Filtered Water Is Good; Filtered Information, Not So Much

Senior executives often only receive filtered opinions and feedback from the people below them creating disconnects that undermine collaboration and business execution. How can senior executives overcome this problem?

A captain sees the world differently from the bridge than what the folks in the engine room see and experience. If you’ve ever felt that things at your company just aren’t quite right but you can’t put your finger on what precisely those things are, then you’re in the same boat (pardon the pun).


The problem is that when you occupy the lofty perch of senior management, you only receive filtered opinions and feedback from the people below you. That disconnect between you and the operating levels of the company undermines collaboration and business execution.

How can you overcome this problem? Let’s look at what one client did quite successfully earlier this year.

A senior executive recognized that she didn’t have–and couldn’t get–insight into the root causes impeding business execution and collaboration in her company. She sought assistance to objectively assess the situation. She knew that an independent third party has a real advantage in conducting this type of assessment as employees feel they can speak freely and, perhaps for the first time, really be heard without having their message filtered or distorted by their leadership.

We interviewed 25 senior executives and conducted an electronic survey of nearly 1000 additional people (over 600 participated in the online survey!). The findings were confirming, affirming and a bit surprising all at the same time, and enabled us to:

• Identify critical factors affecting collaboration and business execution

• Rate the organization’s current effectiveness with respect to each critical factor, and indicate where the organization should be in terms of a desired rating


• Identify priorities for follow-up

As a result of this assessment, it was possible to lay out a pragmatic plan to tackle critical issues based on priority and organizational impact.

An assessment of business execution and collaboration is an advantageous starting point from which to understand organizational disconnects. Critical factors in this type of analysis often look at:

• Technology

• Business process maturity and efficacy

• People versus process dependencies


• Trust

• Leadership

• Communication

• Decision-making

• Employee retention

Trying to identify these issues with internal resources is fraught with peril. The “shoot the messenger problem,” combined with the natural human desire for psychological safety, practically ensures that senior management won’t get the real story–until it’s too late, and everyone can read about it in the Wall Street Journal. A third-party is key to helping you get accurate information from the engine room to the bridge.


This blog post was co-authored by Dave Gardner and Daniel Markovitz. Dave is a management consultant, speaker and blogger who resides in Silicon Valley. His firm helps clients eliminate business execution issues that threaten profitable and sustainable growth. He can be reached through his website at, or via Twitter @Gardner_Dave. Daniel Markovitz is a consultant who helps companies radically improve individual and team performance. He teaches at the Stanford University Continuing Studies Program and the Ohio State University’s Fisher School of Business. He can be reached via his website at, or via Twitter @TimeBack.


About the author

Dave Gardner is a management consultant, speaker, blogger and author based in Silicon Valley. He's been in the front row for the birth and evolution of Silicon Valley, the innovation capital of the world