"

No matter what way you look at it, life is a series of patterns. Throughout these patterns - it's the responsibility of those in charge to seek iterative improvement. If they intentionally fail to address their shortcomings, they become faced with the inconvenient truth that they only have themselves to blame for putting their corporation and employees between a rock (bad decisions), and an unfortunately untenable hard place (failure to fix what's wrong).


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