It’s easier to be honest

This is a guest post from Dave Kerpen — CEO of Likeable Local, chairman and former CEO of Likeable Media, and author of “Likeable Business: Why Today’s Consumers Demand More and How Leaders Can Deliver.” See the original post this is adapted from and more like it on his blog.

Four college students missed an important exam. They went together to their professor the next day, and said, “We’re so sorry we missed the exam. We had a flat tire on the way to class. Is there any way we could possibly take a retest?”

“Sure,” replied the professor. “Come on in tomorrow, and you can all take a retest. It’ll be Pass/Fail though.”

The four students arrived the next day to take the retest, and all of them sat down in their seats. Before handing them their exams, their professor told them, “I’ve got good news and bad news. The good news is, there’s only one question on the test. The bad news is, if any of you fail, you all fail the test.

The students sat there, a bit worried from this professor’s strange introduction to the exam. Then the professor handed out the four exams, and each student stared down at their papers, which contained just one simple four word question:

“Which tire was it?”

Lying makes life more difficult; transparency makes life easier.

We all know that it’s right to tell the truth, and wrong to tell a lie. And yet, somehow, so often, in business and in life, we end up telling “little white lies.” Or omitting the complete truth. Or even telling outright lies. Corporate lies and secrecy has been going on since corporations have existed.

My argument here isn’t that you should be honest and transparent because it’s the right thing to do (although obviously it is). My argument is that it’s the easier thing to do — even if doesn’t always feel that way at first. When you’re honest and transparent, you never have to worry about what you said to whom. You never have to worry about keeping secrets. You never have to worry about getting caught in a lie. You never have to worry about your integrity or reputation. It’s freeing and more comfortable to tell the truth. It’s easier to be honest.

Transparency has always been a core value of Likeable Media.

Our companies use Verne Harnish’s One Page Strategic Plan (from one of my favorite business books of all time) to guide our business planning and execution. But three years ago, we took the concept to a new level when we began posting an enlarged copy of our strategic plan and financials on a specially-designed whiteboard on the office wall where everyone could see it — employees, interns, clients, prospects, and the janitorial staff. I even posted a copy of the plan in my last book.

Many people questioned this — couldn’t competitors find out details about our financials? Did everyone at the company really need to know our strategy and each manager’s accountability? Yet, dozens of employees personally told me how much they appreciated our openness. It helped to build a more positive working environment (Crain’s Top 30 place to work in New York), and it made recruiting easier. For me, it came down to this: Honesty and transparency breed trust. And trust makes it easier to build a business.

Likeable straetgy

Of course, transparency around this particular strategic plan ended up being a bit more challenging than usual. You see, each quarter we have a theme, a team challenge, and a reward. That quarter, we had a sales challenge, and each time someone made a sale, money was put into a pot, which we then planned to use to host a party at the end of the quarter. And if you look closely at the photo above, on the bottom right, you’ll see our reward in print: “Pot Party.” That picture ended up in print, for many thousands to see. But it was just a party, from a pot of money earned by sales. I swear. Honest.

The risk to your brand isn’t worth being dishonest.

Once I was taken out of a management meeting because my assistant came in and said, “There’s a guy calling from Aflac who says he has an appointment with you.”

I didn’t recall an appointment, but I begrudgingly left my meeting to take the phone call. I put the guy on the phone, and asked, “Did we have an appointment?”

It was a salesperson who then replied, “No, but I just wanted to ask you a few questions.”

The guy had lied to both our receptionist and my assistant in order to get on the phone with me. I called him on the lie, and he promptly got off the phone, in order to go after his next victim.

Now, I’m in the process of building an inside sales team for Likeable Local and I must admit, as horrified as I was, there was a part of me that thought, “He must make a lot of sales this way, if he’s still lying to get in front of a decision maker. Could it be worth it?” I asked my sales coach what he thought, and he told me,

“This guy might occasionally get through using a lie, and it might even (less) occasionally lead to a sale. But what about the risk of brand damage to Aflac he does with every lie? And to his own personal integrity?”

It’s easier to be honest. It’s easier to be transparent.

It’s easier in the short term because of how you’ll feel. It’s easier in the long term because integrity and trust are everything, and both breed business.

We all are tempted to lie occasionally, or hold back from telling the complete truth. That’s okay. But next time you’re tempted, just take the easy way out and be honest.


About Dave Kerpen

Dave Kerpen is the CEO of Likeable Local, a social media software startup for small businesses, as well as the chairman and former CEO of Likeable Media, an award-winning social media and word of mouth marketing firm. Dave has keynoted at dozens of conferences and webinars for organizations such as WOMMA, TEDx, and SXSW. Dave is a LinkedIn Influencer and blogs weekly alongside Richard Branson, Deepak Chopra, Barack Obama and Bill Gates. His first book was the New York Times bestseller, “Likeable Social Media: How to Delight Your Customers, Create an Irresistible Brand, and Be Generally Amazing on Facebook (And Other Social Networks).” His second book, “Likeable Business,” lays out 11 strategies for organizations of all sizes to spur growth, profits, and overall success. Dave is proud of his two daughters, Charlotte and Kate, at home in New York.

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  1. Allison

    I can speak from experience. It really is easier to just be honest. Your customers (and others) will appreciate it. It’s just good business! Thanks for the great post Dave – and I LOVE the opening. I felt stressed out when I read “Which tire was it?” 🙂

  2. Mike Klubok

    So true Dave. I think of Anthony Weiner here. If he was honest about his sexting from the beginning he may have been able to hold on to his congressional seat. His dodging the question and denying it (remember he blamed it on someone else accessing his account) made matters worse. His attempt at covering it up became about as bad as the crime so to speak.

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