When trying to define the unique blend of people, technology, atmosphere and intention that make an organization stand apart from others, companies often look to define their “Core Values” or touchstones to try and explain the company’s culture. In fact, having a strong company culture has been proven to be the best, most-efficient way to attract talent to your company, reducing recruiting costs as well as turnover/attrition.
According to a recent Monster/Unum study of job seekers, culture trumps all. A full 87 percent of employees said they want a company that they believe “truly cares about the well-being of its employees.” Only 66 percent of respondents rated a high base salary as very important.(#WHat’s Your Employer Brand Saying Behing Your Back?)
Yet, the fastest way to invalidate all of those “core values” is to have leaders in your company act in violation of any. one. of. them.
The one I see most-often violated is the core competency of “Honesty” or “Truth”. Many organizations seem to espouse this belief. Zappos, Shell, 3M, Microsoft, and (you better hope) PWC and Accenture all espouse the virtues of honesty and integrity. Even Waste Management believes this is a key factor to their success. Furthermore, mountains of books have been written on the subject and it seems that every book on leadership focuses on the need for leaders to know the truth from their organization and not get fed polished corporate-speak. One such book, The Speed of Trust by Steven M. R. Covey, espouses the idea that “the more trust [there is] within a company, the faster it can move with lower costs.” # Truth and integrity at work allows people to do more with less, get things done and have a happier outlook on their work-life balance. This is brain-dead proof that we need more honesty and integrity in the workplace.
Yet, when bad news needs to get disseminated to employees, its often these same leaders who, in the name of corporate responsibility, short sheet their own employees with a sanitized, vague version of the truth that often creates more questions than it answers. Even when it’s PROVEN to backfire.
The result? Droning compliance in the boardroom and rampant employee disengagement in the hallways, cubicles and silos of the company.
I recall a time being in the room at an “all hands” meeting where some tough topics were being discussed. A blunt question was asked. The executive’s response was trifling, condescending and so filled with PR-spin I could almost hear the trust in the room shatter into a thousand shards of disdain. Visually, I witnessed employees who were moments before listening and engaged now arms-folded or whispering or fiddling with their smart-phones, likely entering “find a new job” on their task lists.
My career has often comprised of working with engineers. Computer programmers. These brilliant folks have been training and refining their hard-earned engineering skills for years with the express purpose of noticing flaws in code and potential performance degradation when a resource isn’t optimized. Just like you want a structural engineer to be able to see possible flaws in construction materials, etc., before there’s a disaster, these are the kind of programmers you want working on your code.
The rub? Your employees are highly, highly sensitive to BS. They have been burned before. They are merely looking for proof to validate their hypothesis that you will try to deceive them as well.
The moment anything out of an your mouth sniffs or hints or even leans in the general direction of aforementioned BS, spin, or otherwise crafted corporate-speak, you’ve lost the war for that talent. They’ve dismissed you. And, if you think your engineers’ zealous, geeky, saber-rattling about FreeBSD vs Fedora Linux is passionate, just wait until you try and regain their trust after lying to their faces. You are now, and forever, a #scumbag_boss.
In Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, which showcases the pitfalls and comedy of deception as a means to an end, Benedick mocks Claudio’s incessant use of flowery language when he falls in love with Hero in order to constantly attempt to appear in only the most-favorable light. “His words are a very fantastical banquet, just so many strange dishes.” (II.iii.18–19).
My recommendation? In business as in life, stay a lot more true to yourself than to your persona, take ownership for mistakes, admit it when you don’t know something, and give your employees the benefit of knowing they work for someone who is, in the first place, honest.