How much honesty is there in the modern workplace? In the BBC programme Bridge of Lies, contestants must decide whether statements are the truth or a lie to win. This is a dilemma we face more and more each day. Business success lies across a bridge of truth, whilst avoiding the lies. A year ago, I wrote about whether integrity is becoming extinct. It can certainly feel like it at times, but are we any worse today or is there just more media exposure? Is there a risk with a plethora of scandals, that our moral compass gets skewed or we become more cynical?
It is discouraging how many people are shocked by honesty and how few by deceit.Noel Coward
Whether someone wilfully, accidently or recklessly ‘misleads’, it is honesty that is at stake. Most people will decide if something is a fraudulent statement. In this day and age, the likelihood of lies being exposed has probably never been greater, as many have discovered to their cost.
Honesty is the fastest way to prevent a mistake from turning into a failure.James Altucher
What Does Honesty Mean to You?
Being honest is not just about not telling lies. There are many ways we can be dishonest with ourselves or others. For example:
- When asked if you are OK, do you answer ‘fine’, even when you are not?
- Do you tell someone when they are underperforming?
- How often do you hide your true thoughts or feelings to avoid upsetting someone or getting into confrontation?
- Do you keep your promises?
- How often do you not ask for help even though you need it?
- Are you honest with yourself when you set goals that you have no real intention of keeping?
If you discovered unpaid items in your shopping basket or missed items off a restaurant bill, what would you do? When we are faced with a moral dilemma, the question is ‘what is the right thing to do?’
We can find reasons to tell ‘white lies’ to justify ourselves, but isn’t a lie a lie? Is honesty black and white or do you believe there are shades of grey? Are there times when it is better not to tell the truth? These are the dilemmas we can face.
The Benefits of Honesty
Honesty is the single most important quality for credibility in a leader. Trust is vitally important for teams to perform well and follow the lead. If the leader is not role modelling honesty, then the team is less likely to follow them willingly. There is a risk they will then not be honest themselves.
Honesty brings many benefits including trust from your customers, stakeholders, and team. It is an important part of your brand loyalty. Would you buy or work for someone you think is not being honest with you?
Dishonesty, if discovered, can cost you dearly depending on the extent of the misdemeanour. It can destroy relationships, smash brands, result in hefty fines, imprisonment, or loss of business.
No legacy is so rich as honesty.William Shakespeare
What Motivates People to be Honest?
Alexander Wagner in his TED talk explains his research into why people are honest in business. Surprisingly, incentives are not the primary driver. Protected values are far more likely to keep people honest. These are values that people are not prepared to waiver for reward. Whether these values come from nature or nurture, they have a major impact on behaviour. They seem to be common across gender and age groups.
If you want honesty in your business, then it is important to recruit people with the right values.
How Do You Measure a Person’s Values?
You can start by being clear what your values are and which you would protect at all costs. It is worth taking time to establish a clear picture for yourself and where true north is in your moral compass.
Does your business have clear values and how well are these communicated to your team? When you are recruiting or reviewing team members, how often do you reflect and question them about their values and the linked behaviours?
Another way to measure a person’s values-based judgement is through the Judgment Index assessment. This will give you a picture of their moral clarity and capacity for good judgement. How important would that be to you?
How Do You Improve the Honesty in Your Business?
Role modelling the behaviours you want and recruiting people with the right values is a strong starting point in increasing honesty.
How often you talk about the importance of honesty and what it means to you and the business will help. The more you talk about it then the more likely you are to see it. It is dangerous to assume people have the same definition of honesty as you. Nurturing the behaviours you do want is likely to encourage more of the same.
How you deal with cases of dishonesty will also determine how much you get further wrong behaviours. History has shown us many times what happens if political leaders are not held to account for lying about whether they are going to invade a country or their levels of corruption. On a smaller scale in business, not dealing with a breach of trust can have a devastating impact.
It is often said that what can’t be measured, can’t be managed. If you don’t already, you could consider how to measure honesty in your business and how you hold people accountable for it.
If you would like to discuss this further, please contact me.
Also published on Medium.