George Santos is making headlines for all the wrong reasons. Whether or not he remains an elected member of the United States House of Representatives, no one wants to make headlines for tampering with their resume.
It is in your company’s financial interest to only hire honest people. Here’s why honesty is an essential quality of every member of your team.
What is honesty?
Above all, honesty is a feeling, a disposition and an orientation towards the truth. Honest employees cannot tolerate lying, data falsification, misrepresentation of themselves or their company, or other acts that disregard the truth. Lies in any form are poisonous to an honest person.
Watch this clip from Patton, directed by Franklin J. Schaffner and written by Francis Ford Coppola and Edmund H. North. Pay close attention to how General George S. Patton views winners and losers.
Note how Best Actor Oscar winner George C. Scott interprets the phrase “Americans love a winner and won’t tolerate a loser” (at minute 46 seconds). The passion in this performance is how honest people feel the truth. Honest people love the truth and won’t tolerate a liar.
At least, that’s what we aspire to. And that’s a good thing too, as we’ll see in this story from an honest employee named Brenda Harry.
Honest people are a boon to business
After the closure of the furniture factory where she had worked for twenty years, Brenda Harry found a minimum wage job at the Goodwill Store and Donation Center in Pearisburg, Virginia (population 2,786). Her job was to process clothes and other items that people dropped off in collection boxes around town. She made sure they were in good condition and that the donors had left nothing in the clothes.
Most of the time, the pockets were empty, but one day in January 2014, she discovers four envelopes inside a suit jacket. These envelopes contained $3,100 in cash. It was more than she earned in two months of full-time work at Goodwill. If she had pocketed it, no one would have known. But Brenda Harry immediately handed over the money to her supervisor.
When Deb Saunders, Chief Compliance Officer for Goodwill of the Valleys, told me this story on a Zoom call, I wanted to know why Brenda wasn’t keeping the money for herself. So I called Brenda and asked her.
“I was raised to be honest,” she told me. It was as simple as that. “It doesn’t matter if you need the money. It’s not up to you. So you give it back. My parents told me that if you are honest, you will have your reward at the end of time. If you’re not honest, you’ll pay it on Judgment Day.
Smart employers hire people like Brenda Harry because they can trust her. No matter how knowledgeable or skilled a person may be, if they are fundamentally dishonest or don’t value honesty, that person is detrimental and possibly even dangerous.
In some cases, a company can quantify the benefits of honest employees. The Goodwill store in Pearisburg added $3,100 to its monthly revenue when no one claimed the money Brenda handed over. But there are other ways honest employees can play a crucial role in an organization.
The engineer who refused to falsify the data
Before becoming senior vice president of strategy and business development at Xerox, Cari Dorman worked as an electrical engineer for a company that had won a contract with the US Navy. His role was to develop software to measure the probability that a transmitted electronic message would reach its target.
Cari’s boss – I’ll call him Saul – asked him to change some data in his research because the results weren’t what Saul wanted or hoped they would be. Because of the potential implications, Cari didn’t want to make the changes. “I knew standing up to Saul could get me fired,” Cari told me via Zoom. “But I thought to myself, ‘What if my son was in the Navy during a war and he relied on my software to tell whether a message he sent got through or not? “”Cari refused to do what his boss asked him to do.
With lives at stake, Cari was willing to risk her job to do honest research. Her passion for honesty makes her the kind of employee you too would do well to hire.
The Consequences of Dishonesty: One Strike and You’re Out
Many years ago I had the privilege of attending a week-long leadership seminar at Gallup in Lincoln, Nebraska. The late Donald O. Clifton, who was president of Gallup, told the group how the organization deals with employees who have done something dishonest, such as rigging data in a survey. “They’re fired,” he said. “Immediately.”
“Even if it’s just one offence?” I asked him.
“That’s right. Because people need to be confident that our surveys and polls are conducted with integrity. Otherwise, our product is meaningless.
I asked Alan Murray, former president of the Pew Research Center, if he thought Clifton’s policy was too harsh. He didn’t think so. “The Pew Center considers its greatest asset to be the trust people have in the information provided by the center,” Murray told me via Zoom. “So anything that has the potential to damage public trust is an existential threat to the work of the center. Reliability is at the heart of the Pew brand.
Honesty and your brand
Advertising legend Walter Landor once said that “a brand is a promise”. The logo of one of your favorite companies is more than just a cool graphic. The company is basically telling you, “You can continue to buy that service or product knowing that we stand behind what we sell. And if we let you down somehow, we’ll make it right.
Dishonesty at all levels of the company threatens this implicit promise. “I have the privilege of having worked for several great brands, and when you think about what makes brands powerful, it is all about trust,” added Alan Murray. “The public has some understanding that what they get when they see this mark is something they can count on and rely on to a greater degree than what they might find elsewhere. I regard maintaining the public trust as my highest objective.
The power, influence and integrity of a company directly depend on the honesty of its employees.
Honesty is a feeling, not just a series of actions.
Honest people are a boon to your business.
It can make sense to fire someone for just one dishonest act.
The reputation of your brand depends on the honesty of your team members and yourself.