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3 Steps To A More Honest Business
Unfortunately, the notions of business and honesty don’t always go hand in hand. Our country’s history is dotted with examples of nondisclosure, cover-ups, and outright scams. While lately we have been inundated with scandals involving corporate kingpins, the truth is that bad behavior exists from tiny mom and pop shops, too.
So, many entrepreneurs start their own companies, in part, because they desire to work in an environment that’s congruent with their own values. Scarred by past experiences that required them to compromise their beliefs, entrepreneurs are often determined to create a business that prioritizes a high standard of behavior along with the bottom line—where transparency and authenticity is not just one way to do things but actually part of their customers, shareholders, and employee’s expectations. They want a real honest businesses.
Is this what you’re after? If so, bravo. From our experience working with thousands of entrepreneurs, we’ve discovered that it takes three kinds of honesty to achieve this ideal.
Honesty with others. This sounds basic, but it goes beyond not lying to your customers and employees. It’s about owning a mistake when you mess up and admitting when you’re wrong. It’s also about refusing to pretend that you’re something you’re not. It requires acknowledging the state of the business to your employees. And, when it comes to customers, it requires selling only what you can deliver effectively and always living up to your word.
Done properly, this kind of honesty begets a tremendous amount of loyalty from both customers and employees. Both groups know they can trust you and more importantly, that you value the integrity of the relationship.
NPR is a great example of a company that is honest with its customers. The station takes time at the end of most programs to share listener feedback on past shows. They share the glowing reviews, of course, but they also share customer outrage, disbelief, and disappointment. What’s more, when NPR has made headlines for less than desirable reasons, the organization has reported its own bad news as if it were any other media outlet, rather than shifting the focus. These actions—which many companies might be afraid to take—only serve to underscore the affinity that subscribers and listeners have for the station.
Honesty with self. It is crucial to be brutally honest with yourself about what you really want—from your job, your experience of entrepreneurship, and your business. For a business to work well, its leader needs to be satisfied, but too often, entrepreneurs end up running businesses that don’t give them what they want. Sometimes this happens because people aren’t clear about what their needs and goals are upfront. But mostly, it’s small dishonesties along the way that cause us to make compromises with our business. When we tell ourselves that we need to do tasks we don’t like, we end up creating jobs we don’t enjoy. When we let other people’s definition of success trample our own, we build companies that aren’t in service of our vision.
I once knew a programmer who loved working with a consistent team of people for clients that were exciting and challenging. His reputation was great and, as a result, he got offered more gigs than he could handle. Many of his peers encouraged him to take this opportunity and run with it. It seemed like the “smart” thing to do, so he hired other programmers and tasked the new jobs to them.
One year later he was miserable. He spent 80% of his time managing clients and programmers—the things he hated doing—and not nearly enough time doing the work that he loved. He was making some more money but it wasn’t worth it—he was constantly concerned with having enough business for the stable of people he had assembled. By not being honest about what he needed and wanted from his business, he had sacrificed the things that were most important to him.
Honesty about the experience. Many entrepreneurs have pitches that are too polished—stories that involve heightened drama or glossed-over details. They emphasize their happy endings and minimize their own doubts.
Sure, that’s understandable—they’re in the business of attracting clients and instilling consumer confidence. And who wants to air their dirty laundry? But what they don’t realize is that, while you don’t need to publicly sound the alarm each time you have a concern, there’s a cost that comes with claiming that everything is all roses. Chief among them is that it makes you unrelatable to your peers. It also skews your own perspective about the business.
When we embarked on our journey to write The Big Enough Company, we wanted to know about the real-life challenges and tough decisions that entrepreneurs faced. And we were concerned that it would be hard to find people who were willing to drop the glossy PR story and share some of their “behind the scenes” experiences. To our delight, they were was easier to find than we thought. They were willing to share when they had been right and when they had been wrong. And most importantly, they were willing to share what they still didn't know.
As a result, these entrepreneurs were at total ease with their business, even if they didn't have all the answers. They weren't trying to portray their business in a certain way. Being honest about their experience gave them clarity and direction and, from the outside, it actually made them seem more competent and confident.
Overall, being honest won’t just keep you in business. It will keep you happy with your business. And that’s the true definition of success.
Adelaide Lancaster is an entrepreneur, speaker and co-author of The Big Enough Company: Creating a Business that Works for You (Portfolio/Penguin). She is also the co-founder of In Good Company Workplaces, a first-of-its-kind community, learning center and co-working space for women entrepreneurs in New York City. She is a contributor to The Huffington Post, and a columnist for The Daily Muse and The Hired Guns. She lives in Philadelphia, PA with her husband and daughter.
I was a domestic paralegal for 8 years prior to Real Estate. Since I have been in Real Estate I have grown to love this business, even though it does have it's challenges; it is very exciting. There i....
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