Improving organisation performance by telling the truth
Mayvin Chair Tony Fraser, Geraldine Haley and Anna Fraser have been working together developing a book on truthfulness in organisations. At our latest Mayvin Community event, Tony and Geraldine investigated the idea of skilful honesty with OD professionals from public sector organisations, NGOs and the private sector.
The evening’s conversation centred around a few initial propositions:
- Organisations are not especially truthful, yet they don’t give the issue much attention
- Performance would improve if people were more skilfully honest
- Truthfulness is a skill that can be learned
- The level of truthfulness in organisations can be measured and compared
If those propositions are all true then actively working on truthfulness represents a major organisational opportunity.
A first look at the data gathered from the group’s survey on truthfulness in organisations confirms that almost everyone thinks truthfulness matters and that people are more committed and motivated when they feel able to speak the truth.
Not only that, but it is clear from the results that truthfulness affects organisation performance. When people are not truthful, organisations have more problems and relationships suffer.
Organisations are not especially truthful places. Around half of the survey’s respondents see their organisation as not very truthful.
During the evening there were lively conversations that generated encouraging comments and tricky questions about the issue of truthfulness. Here are some of the responses, suggestions and challenges:
“How do different cultures and demographics affect attitudes to and behaviour around truthfulness?”
“Your results are mainly from senior managers. We think you will get different results from younger and more junior organisation members.”
“Telling the truth is not always good – skilful honesty requires complex ethical and moral judgements. In some circumstances lying or concealing the truth might be the best thing to do.“
So what did we learn from the event?
Being truthful is energising and liberating. Ask experienced professional OD people for their thoughts and ideas and you need to listen hard and write fast if you want to capture their thoughts.
The topic triggers instant interest and intense scrutiny. We know people lie. We know it’s a problem. Making the truth known and discussable is at the heart of good OD practice. No wonder these experienced practitioners get involved and have strong views.
It looks like people believe greater truthfulness can contribute to better performance.
More data is needed and from a wider range of respondents.
The topic of truthfulness gets fiendishly complicated if you let it. We are going to need to think through the ideas very carefully if they are to be credible and have practical value. We will follow up on several of the thoughts and plan to continue our conversations. Follow us on Twitter to keep the conversation going and read our future blogs on the topic.
It’s one thing knowing greater truthfulness will help, making it happen might not be so easy!
We know we need more data and more people to help us untangle the complex web of truth in organisations. If you would like to help us, please complete the survey and leave your name and email on the form so we can share the results with you.