The Story of the Honest Man

A few months ago I was having dinner with my wife before an evening at the Theatre. We were sat close to a man having dinner alone, from his appearance and accent it seemed clear he wasn’t local and was probably away from home for business.

During his dinner he was drinking wine but after his food when the waiter came to his table he switched to diet coke. Not longer after he asked for the bill and quickly noticed the waiter hadn’t charged for the coke. He stopped the waiter and told him so, the reply “I don’t charge for coke when someone switches from a drink, its good practice and keeps us all safe.” He then added as he turned “you’re an honest man, I can see“.

Over the December holidays a friend was involved in a car accident, the car was a rental and so several organisations were involved; the car rental company, the insurance company, the other parties insurance company and the police. At the end of the process he found he’d been paid out twice. He was telling me the story and how he was finding it hard to work out who to give the money back to without finding he’d refunded the wrong person. The amount was much greater than the cost of the coke, so does this make my friend more honest than the business man?

The Dilemma

In both cases, the business man and my friend, each was trying to be honest that much is clear. But would you show the same level of contempt for the man who made-off not paying for the coke as you would the man who kept the substantial insurance pay-out mistake? Could it be that we can understand the temptation to keep the insurance money or not? Or would we see the coke as such a minor event it’s just not worth the hassle?

Would we consider the cost of the coke as a very petty theft and the deception of keeping the insurance money as serious?

Consider the two dishonest versions of the stories above, now which version would you use to warn another about the character and integrity of the dishonest person? The insurance fraud I’m sure.

I suggest then that we all see minor dishonesty as having no or negligible consequences and so find it almost natural to over look. So it therefore follows that when when we make judgements on a persons integrity we are interpreting how we think they would act when there are serious consequences to their actions. And so then to understand a persons level of integrity we must examine their behaviour when much is at stake for them to either gain or lose.

Is integrity the same as honesty?

To try to answer this question I offer you an interpretive test you can apply to your people consisting of 3 questions to be answered as objectively and honestly as you can:

  1. The Basic Level – is the person honest? This is a reactive state, people will wait to share ideas until they are asked and invited to do so. When a situation spins out of control and a manager asks “why didn’t someone say something?” and the answer that comes back is “you never asked”, if this typifies your organisation then its probably fair to say its operating at the Basic Level of reactive honesty.
  2. The Middle Level – do people communicate and ask questions? This is a proactive environment. Where people openly share ideas without the need to be prompted and if this is typical of your organisation then its probably a reflection that your organisation is operating at this Middle Level of honesty.
  3. The Upper Level – are your people transparent in their actions? In addition to your people sharing ideas and thoughts they will also try to actively predict future problems and opportunities. Your people will be actively looking for an improved environment for the organisation and for the wider community of suppliers, customers and other key interested parties.

5 Keys to Achieving Transparency

  1. Provide a Safe Environment for your people – they need to feel safe and confident they wont be penalised for sharing unpopular ideas or negative feedback.
  2. Provide a clear benefit for speaking openly, honesty must be made to feel tangible and valued.
  3. Set Quality Time aside to engage in and for open and honest communications, the more quality time provided for open and honest communications the more ideas will be shared.
  4. Use Open-Ended Questions, it sounds simple but it is never-the-less crucial for honest discussion to happen.
  5. Be Risk Tolerant, embrace risk and your people will be less risk-averse and so less likely to shut-down.

The Effect on Business

Its entirely probable that by practising the Upper Level of Transparent Honesty with customers that they will feel more inclined to do business with your organisation as a trusted partner rather than the more typical transactional style of supplier v purchasing relationship.

Think about it this way – if your organisation doesn’t give customers what they need until they ask for it then this is an organisation acting at the basic level of honesty. If your organisation goes a bit further and tells the customer what they need then they are acting at the Middle Level of honesty. But, if your organisation goes further and starts to look over the horizon and tries to predict customer need and organises to meet the need, then your organisation is best placed for future revenue growth and profitability.

Philip Dawson MBA | Strategy Consultant | Trainer | Systems Thinker | Growth & Innovation Enthusiast

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