Honesty in Business

I’d like to think that generally, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who didn’t believe honest was a positive thing. Even if they’re not personally a fan of executing it, they’d at least acknowledge its value, they’d put their desire for it on their Tinder profile.

Yet, why is it, in relation to business, so many shy from it. From CEOs of huge organisations to their employees, there seems to be an innate fear of speaking frankly.

Don’t get me wrong, I have been in business a long time. I am certainly not ignorant of spinning a little magic to give a product that extra edge (although it is obviously only sharks that lie outright about what they’re selling) – but that’s not what I’m referring to. I’m talking about the culture within a business. Is it only our American friends who have the ability to ‘keep it real’? (sorry, I’m a dad, I can make references like that now).

In my experience, there is only one factor which results in a dishonest, and therefore toxic, business culture.

– Fear.

It will wear different masks, but it will always be the father. The most common depictions I’ve personally encountered are;

. Misinterpretation of what society deems to be polite.

Definitely, the one most often experienced, and certainly commonplace within (especially British) business. We like telling people what they want to hear. We say sorry too often, and hate even the slightest glimmer of ‘confrontation’. Don’t get me wrong, I value our strange Chuckle Brother style of communicating, but it simply has no place in a meeting room. If you are too shy to tell someone how it really is, out of fear of being rude, you are not a good employee, and you simply should not be a manager. You may minimise short-term discomfort, but you cause long-term problems.

. You’re hiding something.

This isn’t just at management level, in fact, I’ve probably had more experience with this culture coming from the bottom up. ‘Don’t let on that we are behind’ ‘Don’t mention that it’s run over budget’. I get it. Of course I do. But wow is it dangerous. Friends close, employees closer. Whether they’re at the top or the bottom of the tree, communication in teams needs to be so tight you can’t get a piece of paper between you; if you’re management, take a good look at yourself and work out how approachable you are. Don’t unknowingly encourage this; you need to know your issues before they become disasters, or everyone is in trouble.

. ‘Emperor has no clothes’ syndrome.

Without a doubt, the crown jewel in a toxic crown. How many times throughout your working life have you looked at a person in authority and thought ‘how on Earth do you keep your job?’ As on more than one occasion, you’ve found yourself telling them the answers, or saving projects which were sailing rapidly towards catastrophe. Worst case, they’re bullies; they treat people in a way which would make HR’s eyes water, yet they’re still there. Why? Because everyone is afraid to tell the emperor they’ve got no clothes. Generally, down to the misplaced fear that it would cost them their job. Thankfully, this tends to be a time bomb, as business has come a long way in regulating such things, and eventually, the truth will out, but the quicker that happens the better.

Do not protect a naked emperor.

In short: encourage honesty, work through the initial discomfort, and your profits (and staff) will eventually thank you.

Author: Hadleigh Winter