Lesson in Leadership: Is Honesty the Best Policy?
(This is a blog re-post from a 2017 entry posted on HCollaborative.com)
Nike just announced it will eliminate 745 jobs at its Oregon headquarters.
And it got me thinking about honesty in business. (No, I have no issue with my favorite shoemaker.) More specifically, honesty in leadership.
For years, I spent time in the ad agency world. Layoffs were part and parcel of that business. Lose an account and lose some employees. Lose another account and lose more employees. And so it went with the bad times of every economic cycle.
Now if you were an employee in one of those agencies, you were always thinking one thing during these times:
Am I next?
Which brings me back to this honesty thing. You see, during those two decades (read: several boom and bust cycles), I never heard directly from the president or creative director of any agency where I worked that "layoffs were coming."
Everything was left up in the air.
As a result, cruel and unnecessary angst permeated the work environment sometimes for hours, sometimes for days. That is, until that ax finally fell.
My thinking was and is now that all that negative fog could have been avoided simply by being honest. Simply by being direct.
In other words, the leader of the agency could have immediately gathered all staff, looked everyone in the eye and said, "we've lost a big chunk of business and we will need to lay some people off."
Think about how much stress and anxiety that would have eliminated. Think about the positive feeling an employee might have had toward the leaders of that agency for "telling it like it is."
No doubt, there will be a grieving process for employees whether it involves a layoff or a restructure. Feelings of denial, anger, depression and acceptance are certain to surface. And from my own personal experience and observation, it takes awhile to get through that. So give employees the time it takes to go through these very human experience. If anything, now is the time to overcommunicate.
Just one caution. By telling folks up front, they will naturally be stressed and productivity may go down. Great leaders understand and allow this by sharing their employees’ pain and helping them position themselves for their next chapter.
Many of you know that my business partner and I are getting our new book about the benefit corporation movement ready for publication. In it, we interview 11 enlightened leaders who live by the 3 P's of People, Planet and Profit.
They know about and practice transparency and honesty every day. It's the commitment they've made to their employees, customers and vendors.
And here’s the thing: their stakeholders always know where they are coming from in good times and bad.
Can you imagine how much trust they garner by simply being honest? By speaking the truth in a fake news world? By having respect and compassion for another soul who travels on the same planet you do?
As Frank Sonnenberg says on his most excellent leadership blog, "Honesty means that you respect others enough to tell them the truth and that you value your opinion of yourself enough to never live a lie."
Never live a lie. How refreshing is that.
So here’s to the rise of the benefit corporation. And to the honest communication it fosters.
Without a doubt, it is the best policy.
Go here to get our new book our book, “Putting Soul Into Business: How the Benefit Corporation is Transforming American Business for Good.”