Why honesty really is the best policy

Honesty is talked about a lot in business. 

You want your business to grow, to be successful – whether it’s going to stay a local business or you’re going global, so here’s why you need to keep honesty as a value close to your heart and demonstrate it every day.

Honesty is the best policy even with difficult conversations

Honesty is something that means a great deal to me. I’m very trusting and I don’t expect people to take advantage of that. But of course people have! It’s sometimes hurtful, always disappointing. And I know I’m not alone – I hear about it a lot!

Regardless, honesty is something I believe in.

It’s one of our brand values – it just had to be!

I’m sure it’s something you believe in too. Right?

And you like to think that most of the people around you are honest.

Honesty is a habit. Dishonesty becomes one too.

I’ve seen and heard from close friends, people in my network and clients about acts of dishonesty in the workplace – here are a selection of them:

  • Over-promising to prospective clients by a sales team that left the service delivery team with unachievable objectives and no choice but to disappoint their customer.
  • A mistake made by a director that had to be covered up by their team so that the client and the rest of the company didn’t find out.
  • A senior manager being warned by an HR Manager that one of their colleagues was talking negatively about them to the Leadership team, telling half-truths and down right lies.
  • A non-board director reporting to the board about a project’s progress but the report only contained the good news – the targets that have been hit, the number of customer using it, not that it had to go to market with minimum marketable features, or the number of customer and employee complaints about it.
  • A CEO in a board meeting passing the blame for not completing an action on to a Manager not present and not involved in that stage of the project, who was later accosted and berated by another director about it!
  • A business owner saying yes to a project outside of their expertise, knowing that they’ll struggle to do a good job for the client that’s relying on that work for their future business success.
  • An employee padding out their expenses.
  • A business owner telling their Marketing Manager to cut costs, but refusing to say by what amount because it would show how much trouble the company was in financially.
  • A manager not having a difficult conversation with a direct report because it might upset them, letting the situation run on whilst the rest of the team got more frustrated, less engaged, less, productive and lost respect for their manager.
  • A project team agreeing with everything each other says, even though privately they think that some of the ideas they discussed were crap.
  • An employee engagement survey that’s always answered positively because the way it’s managed means there’s repercussions for anyone who’s manager gets less than an average of 4.0 – “Answer 5 to stay alive!”

This isn’t about being all judgemental and holier-than-thou!

It’s about seeing and recognising what’s going on for what it really is.

Most of the companies that the examples above are from had honesty, or something similar, as a brand value or as part of their code of conduct.

Consider the impact that these had on the people involved

Dr Robert Cialdini, author of ‘Pre-Suasion‘, found that dishonesty can create significant moral stress. Lying and cheating actually lead to poor performance. 

In fact, the results of Cialdini’s research found that moral stress is linked to employee fatigue and burnout. It’s caused when your ethical values are in conflict with those of the business your work for.

If your team is affected by moral stress they’ll leave. You’ll find yourself with the people that are OK with dishonesty and are likely in the habit of cheating, lying and engaging in unethical behaviour. They’re less loyal to the business and will look for opportunities to benefit themselves.

If your clients or customers know that they’re not being dealt with in an honest manner, if they feel they’re being let down, they won’t be back.

So now you’ve lost good team members and customers – possibly even reputation.

Then there’s the effect on your bottom line. How much does it cost you to replace the staff that left? To recruit new customers? To put extra checks in place to make sure no one’s taking advantage of the business?

Honesty is the best policy even with difficult conversations
So how can you stop this from happening?

As a leader you need to demonstrate the importance of honesty.

Create a culture where employees know the difference between honesty and dishonesty, where they’re empowered to speak out and give their opinion, and thanked for doing so.

This can take the form of an open door policy, asking for feedback about peers, supervisors, managers and leadership, being open and honest with your team about why you’ve made a decision that impacts the company.

Make sure you’re getting a true picture of what’s going on, not just seeing what you wish to see – or what others might wish you to see.

This doesn’t mean that you have to be a control freak!

Have a group of people that you trust. Ask them their opinion. Disagreement and a little bit of conflict are a good thing!

Think about what causes dishonesty

The belief that they won’t get caught so it doesn’t matter.

There’s more to gain than there is to lose.

Fear. Ambition. Loyalty. Shame. Greed. Desperation. Jealousy.

Fear is a big one. It comes into play for a lot of reasons.  Fear of missing out. Fear of someone or something that person might do. Fear of what might happen. There’s more – you get where I’m going with this.

Fear can be tied to lots of the others too – shame: fear of being found out; ambition: fear of not being good enough; loyalty: fear of the consequences of letting someone down; desperation: fear of what will happen; jealousy: fear of loss or missing out.

Fear isn’t the only thing driving dishonesty in the workplace but it’s one of the main causes.

Whenever we feel threatened we have a fight or flight response. That threat can be something big – like losing your job. Or it could be something smaller – like upsetting someone, getting through the emotional discomfort and the fallout.

Create a fearless culture

That works both ways!

A culture without fear. A culture where people are prepared to be fearless.

Lead the way – ensure there’s open communication, give and take regular feedback, respect those you work with and admit when you’re wrong.

Just to be clear, regular feedback = at least monthly. And take it when it’s offered.

Respect is for everyone. No exceptions. Stick to ‘Think before you speak: is it true, helpful, inspiring, necessary, kind?”

Real honesty can be hard – and hard to take. Yet there is so much benefit. 

The trust that can be built from an honest culture leads to increased innovation, collaboration and quality of work.

To grow as a person, you have to be honest with yourself, take feedback from others and use it.

To grow as a business, you have to listen to what your customers and employees are saying. You have to give your employees a safe environment so that they know that they can be honest and there will be no repercussion.

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