Finding Your The Voice

Nov 24, 2010

Back in Ireland, we talk about someone having ‘The Voice‘.What we mean by that is the ability to sing, unaccompanied, with a purity of sound somewhat better than rapturous and only just short of a massed choir of angels (make your own discount for Irish literary liberties).

Most organizations that haven’t yet hit Treadmill have someone, somewhere, that possesses ‘The Voice‘ – in this context, a person whose communications are inherently, naturally, purely in perfect pitch with the organization’s core values.

Note that this isn’t an employee who has simply swallowed the corporate kool-aid – we’re not talking here of someone who robotically parrots the agreed line on everything: instead, The Voice is more like a tuning fork – someone who is so attuned with the organization’s core values that they can intuitively detect something that’s inauthentic or discongruent.

In the early days this is usually the founder-owner (obviously), but for reasons to do with horizons of focus, after breaking through Early Struggle The Voice usually shifts to someone else – and that’s when things get interesting.

When I’m working with an organization, I like to find The Voice if I can. Not because there’s anything magical in it – it’s just another way to short-circuit pattern recognition, another touchstone against which to test emerging ideas – but because an absence of The Voice (i.e., not finding it) or its weakness, (finding it, but in poor shape) is a sure sign of an organization in Whitewater or The Big Rut.

Some interesting things I’ve found out about people with The Voice, two of which I’ve already mentioned:

  1. If you lead your business, division, department, project, group or team, that does not necessarily mean you are its The Voice. You might be, especially in the early days, but later, probably not.
  2. The Voice can appear anywhere in the organization chart. I’ve found them in the C-suite, but I’ve just as often found them in the accounting department, in the warehouse or in the sales team.
  3. If you don’t have one – if there isn’t a The Voice in your business, division, department, project, group or team, then you’re in trouble – see above.
  4. These are great people to run things by as a sounding board – not looking for strategic or tactical feedback, necessarily – just a gut check to see if whatever it is sits right with them.
  5. These are particularly great people to get involved in brainstorming issues around company morale, employee engagement, accountability and ownership. They have a unique insight into what it is about your culture that turns people on (and off).
  6. If you talk with them directly about The Voice thing – in other words, if you try to analyze what it is that makes them so sympatico with the organization’s core values, it’ll go away, at least for a while. Don’t ask me why this happens – I don’t know.
  7. The best The Voice‘s also have a Forrest Gump thing going – they speak truth to power without seemingly knowing, or caring about the consequences. Not aggressively or judgmentally – just because it is what it is.
  8. Having The Voice doesn’t make someone a genius. They may, for example, be able to tell if a certain strategy is congruent with the organization’s core values, but that will in itself say nothing about their ability to actually think strategically.
  9. Having The Voice doesn’t necessarily make someone good, or honest, or kind, or liked, or even a great employee. They may be some or all of these things, or they may not. It seems to be a simple talent for resonating with the organization’s core values that exists independently of other attributes. Of course, if one of your core values is to be good, or honest, or kind, then The Voice may well exhibit those.

Who’s your The Voice?