Six or seven of us had been called together by the executive staff. We were among the clients and stakeholders being served by their agency, and they wanted to hear from us why things were not going well. Enrollment was down. Community support for the program was low.

What could they do, they asked us, to turn things around.

We were hesitant, of course, to say very much. Nobody likes to be the bearer of hard news.

Finally, I spoke up. “Well, for one thing, you have a staffing problem. You don’t have anyone to do a lot of the basic maintenance tasks, and the people who are supposed to be doing other essential things have to cover for them. For example, the other day, I came in for a stakeholders’ meeting and your Executive Director was too busy doing dishes to attend. While it’s great that the Executive Director is willing to do ‘whatever it takes,’ it’s not the best use of his time.”

Another client at the table then spoke up: “I think,” she said, “that with staff stretched so thin, there’s a morale issue, and the staff’s frustration shows in ways that are sometimes inappropriate. It turns people off.”

That was as far as the feedback session got. For the next half-hour, the executive staff griped at us about how unappreciative we were. How we simply didn’t understand the financial constraints they were under, and how it was the community’s fault, and their clients’ fault, for not providing them the support they needed to thrive.

None of the clients around the table that night remained clients after that.

Moral of this story: Don’t ask the question unless you’re really open to hearing the answer.