Honesty: We don't always mean what we say

Honesty: We don’t really believe in what we say

Successful companies and their executives are not always honest about their intentions. They are telling us that “We don’t really believe in what we say”.

I have dealt with many who swore that they were trying to improve their business.

I guess I was too naive.  When they told me they could change I believed them. It would only make sense that they would want to be successful. Why would you want to run a business that was failing? And why would they not want to improve? Because they were telling me, “We don’t really believe in what we say?.

Yet there are companies that continue to do harmful things every day.

They act as though it is not their fault, as though some evil hand is directing them to do these things. When faced with change they stick with what they have been doing. They reinforce that insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results.

I am sure you have an opinion about this. So do I.

Mine is that they don’t believe what they say in the first place. Maybe they are reading from the latest management or business success bestseller. Or they attended a lecture or seminar. There, the speaker convinced them they needed to step up for the good of the business. They soon realize those feelings were fleeting as soon as they learn it takes time, money, and effort. They are not ready to do what is necessary. Translation. “We don’t really believe in what we say”.

As an example, here’s a story…

Computer toner can be a very dishonest business.

I had a client who was in the computer toner business. They only made black toner and wanted to get into the color toner business. The owners felt that this would enhance their business. To do this they needed new manufacturing procedures. They also needed to make changes to their equipment to produce colored product.

My company did not handle equipment changes. We had an affiliate who did. We were going to use them on that part of the project. We would focus on the procedure part and manage their work.

The company was going to get state funding to help with this project. This was a one-to-one match, so they had to pay for 50% of the work. To get the state money, I needed to develop a proposal that they would sign off on and submit for approval. I wrote the proposal. It was reviewed many times. I had to make many changes before they would sign off and submit. Finally, we agreed on a final document. We then waited for approval as they did not want to start until they received the state funding.

The funding was finally approved. As with most projects I have done, there is always a tight time frame to meet the company’s deadlines. This was true with this project.

To meet the deadline, we started as soon as we received the approval. The owners were aware of this and gave us the ok to get going. Our machine designer began his work on changing the equipment to make colored toner as well as black. He was going fast, faster than we were used to. We were actually ahead of schedule.

Without warning, the client contacted us and stopped the project.

They claimed that they had never given approval to start the work. This was not true. We never start work before getting an understanding and agreement from the client. What seemed to be the problem was that they did not have their part of the funds available to pay us for our work. They never let us know that this was an issue. If they had, we could have developed a plan to work at a slower pace until they could pay their part.

Instead of owning up to this, they claimed that, “We thought the state was paying the entire amount of the project”.

This was dishonest.

Their obligation was stated when they applied for the funding. When the project was approved, they had to sign a contract. It clearly stated that they were responsible to pay 50% of the cost. They signed off on that as well. So twice they agreed to pay 50% only to deny that they knew about this detail.

The project was not only stopped, but was never restarted.

Needless to say there were hard feelings. I and my affiliate did not feel that we could work with people that were so dishonest.

Letting people know about issues is key to many things. This includes:

  • Trust
  • Relationship building
  • Good communication
  • Business ethics
  • Solving the problem.

By hiding problems and then lying about it, all of these items are violated. No one wants to work with someone they cannot trust. Especially when one means, “We don’t really believe in what we say”.

Why people do this is beyond my comprehension. I work to be honest with those I work with and for. If I don’t, they will not get a true picture of the situation. Without this, how can they give proper help or give advice? Also, they will be suspicious of my motives. There will be none or a lack of trust between us. This is not a good way to work together.

Not all the engagements I have had turn out to be successful.

The ones that are, are very open and honest. It is never easy to discuss problems, especially when they involve people. But if the discussions are not candid and truthful, then the root cause is never addressed. Anyone dealing with improvements knows that unless the root cause is resolved the problem will continue.

Good executives hire consultants to help them with things they cannot handle on their own. They expect to get the best advice that they can. That includes being straightforward with them about their problems and issues. To do anything less is a great disservice to them.

