What Causes Honest People to Become Dishonest?
If your words and actions don't align, you have permitted your employees to lie.
Posted June 6, 2021 | Reviewed by Hara Estroff Marano
- There is a correlation between honesty, justice, and purpose.
- There are four predictors of conditions under which people will tell the truth, behave fairly, and serve a greater good.
- Actions you are taking could signal that you condone dishonesty in the workplace.
- Honesty is a trait that can be learned and leads to success.
We have all seen the negative headlines of leaders of organizations caught lying and stealing. What causes people to behave this way? How does it get embedded into the tapestry of a culture? When did it become so common that it becomes acceptable or the norm?
Excuses such as It is the culture or We just have a few bad apples are too dissatisfying. Not lying is no longer the bar people will accept. We need to do better. So what would it take for people to act honestly and tell the truth in the workplace? Ron Carucci found a correlation between honesty, justice, and purpose.
He spent fifteen years conducting 3,200 interviews to get to the root cause of our honesty problem. Data was fed into IBM’s Watson to statistically look at honesty or its lack in the workplace. In the new book To Be Honest, Carucci outlines four predictors of conditions under which people will tell the truth, behave fairly, and serve a greater good, the trifecta needed for an honest organization, leading to solid leadership and ultimately, success.
Clarity and identity
Are you who you say you are? Do your words and actions align? It is not just a mission statement; it is everything you say and do. You need to make your actions and words match. When they align, you are three times more likely to have people behave honestly. If the words are cosmetic only, you have effectively told people that you say one thing but do another. Now you have permitted them to act that way regularly. By doing so, your people are six times more likely not to act honestly, behave fairly, or serve the greater good. You have now inserted risk into your workplace.
How do you measure contribution? If your employees perceive your process to be fair, you are four times more likely to have people tell the truth, behave fairly, and serve the greater good. Everyone’s contribution and circumstances are unique, so having one standard may be uniform but it is not necessarily fair. To meet inequitable standards, people will embellish their accomplishments and hide their mistakes.
In one scenario, you walk into a meeting, believe you are there to help make decisions, the data presented is reliable, and your voice to dissent or offer suggestions is welcome. In that case, you are three and a half times more likely to have people tell the truth, behave fairly and serve the greater good. If you walk into the room and feel there were deals cut beforehand, winks and nods between key stakeholders, or if the data presented is scrubbed or incomplete, and you suspect as much, and you do not believe your voice is welcome or valued, now you are three and a half more times to have people join the collusion.
Where two critical divisions meet are the critical cross-functional intersections. These seams are where true value is created. If there is acceptance, an absence of we-versus-they turf wars, then you are six times more likely to have people tell the truth. The opposite scenario calls for people exerting dominance over their division by any means necessary.
These models are cumulative. If you practice all four of these elements, you are sixteen times more likely to have people in your organization tell the truth. If you do not regularly practice these traits, you are sixteen times more likely to make headlines for all the wrong reasons.
To Be Honest, by Ron Carucci, shares the stories of many organizations that are models for the right behaviors where the leaders and employees tell the truth, behave fairly, and serve the greater good. Honest organizations out-perform, out-compete, and out-attract top talent. Saying and doing the right thing and for the right reasons, even when hard, is no longer a nice-to-have policy; it is a must-have. Carucci believes that, with practice, you can learn to be more honest. Before long, it will become muscle memory.