Truth, essential in business

It matters not how many procedures or policies you put in place, or how many dashboards you set up. If your company culture does not prize truthfulness, you will experience commercial disappointment.

And there’s plenty of disappointment about in business today. In management meetings, weekly reports and board papers. To be fair, much of it is a sin of omission rather than commission. People hate to bring bad news; so they avoid it. Many bosses like to shoot the messenger; which reinforces this behaviour. Every hierarchy place hurdles and threats in front of the truthful.

It is often said that, in Africa, people like to tell you what you want to hear. Maybe they did, in the same way, that no one ever used to place a value on timeliness. But, increasingly, modern Africans knows that if you want to get on, you must be on time. So perhaps it’s also time to dispense with our whimsical view of disingenuousness.

Reputation, trust and credibility are assets that no brand or organisation can afford to lose, and the surest way to lose them is to lie. Honesty may not always pay, but lying always costs.Lies also breed more lies to cover up. As the Roman rhetorician, Quintilian, wrote, “A liar should have a good memory.’

We can use terms like deception, misrepresentation or insincerity, but the terminology isn’t important. Liars try to make a person believe something that is not true. Let’s look at a business example.

Your team is given a task and a timeline, which you accept. If you feel it is not possible in the way you have mutually agreed, but you don’t speak up, you are lying by omission. When you are asked to report progress and you fail to highlight matters that have impacted delivery even further, I’d say you are lying deliberately. And your lie is unwittingly taken up by your superiors to customers, investors or other important stakeholders. Then, when it is too late for anyone to do anything about it, your non-delivery becomes manifest. And the chain of trust collapses. At this point, there no merit in claiming ‘we did our best.’ Everyone in the chain has lost.

Business ethics distinguishes prudential from legal from ethical actions. Prudential actions are those of self?interest; legal actions are permitted or forbidden by the system and ethical actions are those you consider to be right. The ethics of not lying is insufficient: it still permits the leaving of false impressions. A more satisfying cultural expectation is “tell the truth”: fully inform the person with whom you are dealing

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