Hard As It Can Be, Honesty Is Still the Best Business Policy
Honesty, Benjamin Franklin once said, is the best policy.
That is absolutely true, but it is hard sometimes, isn’t it? We all want to be nice to others, especially colleagues and business partners, but sometime honesty honestly seems like it would be a hindrance.
A friend of mine recently faced this dilemma. Her company was considering partnering with another business, but there were concerns about whether the other company had policies that would be offensive or would negatively affect her customers.
Asking those questions, though, sounded harsh. She scrambled for several hours trying to figure out how to address those questions innocuously or possibly just avoid them now and wait for the developing partnership to eventually reveal the answers.
Finally, though, she decided that honesty was the best policy and put her concerns and questions out in the open. The other company seemed glad to have the opportunity to address those concerns up front.
It’s still too early to tell if that partnership will develop, but both companies at least now have a good understanding of each other’s policies. Best of all, that honesty and openness have laid a foundation of trust between the companies.
This is not an unusual circumstance, since businesses are often approached about partnering for mutual benefit. One of the hardest things to deal with is when one or even both parties are not completely honest with each other, because it can lead to misunderstandings and destroy the trust needed to make partnerships work.
Years ago, when I had my own advertising/marketing business in Indiana, I had a conversation with another businessman about his project that involved some of my clients. This man had taken advance payments from several businesses for the project but had missed his deadline for delivering the finished product.
He gave me several reasons for the delay, and I offered my help if he needed it. The next day I received calls from two of the businesses he’d left in the lurch, claiming this businessman had told them I was taking over the project!
Obviously, that had never been discussed in our initial conversation. I did eventually negotiate with him to take on the project, but I involved a third person as a mediator and got everything in writing. Then I had to set about earning the trust he had damaged among the various clients.
Running a business, whether selling directly to consumer or business-to-business, is all about human interaction. And honesty and openness can be just as important within a company when dealing with employees.
One person I know has experienced some serious trust issues because the business owner plays everything close to the vest. That results occasionally in surprise policy announcements and changes in direction that keep the employees on edge. While a business owner has no obligation to share decision-making with the employees, the smart business owner knows that employees who are dealt with openly and honestly are happier — and happier employees are more productive and loyal.
And, of course, you want to treat your customers with the same honesty. Sometimes that means saying no. Occasionally, I had customers approach me about a project that I knew was beyond my capabilities or had a time frame I couldn’t meet, or more frequently, was such a low-budget production that doing it could actually harm my reputation. Even though there was the temptation to say yes, either for the money or to avoid hurting someone’s feelings, I would always say no (and tried to direct them to someone who could do the work for them). I don’t think my honesty ever hurt me.
So, when faced with the temptation to dissemble, either to protect someone else’s feelings or in a misguided effort to protect your own reputation, remember that the old adage is as true today as when Ben uttered it hundreds of years ago — honesty is the best policy.