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Do Your Policies Allow for Honesty?


“Honesty is the best policy.”

So said Benjamin Franklin, and it’s a quote that I’ve embraced since I was in grade school. I actually did a speech on it once, but that’s a whole other story.

At its core, honesty is about truth. We tend to use those words interchangeably. When we talk about being honesty, and when we ask folks to be honest, essentially we are asking for truth.

Being honest serves us well. It allows for clarity. It helps us to understand what’s happening. It allows us to make informed decisions. It grants us access to the full picture.

The challenge that I’m seeing more often than I’d like is that in many companies, organizations and groups, while honesty is held as a value, policies and procedures aren’t set up to foster that particular virtue. Instead, policies are set up to foster dishonesty. Need some examples? Here’s a few:

  • Attendance policies that limit when and why you can take time off; if folks have a circumstance that doesn’t fall within the approved reasons for absence, they will lie about their reason and then cross their fingers and hope they’re not found out.

  • Hiring practices that require “x” number of candidates to be interviewed for a position. In this case supervisors can go through the motions of interviewing (essentially lying to candidates) even when they already know to whom the position is going to go.

  • Soliciting feedback and ideas, without disclosing the parameters that might be impeding the implementation of those same ideas. So folks share highly innovative ideas under the misconception that their ideas will be given consideration -- when the truth is that there are limitations to what can be entertained.

These are simply a few examples. The challenge with each of these is that by being dishonest or inviting dishonesty, a culture of mistrust is created. Over time, this erodes the organization’s sense of safety and folks become uncomfortable. Once this stage has been reached, no matter how much honesty you claim to want, folks will hold back. They’ll share only partial information, or flat-out lie. And a strong team culture cannot be built on a foundation of lies.

Bottom-line: if you want to build a strong team, you’ve got to create a sense of trust. In order to create trust, you must be trustworthy. And in order to be trustworthy, your policies, procedures, and practices must do more than simply pay lip-service to the value of honesty. They’ve got to actually allow space for the real deal.