Thursday, August 08, 2013

Honesty and Successful Organizations

Honesty isn’t simply the best policy—it’s the only way to build a successful organization. A culture of honesty results in more than merely “happy” workplaces, and a deep-seated respect and expectation for honesty makes companies more successful and more profitable. 

This thought-provoking article by Halley Bock on why honesty is the secret ingredient of successful organizations draws a mixed reaction from me. First, let's stipulate that honesty is a key and important virtue that should be practiced by all. Honesty is essential if you are going to build a decent and ethical organization, but are all successful organizations honest? I doubt it. Generation after respective generation usually finds a lot of scoundrels doing quite well.

Equating honesty with organizational success troubles me for a simple reason: Honesty should stand on its own as a virtue. Its adoption should not be dependent upon whether or not it gives a person or an organization an edge over the competition. If new studies concluded that being dishonest was great for organizations and careers, would that make honesty less important or less desirable?

Rather than falling into an argument that being honest is the smart thing to do, we should stick with the unassailable position that in the vast majority of occasions - we can rule out responding honestly to Nazis if they ask where Anne Frank is hiding - it is the right thing to do.


Dan in Philly said...

When I was growing up, I was always told that being honest was easier than being dishonest. This is a bit inaccurate. It's almost always easier in the short term to be dishonest, but in the long term almost always easier to be honest.
I have come to view honesty similar to exercise. Being lazy is easier in the short term, but in the long term it make life much harder.

I have also come to realize that dishonesty is generally a sign of immaturity, both in a person and in an organization. When dealing with a child or a childish adult, I don't really expect them to be honest. I learned this from Leo Tolstoy, who in "War and Peace" commented that honesty is difficult, and rarely to be found in the young.

Michael Wade said...


Following your thought, our ethical muscles need to be exercised regularly or they can turn to flab. We grow stronger or weaker in increments. The little things add up.

I also like the Tolstoy reference!