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It’s Ok To Be Honest All The Time

It’s Ok To Be Honest All The Time

Consultants are constantly asked their opinion about how a project is going. Are we ready to go live? What caused this problem? How long will this take? Would you say this status is red, yellow or green? Why is this late? All of these questions can be honestly answered, but sometimes they are not due to fear or a direct or inferred order to not be totally honest. Should you always give an honest answer, even if it means putting yourself in an awkward or uncomfortable position?

Maintaining a consistent level of honesty and transparency isn’t easy or comfortable, but in my experience it always pays off. Sometimes we are influenced to withhold information or distort facts by co-workers, managers, corporate culture and department or project team goals and agenda. We are also influenced by our fear of reprisal or being blamed for something that went wrong.

So how can you maintain a consistent level of honesty and transparency regardless of situation or circumstance? What’s the benefit?

A Reputation for Honesty Protects You

If you make a mistake that causes a project delay or issue and don’t say anything, you are asking for trouble. If you own up to your mistake when it happens and take responsibility for it, you are building up the foundation for a reputation of honesty. Be consistent with this practice and down the road if a mistake does happen and you are falsely identified as the culprit, you can honestly say, “I didn’t do it” and they will believe you. This is because if you were responsible, you would have owned up to it when it happened, right?

The Go To Guy

As a member of an App Dev team, I was walking past the VP of Sales office and he stopped me at his door. He asked, “Kurt, will the new sales website you’re group is building going to be able to accept and process a customer’s order in an automated fashion as promised? I need you to give me a straight answer.”

He knew I would tell him the truth based on our past dealings. The problem was, could I this time? The website was not going to be able to process orders in the manner that he was promised and I knew he wouldn’t be happy about it. Was it my place to do that? You could argue that I was just a worker bee type and it was up to the PM or IT manager to let him know. Should I be the one to tell him?

I was now caught between expectation and reality. So I told him the truth, “No it will not be fully automated as promised.” However, I didn’t stop there because he would have been left with questions and unrealized expectations that he’d take directly to the CIO. So I explained how we modified our approach to keep the customer experience as expected, although behind the scenes it would not be completely automated. He appreciated my honesty and was satisfied that the customers would not be affected by the issue. So I was able to keep our relationship and my reputation intact. Honesty helped relieve his concerns and reset his expectations to reasonable levels.

Honesty Keeps Everyone Honest

Working in a IT PM role, I discovered that my meeting notes in reference to open system issues within the project were being spun into a more favorable light once they reached a higher level of management.

I created and prioritized a log of twelve issues which also included proposed resolution for some of them. Three issues had been resolved. We knew the resolution for four others, but had not applied the fix for them yet. So in my report, I listed three as resolved and four as in progress. When the status report hit upper management, it read seven issues resolved or closed. When the project audience saw subsequent status reports showing fewer resolved than the one shared with executive management, there was a problem. I was asked, “What is the real status?”

It turns out that the definition of “resolved” was granted a new meaning after I passed my updates to IT management. “Resolved” evolved into meaning solution identified, whether fix applied or not. This caused frustration when users attempted a task reported as fixed that had not been worked on yet.

I explained to IT management that I could not use the new definition of resolved in creating my status report because of the confusion it created. If they wanted me to report to their definition, I would only do so if I was allowed to include a legend that explained what their definition of resolved was. After two or three rounds of status reports and my honestly responding to stakeholders asking me what resolved “meant today”, I was no longer pressured to report to that wider definition.

Honesty, in the end, kept them honest. It resulted in project stakeholders and team members always having a true picture of the project status and being in the best position to make a decision.

There can be times when you are asked to disclose information that is confidential or that should be kept discreet. Or you may just want to avoid the politics. In these cases, you can decline to answer by using phrases such as, “It’s not our policy to disclose…”, “I’m not authorized to discuss…”, or “We are still in discussions and it would be premature for me to comment…” Get the idea?

As a contractor or consultant, being honest can seem risky, but it does pay off. Your honesty protects you, builds a positive reputation, builds trusted relationships that last and keeps others honest. It also makes sales and client retention a lot easier. That’s a good thing.

How many of us, once we find an honest car mechanic, won’t take our car to anyone else? We refer him to our friends and family and always give him our business. We are no different as consultants or contractors and can reap the same kind of benefits the car guy does.

Is it possible to be honest all of the time and get away with it? Yes it is. You can trust me on that.

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