Honesty – The Best Policy

We have all heard the phrase at one point or another that says “honesty is the best policy” yet we all have also tried to prove it wrong at one time or another, as well. We try to justify not being honest by saying things like, “if I’m honest it will just hurt someone’s feelings or mess up my relationship with them” or “I’m afraid to be honest because I don’t know how the other person will react” and the one I cringe about the most is when people excuse being honest with the excuse of “they can’t handle the information”. None of these excuses could be further from the truth. 

Being honest is a trait we are taught to follow by our parents from a very young age. We are educated on telling the truth. So much so that, there are times we are told if we are honest, we will not be in the same amount of ‘trouble’ as if we lied even to the point where lying would cause additional punishment. Being honest should be engraved in our everyday behavior and when it comes to honesty in business, it should not be any different. We should not only be honest with ourselves, our families and our friends, we also have the responsibility to be honest with our colleagues, subordinates and management.

There are tremendous benefits of being honest in all areas or our life. Studies show that being honest can even improve our health [University of Notre Dame]. It will not only make you feel better but it will boost how you feel about yourself and make you feel less prone to ailments such as headaches and pain.  So, if being honest is so good for us, why don’t we do it more often? This is a great question and one I ask myself all the time, particularly in the business aspect. I often wonder why managers are not truthful and transparent with their employees and why employees are not truthful with their managers. I could only suppose they are afraid of losing the employee or their job. But in the end how is that helpful, especially if you (manager and employee) are not happy with the other. In this reading I want to outline how honesty in business benefits not only the people but the overall business as well. 

When you practice honesty in business you both win. For example, let’s say you are a manager and you have an employee that is not performing to your or the company expectation. The easy route would be to tell the employee they are doing fine and try to transfer the employee to another are. That would be easier than making the employee feel bad and having to have the uncomfortable conversation. Think about that for a minute, and think about how that approach benefits you or the company. In reality there are no benefits. It’s a lose lose situation. Let’s list out some of the concerns:

  1. The employee never knows they are doing something wrong therefore they will keep doing what they have been doing and will continue do to it incorrectly,
  2. The employee will never know what they need to improve, on the contrary they will most likely feel like they got transferred because they are doing well,
  3. You (as the manager) will now need to either do the job yourself or will need to find a new person and train them on how to do the job which will probably take time,
  4. Other employees are observing this and realize that they really do not need to perform any better because if that person is not performing well and gets a transfer then I can just sit back and wait for mine,
  5. Sets a company culture of mediocre performance throughout the business, 
  6. And ultimately, this creates loss of time, lots of confusion, a bunch of frustration which will cost the company a lot of money

Now if we were to follow our early teachings of ‘honesty is the best policy’ that situation could have been handled very differently and could have different results. So, let’s follow the same example, but this time the manager follows a different approach. The manager is going to speak with the employee. The manager puts together a list of examples of the behavior (performance) the employee is lacking or needs to do better in, puts together a couple of recommendations on how to improve and has an open dialogue with the employee on steps they can take together that will help the employee do better in the employee’s performance. Again, think about that for a minute, and think about how that approach benefits you or the company. Although it might not be the easier route to take it is the better one because this approach will benefit all parties, you as the manager, the employee and the organization. Let’s list out some of the benefits:

  1. Now the employee understands exactly where they stand from a performance perspective and knows where they need to improve 
  2. The employee will understand the expectation of what he/she needs to do and will strive to do better
  3. You (as the manager) now know you can count on that employee to perform their job better and will not need to worry about having to find someone to do the job
  4. Other employees will know they need to keep up and do the right thing because the manager is paying attention and cares
  5. The company culture becomes one of good performers
  6. This will ultimately lead to people being more engaged in their job, clarity on what is expected from their performance, comradery amongst the team and in turn lead to better company results.

Ultimately there are many more reasons why you should promote an environment of honesty in your organization. For example, employees being honest about what they like or not can prompt you to take advantage of that interest (or lack thereof) to possibly change that person’s responsibilities. However, on the other side of the coin, you also need not be taken advantage of, or use the information against the employee. For example, if an employee tells you they don’t like recruiting and you feel like they might not be doing a good job at it, you don’t use that information to hold it against them later, but in turn, you work together to find tools to make that part of their job more efficient, if there is no way of shifting that responsibility. Understanding the power of managing an organization with honesty is very important and it should start from the top of the organization. If the top leaders are not honest with their immediate leaders it starts a chain reaction of a dishonest organization that will be difficult to recover. A leader that is not truthful corrupts trust. For example, telling an executive they received the same annual increase as all other executives and it not being true not only creates distrust it creates low morale. Therefore, being honest is always the best. My last thought would be that honesty is the best policy but it also goes along with another well-known phrase, the truth will always prevail.

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