Thursday, August 25, 2011

Honesty Does Pay!

Recently after having concluded a ‘Getting ahead as a Young Professional’ workshop (which is part of a leadership development program for the Faculty of Law at Monash University in Melbourne Australia) one of the students, Steph Wallace, shared a story regarding the power of honesty with me and I’d like to share her story with you.

Steph had applied for a clerical assistant role for a law firm and the role was due to start mid December 2010. At the time Steph had a year to go to complete her degree and was aware that graduate positions going into 2012 were going to be few and far between. As a result of this knowledge Steph had hoped to gain the clerical assistant’s role so that, after the firm having experienced the quality of her work throughout 2011 she would be well positioned to obtain the graduate position in 2012.

From my perspective this is a very sound strategy.

Steph successfully negotiated the first round of interviews and was invited for a second interview, this time with the person to whom she would be reporting if she gained the position.

It was at this point that Steph confronted a dilemma. Her father was ill overseas and Steph had already booked a 6 week visit to spend time with him. Her trip commenced the second week of January, a mere three weeks after she was to start the position. As there was a lot ‘riding’ on getting this job in terms of increasing her chances of obtaining a graduate position, Steph was unsure whether she should reveal in the second interview that she would be away for 6 weeks three weeks after starting her new job, or wait until being offered the job before revealing this information.

What would you do in this situation?

Well this is exactly the question that Steph asked her friends, family and colleagues. Interestingly the majority of people said, “Don’t tell them in the interview. Get the job first, then tell them.”

Steph’s mother had a different view. “How would you like people to treat you if you were in your future bosses’ position?” she asked.

After their conversation Steph decided to go with her intuitive response to this dilemma. “If I didn’t get the job and I bumped into this lady in five years time, I’d want her to remember me for being honest.”

At an appropriate time in the second interview Steph shared her dilemma with her potential boss.

“I know that what I am about to tell you will probably kill my chances of getting this job, but I feel that it is important that I am honest with you.”

Steph then went on to explain her situation.

The outcome: Steph got the job, and has been mentored in the role ever since.

Given that our conversation was nine months after Steph had successfully gained the job I asked her if she had repaid their support.  

"Many times over Gary! I really do everything I can for them because they were so supportive of me, even when they didn’t even know me. I now participate in Subcomittees and try and give that extra bit of work/ effort whenever I can. From the IT team to my boss, to the Chairman they are both supportive colleagues, friends and mentors in a variety of ways."

What I have found fascinating is that I have shared this story with many people. The vast majority have said that they would not have told their new boss about the trip until after getting the job.

If you stop and think about the mental models underlying this response one that keeps popping up for me is that people have a theory that if they are honest, bad things will happen.

Hopefully this story will help to challenge this theory.

In this case, honesty was rewarded and well done to the organisation for having the courage to do so.

What are your experiences of honesty in the workplace? Does it pay?

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