That means there must be honesty on both sides. Neither side can project that, “We don’t really believe in what we say”.

If the client is not honest with the consultant, then the real problem cannot be resolved. The consultant will then work on the wrong issues. This will result in a waste of time and resources.

The client will see time ticking by and money spent without making headway to solve their problem(s). Distrust will set in and the client will question the consultant’s competency. The end result will not be good and the engagement will end with both sides unhappy with the other. This could be avoided by the client being truthful and providing the correct information.

This has happened too many times in my career, both as a consultant and as an executive.

A story about trust, as told through not-so-magic markers.

As the head of quality at Crayola, an issue arose with our markers. Many started to leak ink from their tips. That problem usually meant that the markers were not venting properly. When that happens, pressure builds up in the marker and the ink flows out to relieve the pressure.

My staff checked for the obvious problem and found that the venting was fine. We were stumped. One of the technicians did some further testing. He found that the problem was in the tip itself. And the problem was being generated in our internal manufacturing process.

The tip is made from polyethylene.

Initially, the ink does not want to flow through this, so to get it going, a surfactant chemical is added to the tip. The type of surfactant and the amount were specified. The wrong surfactant or the wrong amount could cause ink flow problems. This could mean too little flow or in this case too much.

As we dug deeper, we found that the department that made the tips decided to experiment with the type and amount. They could conduct tests. But, they couldn’t use any of the experimental pieces until they were tested and approved. They then needed to be put into the product specification. None of these things happened. The tips were no good. And there were millions of them. Many were made into markers, the ones now leaking. All had to be destroyed. The other tips that had had to be collected and destroyed. New tips had to manufactured so we could make more markers. This created one big, costly mess.

So what does this have to do with honesty?

Well, the supervisor who allowed this to happen was not honest. First, he did not follow the policy in conducting experiments. He allowed parts that had not been tested or approved to be made into finished product. When it was discovered what had happened, he claimed that my quality people knew what he was doing. He also stated that they had allowed him to do so. This was completely untrue. The technicians who monitored this product had no idea that he was experimenting. They also did not approve his use of unapproved parts.

This lack of honesty caused a very expensive issue.

First, it shouldn’t have happened. Second, when it did, those responsible did not own up to the issue they had created. They were caught in the crime. Even then, they denied their responsibility and tried to pass it off on someone else. Truth usually wins out in the end. Why go down the path of dishonesty? Even if you get away with it, there will always be a lack of trust between parties. it projects the sense that we don’t really believe in what we say.

As the consultant or adviser, honesty with the client is also important. As I mentioned, the client is paying for results. They are trusting their consultant to find the real problem. They also expect the correct solution to fix it.

Sometimes the fix may be painful.

It may mean telling the client something they don’t want to hear. But, they need to hear the truth so they can face the problem and make sure it is corrected. The hardest discussion is when the client is the problem. Depending on the personality of the client, they may never accept the truth. In that case, the consultant may have to end the engagement.

It is hard to deal with an irrational person who will not listen to or accept reality.

In one instance, my company was designing a clean room for a client. The owner had no idea what a clean room was. We came up with the proper design. But, he did not want to spend the money on the proper filtration needed to provide the clean room attributes. Instead, he decided to put in some air conditioning units. That would do nothing to provide the correct atmosphere. It would cool the room, but he would not have a “clean” room.

I tried to reason with him, but he wouldn’t listen. Finally, I told him that if he proceeded with his plan I would not sign off and stop the work. He called me a nasty person, for telling him the truth. We stopped the work and concluded our work with the company. He wouldn’t handle the truth. And he definitely meant that we don’t really believe in what we say.

Is “Honesty always the best policy”? Or do we project that, “We don’t really believe in what we say”?

 I believe it is. To not be honest causes problems. Many relationships are damaged when one person finds out that the other has not been honest. The truth can be painful.  But without it, there will be a lack of trust. That is fatal to any relationship, especially in business. Especially when people believe that, “We don’t really believe in what we say”.

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