Now Trending: Honesty

When Billy Joel put the song Honesty on his 52nd Street album in 1978, he probably didn’t have the workplace in mind. But the refrain of this popular hit is becoming a mantra among an increasing number of organizations.

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Honesty is such a lonely word
Everyone is so untrue
Honesty is hardly ever heard
And mostly what I need from you

This is a new trend among the millennials of both Gen Y and Gen Z. Whereas previous generations talked about transparency as something that seemed like a good idea but was largely wishful thinking, younger workers don’t just want it, they’re demanding it. This presents a clear clash of the generations, because the Baby Boomers who hold most of the leadership positions in organizations simply aren’t used to being that open. Business leaders have followed the tradition of holding their cards close to their vests, but for the younger generations, opacity is practically equated with corruption.

This should come as no surprise given such corporate scandals as these young people have witnessed, from Enron to the wild speculation and risk-taking that played a major role in precipitating the Great Recession. Then you must layer on top of this the whole concept of open that has come with the digital age. David Price, in his book, Open: How We’ll Work, Live and Learn in the Future, notes that, “…going ‘open’ is a social revolution that represents a fundamental challenge to the established order of things – one that cannot be ignored. It disrupts and changes, so things can never be the same again. But, as with all revolutions, there are winners and losers.”

Who are the winners? The winners are everyone who enjoys connecting and collaborating with others through the wonders of technologies that have only become available in the 21st century. It’s all about taking away the intermediaries in all aspects of modern life for direct communication and easy access to all kinds of information. Price has this to say about the other end of the spectrum:

The losers are our formal institutions: businesses, schools, colleges and public services that are failing to grasp the enormity of the change taking place. Most dramatically, the losers are also governments around the world that are now confronted by citizens who will no longer tolerate secrecy and deception. The toppled dictatorships of the Arab Spring may provide the most graphic illustration of this, but there are plenty of others. The fall-out from WikiLeaks, and the 2013 revelations of government-sponsored internet spying in the United States and the United Kingdom, point to a more widespread culture clash.

What does all of this mean for organizations? In part it means embracing such practices as open-book management (see Retention Secret #7: Open Book Management), participatory decision-making (see Retention Secret #8: Participatory Decision-Making), better performance feedback (download a free copy of the white paper, Performance Management: New Directions in Appraisal and Evaluation), and greater integrity from leaders.

Price characterizes all of this with an acronym worth remembering to operationalize what he’s talking about: SOFT, which stands for the values of Sharing, Open, Free, and Trust. Here’s how it breaks down:

  • The speed with which information can be shared facilitates levels of collaboration never before seen in human history.
  • This one is all about transparency in governments, businesses, and all of our institutions. We’re talking about open source, open government, open-book management, and so on. It feels inevitable that open will triumph over closed.
  • People want openness and they don’t want to have to pay for it. This also means free as in unfettered access to information and opportunities.
  • The erosion of trust in so many areas of life is leading to a backlash where people both want and need to have trust re-established.

And in case you’re wondering, there is a positive bottom-line impact to honesty. Back in 2010 a Corporate Executive Board study found that companies rated high for open communication and encouraging honest feedback delivered a 10-year total shareholder return 270% higher than other companies, showing 7.9% compared to 2.1%. Go and do likewise!

January 17, 2015   Updated :March 14, 2015   honesty, transparency, workplace honesty, workplace trends   

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