Is your organization truthful?

I’ve heard a song, new to me, by Matthew West. The main line includes, “If truth be told, the truth is rarely told.”

And it's true.

If truth be told, nobody tells the whole truth, all the time. We filter it, twist it, spin it, reduce it or amplify it. And this can negatively impact your business.

Have you ever considered how truthful your organization is? Most would be tempted to say we are honest since we don’t lie about our products' attributes and we don’t cheat on our taxes. But when someone is looking for a supplier with quick delivery, are we particularly optimistic about shipping schedules to make sure we get the order? Or when a competitor asks how our business is going we respond with glowing comments even though sales are hurting?

We all tolerate — and perpetuate — a certain level of dishonesty. But do we think about the ramifications?

When a business leader stretches the truth, or tolerates others doing so, it sends a very clear message to the rest of the team. Knowing full well that an order will take at least three weeks to fill, but telling the customer two weeks, makes it hard for that same business leader to get upset when an employee is late with a report.

When the boss misses a call from a customer because he was an hour late arriving at the office, the employee that gets reprimanded the next day for being 30 minutes late to work will not take the situation seriously.

And if misleading a customer about delivery schedules is OK, and if coming late to work is OK, then certainly it is OK take a few pens home, or make personal phone calls on company time.

Even a slight improvement in the truthfulness of your organizational culture can produce big improvements in company performance.

Consider these hypotheticals:

  • “How are you this morning, Jess?” “Well, to tell the truth, it's been pretty rough lately.” “Let’s grab a cup of coffee and talk about it. I’d love to be of help.” By Jess telling the truth, rather than the routine, “I’m fine,” there is an opportunity for personal improvement, problem solving and a more positive working relationship.
  • “How are our customers reacting to our line of new products?” “The customers’ reactions to the new products have been generally good, but there are some obstacles we need to overcome to optimize sales.” “I want to hear more.” Had the culture been one of shooting the messenger (not uncommon), it would have been easy to gloss over what the customers had to say, resulting in poorer sales for the new products.
  • “Are you going to get that report done on time, Larry?” “Yep. No problem.” But what if the truth looked more like this: “Frankly, I am not sure. It would be helpful if I can run a few questions by you, and even have you review the current draft of the report.” A good supervisor would take this as an opportunity to increase both quality and morale.
  • “I noticed that the last job wasn’t up to the quality I’ve come to expect.” “I know, Jack was having a bad day that day.” Blaming can be a form of not telling the truth. Here would be a more honest response: “I, too, noticed the lower quality of that job, and let me first point out that my team did the best they could. The cause of the quality problems were due to scheduling mistakes and raw material issues.” “Can you tell me how we can address those problems?”

Improving the organizational culture can be a painful and bumpy process. But if it results in better morale, improved job satisfaction, greater productivity and fewer problems, it is well worth it.

The first step is with yourself. Make sure you are properly motivated, that you seek to help and care for others. Make sure you are willing and able to lead by example. Don’t expect others to do what you are not willing to do. Pick specific opportunities to be transparent in front of others. Gently encourage others to follow. And be sure not to sabotage your progress by punishing — intentionally or not — for telling more of the truth.

Dave Bartholomew is retired after a career as a business adviser to leaders around the world. He and his wife Nancy also owned Simply Living Farm, a retailer of goods for a sustainable life. Prior to that he was CEO of several manufacturing companies in the outdoor recreation industry. He has authored three books, written numerous regular columns and taught at many universities. He can be reached at