How Does Honesty Affect Your Business?

The news about Yahoo's CEO Scott Thompson's resume 'fraud' has the tech and business world abuzz. Evidently Thompson's resume claims he earned a Computer Science degree that his college did not offer during his attendance. To his credit, he did take some computer science classes while an undergrad toward a concentration in computer science. I understand what this means; my undergrad degree is in Textile Chemistry with a concentration in Polymers. I am not sure how Stonehill college referred to its computer science concentration. Today, I want to discuss truth in business and how it ripples and follows you around.

Company Trust

It's bad enough Yahoo's leadership was already struggling with employee and shareholder moral. This issue does not help. Even when you are not the CEO of the company, you need to earn the trust and respect of your fellow employees. Being the figurehead in the company or even your department only amplifies the effect.

There's a huge credibility issue now for Thompson. How is he ever going to be trusted in the eyes of his employees now ' let alone his investors?

- Forbes

Even if you are not aware of it, everything you do is being watched and logged by co-workers and customers alike. We all do it because we are always trying to gauge what is expected of us as employees. Customers are doing the same to manage their expectations. When I played college football, our coaches always stressed to us how much our off field activities affected the team. They emphasized just how much we were under the public microscope. Any little mistake or mishap could and often would have a ripple effect to everyone in the program. You can see how this works with college athletes today; just look at our rival UNC's football program and the University of Miami. Recently the University of Arkansas had to fire their head football coach, Bobby Petrino, for his actions in a hit and run accident and affair.

Similar headlines hit the business world all the time. Recently you may have heard how Best Buy had issues with their CEO, Brian Dunn. In government, secret services agents got caught exhibiting less than respectable behavior in a foreign country. Again the actions by a leader, such as Brian Dunn, is having immediate ripple effects as another executive left a company that has been struggling lately. I have no research into how this is affecting the average manager and floor employee, but I cannot imagine it is good.

As for the secret service agents it cast a large shadow of doubt on an agency that many actually respected. Its hard enough for a government agency to garner respect, stories of employees acting inappropriately or outright stealing money brings down everyone.

Customer Trust

Something I learned running my own consultancy company was that a typical customer does not trust you, especially when you are doing something they don't understand. As a web developer my customers relied on me to solve technical problems that scared them to death. Stuff that was simple to me often scared them. But I never felt many customers truly trusted me. I always felt like I had to do something more to get their trust. I would try to explain how things worked and why I needed to do certain things, especially when they were complicated. Looking back I think that approach was more of a mistake. I went out of my way to explain many technical details and this only cast greater doubt on that trust. I think they felt like I was trying to deliberately confuse them, sort of the way some car owners don't trust repair shops.

Recently at a car dealership to get a car repaired, I naturally assumed I was going to be shafted. But I actually had a great experience. The folks at the dealership were extremely kind. They made a tremendous effort to explain the problem and my options. But they did a much better job than I felt I could have done explaining the problems. As a result I feel much better about going back to that dealership and recommending it to others.

Other times in my career I found myself in situations when I knew I was getting screwed by those I worked with and my leadership. The classic example is the marketing/sales guy over-promised a customer without consulting the engineers. My standard story is our sales guy left a meeting with a potential customer and called me on the way to the airport. He just told a potential major customer our product did something it did not do, nor had we even considered that functionality at that point. In fact to implement the features would take at least a week or two. To make matters worse,  I'm told to make the product appear that it had the functionality by the next morning because he had scheduled a remote demo for me to lead in the morning with the potential client. Needless to say, this meeting did not go well, and the customer never bought a license. I think, if the sale guy had been honest with the customer and said he would check with the developers and ask to add the features, but it would take a month or so to work it into our schedule, we would have gotten the sale. The customer was genuinely interested in the product, but after that meeting lost trust in our product team and the company as a whole.

Employee Trust

One of the main reasons I decided to go out on my own back in 2000 was to eliminate things like the previous story, but more importantly to not have dishonest leadership over me. I won't get into details, but I will discuss common scenarios with various clients over a decade.

One common issue was customers dangling fictitious carrots in front of me. Often a customer would come to me and want me to work for a discount in exchange for a share of their company, etc. They would make wild promises of getting rich if their idea blew up and got big. This scenario was repeated dozens and dozens of times, and I know many others hear this same pot of lies. Other times the carrot would be offered after I was working for a customer in the form of faster payments or increased work if task X lead to Y revenues for them, etc.

As a consultant, and even an employee, this has happened to me and many others. Eventually you become so jaded to employers you simply don't care anymore. The numbness you develop negatively impacts passion and effort. It also leads to job hopping as well. As someone running a small web development business this was extremely stressful and lead to accumulating more clients than I should have, which caused me to stretch myself thinner and thinner. Often full time employees will start doing side work, etc, also reducing the quality of their work.

Money and cash flow are important to businesses, and just as important to individual employees too. Often customers would not pay their bills on time, or even within the same quarter as when invoices were issued. This affected me as I often found myself needing to abandon projects or assignments in favor of others that would pay consistently. It also caused me to try and eliminate the bad customers. During the tornado that was my Extreme Web Works days, I could never see this was a common problem. In fact all the issues are extremely common. I know that now, it's much easier to see that after the fact than it was when I was living it everyday.

As an employee I have been put in no win situations more often than I care to recount. I have been assigned tasks for which I was ill equipped to produce quality work, either because of lack of existing skills set or rushed timing. One of the worst experiences was when I was assigned a project as an expert in a topic I only had a few week's experience. It also required a vast amount of pre-work be accomplished in less than 4 days. Normally that work would require 4-6 weeks of effort. This did not turn out well,  and I got about 6 hours of sleep over the course of 10 days. That rippled  into physical issues, and it destroyed the relationship I had with that employer as well as the client.


Honesty and trust are two of the most important principles of a business, whether it is the leadership with employees or interactions with customers. Ultimately dishonestly comes around to hurt you by breaking vital trust relationships. This leads to the loss of vital employees and customers that ultimately destroys a company. I have seen it happen over and over, and been affected by it as an employer, employee and customer. So whether it is integrity with your credentials, honesty about your products and skills, how you carry yourself in public or how you treat employees it all matters. Small things add up to big things, so think about the next time you make a claim you know is not true. Eventually it will lead to self destruction.

A truthful witness gives honest testimony, but a false witness tells lies. Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.

- Proverbs 12:17-18

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